Even before the night’s biggest awards went to such polarizing works as The Kominsky Method and Bohemian Rhapsody, the 76th Annual Golden Globes were a bit of a mess. The opening monologue went on too long, and many of its jokes didn’t land. The usual film-versus-TV gag, this one featuring Jim Carrey getting escorted out of the movie section by security, was jerkily paced and awkwardly staged, as tends to happen when one attempts physical comedy in a room packed like a sardine can. Jeff Bridges talked about boats for a really long time.
Awards season’s traditional kickoff did not go off without a hitch. Consequently, emcees Sandra Oh and Andy Samberg will not emerge as the second coming of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, a universally lauded professional power couple happily entrusted with hosting duties for years to come. But a multidecade collaborative friendship would be an awfully high bar for Samberg and Oh to clear after being paired together in charmingly haphazard fashion, doing a 60-second skit at the Emmys one moment and staying attached at the hip for three hours the next. Besides, messiness is the whole reason awards show aficionados love the Globes in the first place. They’re the kind of ceremonies whose talent recruitment strategy appears to consist of watching prior shows, thinking “those two seem fun!,” and handing out paychecks accordingly. It’s deeply relatable. Compared to the Globes’ more consequential cousins, it also seems to be working.
As of this writing, the Academy Awards still do not have a host, and in fact may never get one. But the Kevin Hart debacle and the ensuing vacuum are only the latest, and most acute, manifestations of a slow-brewing crisis. For the last several years, the talent roster of major awards shows—the building blocks of an EGOT, with the Globes grandfathered in—has consisted of the same handful of late-night television hosts. James Corden headlined the Grammys and the Tonys. Jimmy Kimmel did the Emmys and the Oscars. Stephen Colbert did the Emmys, too, and Seth Meyers the Golden Globes, himself taking over for Jimmy Fallon. Last year’s Emmy hosts, Michael Che and Colin Jost, aren’t technically late-night personalities, but they just play barely exaggerated versions of ones on SNL. Which is how you create a host shortage as sudden and dramatic as the one the Oscars have placed themselves in. When you narrow the pool of eligible candidates that much, and recycle its contents that often, is it any wonder said pool eventually dries up?
Given how exciting the choice of Samberg and Oh seemed against this backdrop, one could be forgiven for forgetting that Samberg himself had just hosted the Emmys three and a half years ago, or that Oh had spent years as the second lead of one of the biggest hits on broadcast TV. But compared to an endless parade of Jimmys, Samberg and Oh are genuinely exciting, and their performance on Sunday night lived up to that promise. Their Globes ceremony wasn’t perfect, but it was a step in the right direction for an institution in crisis.
The stars of Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Killing Eve are neither as famous as an Ellen DeGeneres nor as polished as a Colbert. They are, however, specific in their appeal as well as their sensibility. Their opening bit, for instance, was an overt lift from Samberg’s non-roast roast of James Franco, just with “digs” about Bradley Cooper’s attractiveness instead of Aziz Ansari’s unique perspective on the American experience. And while Oh paid explicit homage to her heritage in her acceptance speech for Best Actress in a TV Series–Drama by briefly speaking in Korean, she also did so in her comedy, “prescribing” Pepcid to the cast of Crazy Rich Asians to prevent Asian glow from the copious booze.
While the duo didn’t match Fey and Poehler—of which the audience was perhaps unfairly reminded by Poehler herself, teaming up with Maya Rudolph for the best presenter performance of the night—they also came closest to capturing their energy, a seemingly paradoxical mix of basking in the audience’s goodwill and coming at them with surprisingly barbed insights. Samberg may have spent his first five minutes at the wheel buttering his crowd up, but I was legitimately taken aback at his implication that The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, an adored fantasy of Jewish midcentury life starring many non-Jews, could be construed as anti-Semitic. Elsewhere, ousted CBS head Les Moonves was not only name-checked, but invoked right before the cast of CBS’s massive hit The Big Bang Theory took the stage. Anti-vaxxers, a distressingly common breed in Hollywood, earned a sideswipe in the middle of a deeply silly round of faux-complimentary flu shots. Remember when Tina and Amy said Gravity was a movie about how George Clooney would rather float off into space and die than spend a minute with a woman his own age? Same energy.
In the pint-sized, ego-filled ballroom of the Beverly Hilton, this M.O. has its pitfalls; there’s nowhere to hide, no pocket of fans to fall back on. A well-intentioned, ironic joke about the mistreatment of the real-life Black Panthers fell flat, possibly because of an unfortunate and unnecessary cutaway to Ryan Coogler before Samberg had even hit his punch line. An absurdist introduction of Steve Carell using Jack Nicholson references appeared to sail over the audience’s head. Every awards show must strike a balance of pleasing their immediate crowd while appealing to the millions watching at home, a typically symbiotic relationship that’s grown more complicated in the age of #OscarsSoWhite and Time’s Up. For better and for worse, Samberg, Oh, and their writers veered toward the latter—and arguably an even narrower subset of it, i.e., the comedy nerds here for mismatched actor trivia and abrupt masturbation jokes. (Shout-out to the very game central trio of This Is Us.)
And yet the freewheeling, try-it-why-not energy of Oh and Samberg’s show perfectly matched the energy of the Globes as a whole. Why shouldn’t the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which won’t allow itself to nominate Roma for Best Picture, get a ceremony as chaotic as its own bylaws? And why shouldn’t other awards shows learn to loosen up by example? Live audiences are dwindling; movies and TV are now basically the same thing, and are also on the internet. It’s time to get weird—or better yet, have some fun.