“Emily in Paris is nominated for Best TV Series Musical or Comedy and I for one can’t wait to find out which it is.”—Tina Fey, co-host of the 77th Annual Golden Globe Awards.
The Golden Globes are a mixed bag of emotions with nobody able to come to a conclusion on whether it’s a night of random superficiality or a night of almost-Oscars level prestige. Hosted once again by Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, the duo frequently poked fun at this year’s nominees, hitting at their lack of critical and commercial appeal. Fey addressed the French elephant in the room while Poehler reassured everyone that the Globes love “flashy garbage” and to just go with it. There’s much the Globes could do to bolster this veneer of credibility but perhaps nothing would be easier than redefining their categories.
The Golden Globes is known for giving awards for both TV and film and for separating it’s Best Motion Picture and Best TV Series categories by genre. The Emmys also separate their awards into comedy and drama subcategories but only cover TV, while the various union guilds (SAG, WGA, etc.) cover both mediums but only for one profession, making them shorter, less publicized ceremonies. By separating their categories into genres, the Globes and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association create this facade that they appreciate comedy. That’s completely undone by lumping comedy and musicals together, though, while drama gets a spot all to itself. Thus, each year we get a terrible trail mix of nominees that sees Dreamgirls competing against Borat and La La Land versus Deadpool. The creation of a second category here is clearly not to give the often-overlooked comedies a fair shot at recognition but rather an opportunity to give yet another drama a chance at a trophy, a chance to slip out under the shadow of a juggernaut competitor.
The award show definition of comedy has long been a vague one. For TV it can be anything as long as it’s 30 minutes in length (because humor is a measurement of time). In film, it’s a term that can be applied to any film that stars an actor with a history of sketch, a film that has comedic elements in the first act and never again, or any movie where fewer than five people die. There’s never not been some questionable entries masquerading as comedies (cough The Tourist) but lumping the musical classification in with comedy is nonsensical on its face. Musicals may once have been a common genre, but today it sees few entries, with TV musicals even fewer and far between. It’s not a genre sturdy enough for its own category as comedies far dwarf the number of musicals each year, but its thematic ties to comedy are even more flimsy.
Having a musical element in a piece of work doesn’t imply the tone or plot is comedic and lighthearted. Les Misérables has more in common with Zero Dark Thirty than it does with Moonrise Kingdom and even less so with this year’s surprise comedy winner, Borat Subsequent MovieFilm. The abundance of songs doesn’t make a film where a poor woman sells her hair and teeth to support her child any less sobering than Django Unchained, but only the latter was classified as a drama. It’s like saying a duck has more in common with a boat than it does with a chicken because both can be found on water.
The Globes’ classification of shows and films often seems less likely to be determined by objectivity and more by personal preference by the board. It’s not so much “what qualitative elements does this piece of art exhibit” but more “where can we give this the best chance to win a trophy and what level of prestige of said trophy are we willing to offer?” This year, Minari was controversially categorized as a foreign film despite being produced and filmed in America, all because the characters often speak Korean throughout the movie. In 2018, Get Out was labelled a comedy despite never marketing or submitting itself as one, a decision even the creators were baffled by as they confirmed the film was never supposed to be viewed as comedic. More categories mean more people and works get highlighted, and that’s a good thing, but it’s meaningless if you don’t accurately represent the artist’s intent. Dramas deserve to be recognized as dramas and comedies deserve to be recognized as comedies, and each deserves an equal share of the pot.
It has long been a point of confusion as to why award shows seem to turn a blind eye to comedy considering these televised ceremonies rely so heavily on the hiring of comedians in order to be watchable. Maybe award shows are just stupid excuses to dress up and party; maybe they’re not. Maybe we should place zero value on these awards, but we can’t deny the satisfaction we get when they occasionally go to the right people. If the powers that be want their program to appear to celebrate and honor the best achievements in film and TV, then the very least they could do is to accurately classify these works by their intended intent and tone. The Globes aren’t going anywhere and they certainly don’t have to, but splitting musicals and comedies is one tiny change that can cut out a decent chunk of the bullshit. It should have been done a long time ago.
Olivia Cathcart is a comedian and writer.