The 2016 Golden Globes were a minor disaster of an awards show — except that may be giving them too much credit.
"Disaster" implies that they were, on some level, fun to watch while cringing through your fingers. No, these were mostly just boring. Host Ricky Gervais worked so hard to shock viewers that he forgot to be funny. The winners were either depressingly predictable or utterly ludicrous. And all but a couple of planned comedy bits fell flat.
This was, in short, the award show the Oscars are often accused of being — overly long, listless, and incredibly flat. The Globes are supposed to be the fun award show! They're supposed to be the one where everybody gets drunk and cuts loose! What happened?
The biggest winners felt a little out of date
Golden Globe choices (especially in the film categories) operate in one of two modes: desperately trying to predict the Oscars, or desperately trying to influence the Oscars. Just look at 2015's two Best Picture winners to get a sense of what I mean. Boyhood had won most of the major Best Picture prizes handed out by critics groups up to that point, and it won the Drama prize. Meanwhile, The Grand Budapest Hotel was doing well for itself but was no sure thing.
The former was a prediction; the latter was an attempt at influence. (Neither won the Oscar for Best Picture, which will become important in a moment.)
It's when the Globes are in the latter mode that they're the most fun. When they don't particularly care about other organizations and just get weird, they can come up with some pretty inspired choices. This is why so many hold up the group's TV awards as more exciting than the Emmys. The Emmys can get bogged down in old favorites; the Globes sort of reflexively vote for whatever's new, because they don't have any particular interest in predicting or influencing the Emmys, which happen months and months later.
What was so utterly bizarre about the 2016 winners, then, is that they were stuck in "predict the Oscars" mode, but they seemed like they were trying to predict old awards. In a year with no established Oscar frontrunners (because there are so many good movies), the Globes just went a little nuts.
For instance, the big movie winner was The Revenant, taking home prizes for dramatic picture, director (Alejandro G. Iñárritu), and actor (Leonardo DiCaprio). Yet the main impediment to The Revenant winning many awards beyond one for DiCaprio at the Oscars is that Iñárritu just won a bunch of Oscars last year for Birdman, a movie the Globes didn't really recognize. (It is remarkably hard to win repeat Oscars, and nobody has ever won Best Picture and Best Director in two consecutive years.) This made the Revenant awards feel a bit like makeup awards.
That stretched down to other categories, which were won by Globe favorites like Kate Winslet (supporting actress), Jennifer Lawrence (actress in a comedy), and DiCaprio. Matt Damon, who had previously won a screenplay Globe for Good Will Hunting in 1998, took home the actor in a comedy Globe for The Martian, while Sylvester Stallone was named supporting actor for Creed. It was hard to call either a fresh face. Only Room's Brie Larson, winner of the Best Drama Actress prize, felt like something new.
The remarkable thing about this is that the Globe nominees felt incredibly fresh and vital when they first were announced, complete with first-time nominees and a passel of mentions for financial crisis comedy The Big Short and lesbian romance Carol. Both films were blanked in favor of less enthralling fare.
As such, the night was full of bland, unmemorable speeches, outside of Taraji P. Henson (TV's best drama series actress) demanding nobody play her off. But lackluster winners and speeches don't have to mean a lackluster ceremony. Unfortunately, the Globes were stuck in the past in another way as well.
Ricky Gervais offered up the top hosting job of 1987
Early on in Ricky Gervais's monologue, the British comedian, who's earned a (somewhat unnecessary) reputation for being an unrepentant firebrand in his earlier hosting gigs, took a swing at Jeffrey Tambor's work in Transparent, immediately after launching a few jokes against Caitlyn Jenner. The camera cut to Tambor in the audience, and his icy glare was tinged not with anger but with something else: a weird boredom.
That was the problem with Gervais in a nutshell. He was attempting to earn the ire of the room and the internet by Going There and making "problematic" jokes. But the jokes were barely even jokes. The Caitlyn Jenner gag, for instance, pivoted off of an earlier car accident to become one about "women drivers," a subject comedians long ago abandoned not just because they became more aware of gender stereotypes but because there's literally no way to tell a new joke about this topic.
Similarly, the jokes about Tambor were essentially, "Look at the man in a dress" gags that stopped being funny in the era of Milton Berle. Gervais tried to pivot into a thing about how Tambor had old balls, but it barely had the structure of a joke. It was just Gervais talking about an old man's testicles on television for a while.
And so it went. Gervais wasn't bad in some of his introductions of other presenters (as when he joked about how Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Schumer acted as if they'd never had a friend before), but as the show went on, he became less and less of a presence. The Globes frequently see their host seem to disappear, as excess comedy bits are trimmed to meet a running time, but it was hard to escape how tired Gervais seemed the few times he popped up in the show's latter half.
