Another awards season is upon us, with the Golden Globes just passed, and the Oscars approaching. There will be endless debates about people and films that are undeservedly left off of these lists. This column is not about that.
No, my complaint today is with the Golden Globes in particular, and the way that they treat television. Excellent hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler opened with a joke this year about how TV actors (like themselves) are looked at unfavorably compared to film performers (also, like themselves, though they are less known for film). In an era where the lines between the two have become increasingly blurred, this is an archaic notion, and one that should have been abandoned long ago, as television has moved into a golden age.
Also, it’s quite funny that a film industry that thinks they are better than television airs their awards shows on the small screen, rather than making people go to the theater to witness the proceedings. Wouldn’t that make more sense with the persistent attitude?
I’m not saying everything that graces the small screen is great, of course. But having moved through a decade that brought us Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Lost, Battlestar Galactica, The Wire, and The Sopranos, and being well into a decade with Homeland, Mad Men, The Walking Dead, Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, Justified, and so many others, it is very hard to argue that television is an inferior medium.
I feel like the lack of understanding of television by an awards show that airs on, you guessed it, television, is best proven by a look at their categories.
First, the supporting actor and actress awards are separate from everything else because they do not get divided into two genres: drama or comedy. Well, three, because miniseries is rightly given its own standing. But for supporting players, they are all lumped in together. How do you possibly compare Sofia Vergara’s work on Modern Family with Sarah Paulson in Game Change? You don’t. You just reward the well respected Dame Maggie Smith, who is in a British miniseries, and ignore everyone else.
The main actor and actress, as well as the best program, are divided into three distinct genres, and they should be. Just as comedy movies are almost completely ignored by the Oscars, you won’t catch the Golden Globes giving a supporting performance trophy to a sitcom star very often, if ever. It’s completely unfair to put them together, even when effort is made to divide the nominations between all three arenas.
However, this separation has some trouble, too. Calling the comedy category “Comedy or Musical” comes from an era when all movie musicals were light-hearted, thus not belonging in the heavy drama world. That might work for Glee, but Smash and Nashville are every bit dramas, and should not be tossed in with the half hour situation comedies.
Those aside, you used to be able to tell if a series was a comedy or a drama simply by its running time. Dramas are typically hour-long shows, while comedies are half hours. But as HBO and Showtime have entered the arena with Nurse Jackie, The Big C, How To Make It In America, Weeds, and Enlightenment, this is no longer the case.
The problem becomes in how you define these types of series. I look at comedies as programs where the characters act a certain way to get a laugh, and the situations arise just to make the characters do funny things. If there are some jokes, but the main point of the story is an ongoing personal experience that fundamentally gets to the core of a person and forces them to look at themselves, not a humorous device, then it’s a drama. I sometimes laugh at Nurse Jackie, but the show is about Jackie struggling with addiction and lies. This is not a comedy.
The Golden Globes haven’t gotten wise to the shift, though. Which is probably why these types of series have come in and stolen the trophies from more traditional fare on the broadcast networks.
This year, Lena Dunham’s win for Girls kind of throws a wrench into the entire thing. Her series is definitely drama, because serious things happen, and self-reflection is a large part of the story. Yet, Girls provides many more chuckles than its premium peers, and the arrogant, self-involved way in which Dunham’s character behaves is inherently comedic. It’s really, really hard to put this show in either box.
Which means that she won, of course, over actresses like Fey and Poehler who are following the comedy guidelines in the more traditional sense. Is this fair? Isn’t what they are doing two completely different things?
The problem is, how can we solve this conundrum? The bloated Golden Globes is already too long, and diluting the field by adding more genres isn’t doing anyone any favors. And yet, it certainly isn’t fair that the smarter, bold, definition busting series take away from the broad comedies like 30 Rock and Community that still have something valuable to say, and can be outstanding examples of the art.
I do think we should move the HBO and Showtime series into the drama world. They may straddle the line, especially Girls, but the characters have more in common with broadcast dramas than comedies.
The fact that the Hollywood Foreign Press hasn’t seen this, or chosen to do anything about it, just makes them feel out of touch with what really defines a genre. Considering that the purpose of the organization is to serve these programs, exhibiting such a glaring, fundamental fault takes away from their credibility greatly.
And then there’s the argument that award shows themselves are dumb, at least for the viewing public, and should be private, industry-only events, and the number of them should be reduced drastically. I do actually agree with this argument, but that’s a whole other column. Maybe next year.