“Could this whole night have been an email?”
Tina Fey asked the question at the end of the Golden Globes monologue she shared with Amy Poehler, and the question hung in the air, a joke that was not entirely a joke. A moment later, as best supporting actor in a film winner Daniel Kaluuya began to accept his award with no audio, the answer to Fey’s questions seemed to be yes, an email would have been far preferable.
The email would have gone something like this: “Netflix did really, really well, with the help of ‘The Crown’ sweep, ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ wins, Aaron Sorkin for ‘The Trial of the Chicago 7,’ and Rosamund Pike for ‘I Care a Lot.’ ‘Nomadland’ and ‘Borat Subsequent Moviefilm’ did well, too, and Andra Day was a surprise win for ‘The United Sates vs. Billie Holiday.’ See you next year.”
I suppose the Kaluuya glitch gave the night a bit of live energy, but it was irritating, too, until Kaluuya could finally be heard. Mistakes on live TV can be fun, when a famous person is in the bathroom when he or she wins an award, say, or a drunk actor shares too much; but tech issues? Not as much fun, as anyone who has had their own Zoom struggles knows too well. Soon after Kaluuya, Catherine O’Hara’s acceptance speech was interrupted by a painfully tinny unidentifiable noise that sounded like yet another glitch — until it seemed that her husband, Bo Welch, was teasing her, trying to play her off the stage. Alas, his bad tech spoiled the moment.
The night served as yet another pandemic reminder of the profound difference between actually being together and being linked digitally. Two of the best moments were Norman Lear and Jane Fonda accepting their lifetime achievement prizes, with each delivering gracious speeches. But it was unfortunate that the actress-activist and the 98-year-old responsible for so much life-changing TV were not held in the embrace of an affectionate hall of people. They deserved to hear the audience roar with admiration.
The tech also made the lead-ins to the commercials uncomfortably sloppy. We saw groupings of nominees trying to make small talk with one another through Zoom, with plenty of audio dropouts as more than one spoke at the same time. These chaotic outros were just so much more pandemic screen-undation. They almost made the neat, pre-recorded acceptance speeches in the music categories less offensive — almost.
Fey and Poehler, on different coasts but framed as if on the same stage, delivered their one-liners with their usual warmth, even if the goofs on the likes of Big Red Carpet (like Big Pharma) and “The Prom” were forgettable. Interestingly, the pair continued to have their rare chemistry despite being far apart, it’s that durable. Unfortunately, during Fey and Poehler’s opening bit, the producers flashed to the Zoom feeds of the subjects of many of their jokes — we saw Nicole Kidman having to laugh at a joke about her wig and coats in “The Undoing,” for example, a few seconds after the punchline due to a lag. It was just clunky, lacking the good-spiritedness of seeing famous people laughing at themselves from the audience.
Some of the award acceptances managed to break through the layers of screens — Jodie Foster in her pajamas, shocked at her supporting actress win for “The Mauritanian”; “Minari” director Lee Isaac Chung, his young daughter clinging to him; and Chadwick Boseman’s widow, Taylor Simone Ledward, tearfully telling us who her late husband would have thanked for his best actor award. But they were the exceptions to the night’s Zoom-bred remoteness.
Fey and Poehler made a number of jokes at the expense of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which has been criticized for having no Black members. In a cursory segment, a trio of the organization’s officers came to the stage to address the issue. “We recognize we have our own work to do,” one said, which felt obligatory. We’re glad they recognize it, I guess. They did not address other criticisms of the HFPA, which has been accused of forming transactional relationships with studios. Perhaps they don’t recognize it.
Without the red carpet excess and energy that makes even the dumbest of awkward chitchat watchable, the pre-shows were a bust this year, a collection of lo-def, glamourless, static promos. All the hosts on NBC and E! fought to re-create the frothy superficiality of the old normal, but it was a losing battle.
In its pre-show, NBC gave us one-on-one Zoom chats between Elle Fanning and Jane Levy, and then Julia Garner and Shira Haas, in an effort to add some variety to the night. The bits were unsatisfying, as the actresses promised to be besties and praised each other to the skies, and it was just so much more floundering. A few stars, including Laverne Cox and Amanda Seyfried, stood for their Zooms dressed up, in full fashionista mode. At least we could see they weren’t in PJs from the waist down.