There are darn good reasons to be suspicious about the nominations on the TV side of the Golden Globes announcement.
Not the fact that broadcast television was almost completely shut out. Not the fact that it seems Game of Thrones barely existed. And not the fact that the final seasons of The Big Bang Theory, The Good Place, Veep and Silicon Valley were ignored.
In the television categories, members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association – a very different bunch of voters from the members of the Television Academy, who sort out the Emmy nominations – have tended to favour new series over old, long-running content. And that’s fair enough. In recent years, new series, often critically acclaimed but niche, have been recognized and given a boost. In 2016, for instance, Mr. Robot, Outlander and Netflix’s Narcos were nominated.
This year, there are very odd omissions and, looking at the list, one suspects that star-studded but ordinary or mediocre productions are getting undue attention.
It’s not an outlandish set of lists. But it could cause eye-rolling. The Best TV Series (Drama) category comprises HBO’s Big Little Lies, Netflix’s The Crown, BBC America’s Killing Eve, AppleTV+’s The Morning Show and HBO’s Succession. Now, Succession is clearly a contender for best TV drama of the past several years. But Big Little Lies and The Morning Show don’t belong on the list.
The second season of Big Little Lies started strong and became a burnt-out car wreck by its end. Notoriously, the director of all the episodes wasn’t given final say on the finished products, and it showed. It was erratic in pace and tone. The Morning Show, Apple’s flagship drama upon entering the streaming wars, was dull for the most part, lacking in gravitas or surprise. Without the occasional outbursts of foul language, it could have aired on any broadcast network over the past few years.
What both series have, however, is star power. The Morning Show has movie stars, with Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon (playing the kind of feisty figure she can perform in her sleep) and Steve Carell in the lead roles. Big Little Lies added Meryl Streep to a cast that already included Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern, Witherspoon (again) and Shailene Woodley. The second season ultimately contained what is probably Streep’s worst performance ever.
In another important category, Best Limited Series or TV Film, there is a tincture of merit but also some surprises. The list is Hulu’s Catch-22, HBO’s Chernobyl, FX’s Fosse/Verdon, Showtime’s The Loudest Voice and Netflix’s Unbelievable.
Four of the five productions absolutely belong. It is encouraging to see Unbelievable getting acclaim (Kaitlyn Dever also received an acting nomination for her extraordinary work as Marie) and Chernobyl was up there with Succession as truly great, penetrating drama. The oddity on the list is Catch-22, Hulu’s limited series adaptation of Joseph Heller’s classic novel. It amounted to an interesting but failed attempt to capture the spirit of the book. What it did have, however, was George Clooney as star, producer and director of some episodes. You could surmise it’s his name that gets it nominated.
And there is one significant and bewildering snub in this category. That’s Netflix’s When They See Us. Ava DuVernay’s powerful, harrowing four-part look at the case of the unjustly convicted and incarcerated Central Park Five, was a scorcher. Angry but contained, it resonated, but what it lacked, apparently, was star power. Remember that one of its stars, Jharrel Jerome, won an Emmy for his role. Perhaps the Hollywood Foreign Press hasn’t heard of him. It’s not like he’s as famous as Nicole Kidman. Also take note that there is no actual “TV film” on the list, although HBO’s Brexit and Deadwood: The Movie were possible nominations.
It would be pointless to focus entirely on snubs. There is simply an abundance of disregarded shows and performances, as usual. Was HBO’s Watchmen too dense, too complex for consideration?
But in the contemporary culture, every list of important cultural content is fraught with meaning. The meaning of the Golden Globes’ set of TV nominations leaves us bristling with suspicion that stories featuring movie stars have more weight than others. It’s not a matter of merit, it’s a matter of favouring mediocrity.
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