Bringing back Gervais to pretty much run through the same shtick he pulled out a few years ago felt anticlimactic after three straight years of Amy Poehler and Tina Fey tackling Hollywood's worst qualities while also not seeming like total jerks. Poehler and Fey didn't want to host the show anymore, and that's fine. But Gervais wasn't a great call either. He was just another face of Globe business as usual.
Also the show's production was really, really strange
The loose, freewheeling Globes have always been known for stars getting up to no good. But the 2016 awards were peppered with moments when said stars would seemingly curse endlessly, complete with NBC bleeping them for long stretches of time, only to return to the audience laughing uproariously at something viewers couldn't hear.
Everybody from Jonah Hill to Gervais to Schumer got bleeped at one point or another, and with NBC's carpet-bombing approach to making sure no swears got on TV, it led to a show that sometimes felt like it was being broadcast over a cellphone with spotty reception that kept cutting in and out.
Add to that a program that ended up running a little long (something the Globes do their level best to avoid) and a long, saggy clips package for career achievement award winner Denzel Washington, and you had a show that felt bloated and aimless. Even a comedy bit from Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg (who came out wearing 2016 New Year's Eve novelty glasses) was unable to perk up the proceedings.
The TV awards have fallen into a kind of bland predictability, too
If the movie awards kept looking back, the TV awards felt as if they were embracing change simply for the sake of embracing change. Sometimes this led to good winners, as when Mr. Robot, USA's exciting new hacker drama, took the prize for best drama series. Other times it led to baffling winners, as when Amazon's Mozart in the Jungle, a pretty okay dramedy about an orchestra, took home two prizes for no particular reason. At still other times it led to Lady Gaga winning an acting award, because these are still the Golden Globes.
The Globe TV awards can still be sort of exciting, but in their quest to anoint the buzziest, newest shows out there (except for a much-deserved award for Jon Hamm's final season of Mad Men), they've become almost as predictable as the staid, tradition-bound Emmys. Look at the new shows in the list. Look for the biggest show with the best buzz. If one doesn't exist, look for a show with some sort of international element. And if you can't find that, pick the most famous person in the category (which is how Mr. Robot's only acting award went to ... Christian Slater?).
I made the mistake, for instance, of assuming Transparent would repeat, because it has the biggest buzz of any comedy series. But the Globe TV prizes don't do repeat winners, and Mozart won this category.
Mozart shouldn't get too comfortable, though. God only knows which completely random show from a streaming service will dethrone it next year, if it can even get nominated. (The 2015 drama series champ, The Affair, was kicked out of that category this year, though its star Maura Tierney won an acting prize somehow.)
There's probably no real way to fix these TV awards, too, because the people who vote on them tend to be more interested in film. At least in the '90s and 2000s, the TV awards were pursuing shows the Emmys mostly ignored. But with the proliferation of outlets producing TV, the Globe TV awards sometimes seem to be the proverbial chicken with its head cut off.
The Golden Globes no longer know what they want to be
In the '80s and '90s, the Golden Globes knew their role in the awards ecosystem exactly: They were the awards that predicted the Oscars. Sure, there were a variety of industry prizes with better track records (like, say, the Director's Guild Awards), but they weren't televised to the American public. Add to a solid prediction track record stars getting drunk and behaving badly, and you had a recipe for a fun show.
But the Globes increasingly just aren't that anymore. The Oscars changed their schedule in the early 2000s to blunt the influence of the Globes and other precursor awards. And without the "predicting the Oscars" element, the Globes have started to feel increasingly adrift.
A great host can save the proceedings, as can a handful of inspired speeches. But the Globes haven't particularly handled their transition to "institution" all that well, because becoming an institution was never in the awards' DNA. They've always been about throwing a great party for celebrities, and the awards were incidental.
There was a recurring theme throughout the night that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association probably didn't want out there: You can buy a Golden Globe. And this is true, on some level! Washington discussed in his speech about how when he won his first Globe, it was because he spent lots of time with HFPA members, while Larson said exactly the same thing while collecting her prize, telling said members how fun it's been getting to know them.
There are only a few dozen HFPA members. Enterprising networks and studios, then, can woo them fairly easily, and fairly inexpensively compared with larger awards bodies. The Globes had mostly cast off this image, except as something people whispered about — but this year, obsessed with the past as it was, brought it roaring back. In the end, the Golden Globes are what they always were: a party for a handful of journalists to get to meet famous people.