With a flailing Jo Koy at the helm, the Golden Globes’ party seriously fizzled

The Golden Globes, the phoniest of the (almost) major screen awards, having briefly died on the operating table, was shocked back to life Sunday, its resurrection made available to the interested public over new home CBS and its streaming sister, Paramount+.

As detailed, if not instigated, by this paper, the Globes’ former administrators, the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., finally dissolved in a flurry of bad publicity over an extreme lack of diversity among its relatively minuscule, dubiously credentialed, infamously persuadable, financially fiddly, disproportionately demanding membership. The brand is now co-owned by a billionaire and a media company among whose properties are the trade magazines Variety and the Hollywood Reporter, which not incidentally benefit from awards-related advertising. (Make of that what you will.) Still, with some fresh institutional oversight and an expanded, scrupulously diverse voting body, the new Globes are arguably less phony than of yore — which is good, but also, as an awards show, beside the point.

As television, the Globes’ reputation rests almost entirely on being more fun than the Oscars or the Emmys, whose combined territory the Globes encompass — an alcohol-fueled Hollywood party that might produce something wild, and which recalls the days when all such ceremonies were private banquets, before they turned into TV shows held in theaters with celebrities nailed in their seats for three hours, facing forward. (Indeed, some Globes guests are seated with their backs to the stage.)

So here we were, Sunday night, back at the Beverly Hilton hotel, on an elegant set, emphasizing gold, with table-filled terraces leading down to a circular stage. It was, if nothing else, nicely shot, emphasizing intimacy rather than grandness. The evening was genuinely star-studded — nearly all the nominees were present — and to the extent one enjoys watching celebrities in a room react, or not, to jokes at their expense, or tributes from their colleagues, one might account the broadcast a success.

Apart from that, the broadcast was watchable, like a handsome screen saver, without being interesting in any of the ways the announcer or producers promised. The absence of production numbers, tribute segments and self-congratulatory montages, while in some ways a good thing — it’s the only way to get through a show with so many categories in three hours — means that the evening has a structural repetitive sameness that depends entirely on the unpredictable human element to elevate it or subvert it.

There was a fair share of elevation; it’s nice to see people recognized, and most everyone who was seemed sincerely touched, though the countdown clock, which more than one recipient mentioned aloud, kept most to a litany of thanks to colleagues and families, and away from extracurricular speechifying. But there was very little subversion. Robert Downey Jr., winning a supporting actor prize for “Oppenheimer,” tried to get that party started — “I took a beta blocker, so this is going to be a breeze” — but no one joined him in the conga line. In a contrasting human moment, presenter Kevin Costner seemed up past his bedtime, and barely interested in holding up his end of the banter opposite America Ferrera. Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig, who I’m guessing prepared their own material, were funny as music continually interrupted their presentation and forced them to dance. But by then we were very late in the broadcast.

Kristen Wiig and Will Ferrell dance onstage at the Golden Globe Awards.

Kristen Wiig and Will Ferrell dance onstage at the Golden Globe Awards.

(Sonja Flemming / CBS)

Cutaways in and out of commercials featured shots of famous people mingling, away from their tables, with a decided emphasis on shots of Bruce Springsteen; next year they might consider cutting the awards and just showing the mingling.

Selected to host, at the eleventh hour, was Jo Koy, a highly successful comedian who’s used to performing in big rooms to thousands of fans, largely about Filipino culture, but here seemed out of proportion, out of his depth and a fish out of water. His opening monologue seemed to consist mostly of high-volume pronouncements of famous people’s names, not followed necessarily by a joke.

“I got the gig 10 days ago,” he said defensively, never a good tack for a comic. “You want a perfect monologue?” He threw the show’s writers under the bus (“I wrote some of these and they’re the ones you’re laughing at”), which only compounded the sense that he was flailing; I feared at times the flop sweat might short out my television. Taylor Swift’s stone-faced reaction to a joke about the difference between an NFL broadcast and the Golden Globes — the punchline was that there were fewer shots of her on the Globes — is a meme by the time you read this. He could be surprisingly crude too. A prosthetic penis joke led from “Saltburn” to “Barbie” to “Maestro,” and the lesson he took away from “Succession” was “If you’re a billionaire, pull out.” Still, he soldiered on, and did not let his energy flag on his occasional, brief returns to the stage. And he did get Meryl Streep to say “Wakanda forever.”

Whatever its deficiencies as three hours of television, there is still something to be said for watching talented people honored, so this year’s Golden Globes, like any year’s, was not bereft of satisfying moments. For whatever reasons, institutional or otherwise, it was a diverse group of winners, so much so that it made diversity seem so normal and inevitable that it was almost not worth mentioning.

And there are other benefits to the Hollywood ecosystem, to be sure. Sunday night gave actors who have cooled their heels over much of 2023, awaiting the end of their strike, something to dress up for, a chance to step in front of a camera with a minimum of preparation and a maximum of exposure. After all, people do like getting awards, whatever the source. Plus, for the presenters and winners, there was a swag bag worth half a million dollars. And it is a fact of life that one is never too big to turn one’s nose up at free food and drink and $500,000 gift bags.

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