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The Golden Globes had a lot to prove — and still have a long way to go

Ke Huy Quan gave the 80th annual Golden Globe awards the redemption moment it so desperately needed.

Accepting the very first award of the night, as best supporting actor in a film for his standout work on the action/fantasy/comedy Everything Everywhere All at Once, Quan recalled how he thought for years his acting career might never match his early work in movies like The Goonies and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

"For so many years, I was afraid I had nothing more to offer, that no matter what I did, I would never surpass what I achieved as a kid," Quan said tearfully, moments after thanking director Steven Spielberg for casting him in Indiana Jones. "Thankfully, more than 30 years later, two guys thought of me. They remembered that kid. And they gave me an opportunity to try again."

Ever since the Globes announced plans to return to NBC after a prolonged scandal over a lack of diversity among members and allegations of corruption, cynics wondered: Why should anyone care about this awards show again?

Quan's tearful acceptance speech – a moving moment from an actor of color who is making a triumphant return to the craft when his career seemed to be over – provided a perfect answer.

If only these Globes could have come up with a few more moments like that.

Instead, Tuesday's Globes were an odd hodgepodge of expected awards (Cate Blanchett as best actress in a film drama for Tar; Steven Spielberg as best director of a film drama for The Fabelmans), awards that didn't make much sense (the Game of Thrones spinoff House of the Dragon as best TV drama over Better Call Saul and Severance?), and awards that were cool, but still kind of head-scratchers (Abbott Elementary's Tyler James Williams as best supporting actor on a TV show over Severance's John Turturro or Barry's Henry Winkler?)

In the end, the Globes had to make three arguments Tuesday: that it has survived its past scandals to become a better organization; that it still matters as an important benchmark in an awards season topped by The Oscars. And that it's still Hollywood's coolest party - the tipsy, uninhibited yin to the stuffy, traditional yang of The Oscars.

This year's program showed they've still got a lot of work to do on every front. Here are a few reasons why:

When you pick a host for a show that bills itself as Hollywood's "party of the year," maybe hire someone who actually wants to party?

I get why Jerrod Carmichael started the Globes by telling everyone to be quiet while he walked them through a sardonic story on how he decided to take the host's job. He even dropped a few great lines like: "One minute, you're making mint tea at home, the next, you're invited to be the Black face of an embattled white organization."

But ultimately, that was a bummer of a way to start an awards show whose original claim to fame was that it was a wild, fun party. And Carmichael never really found his groove after that awkward, biting, sometimes funny-sometimes-not monologue – telling the audience to be quiet so much, he sounded more like a hall monitor than somebody trying to encourage everyone to have a good time.

Worse, some of Carmichael's attempts at edgy humor weren't quite funny enough to get past the edge to be entertaining. Like his joke about taking the three Golden Globes Tom Cruise returned – he gave them back in protest during the Globes' scandals – and trading them for the wife of the Church of Scientology's leader (critics of the church, of which Cruise is a longtime member, have alleged she has been missing for years.) Though I did love the moment when Carmichael told Spielberg he watched The Fabelmans with Kanye West and the movie was so good it changed Ye's mind about his anti-Semitism.

In an odd way Carmichael's uneven performance summed up the confused spirit of the show — which couldn't quite decide if it was going to party on in hopes people forgot its past scandals or offer up a show so smart and incisive all would see they had transcended them.

Diversity among some winners brought powerful moments, but ...

The Globes tried mightily to showcase diversity. The first three winners of the night were non-white performers: Quan, Williams and Angela Bassett as supporting actress for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.

Quan's Everything Everywhere co-star Michelle Yeoh finally got her flowers for a 40-year career navigating Hollywood's often-terrible treatment of Asian performers and women of a certain age. "When I first came to Hollywood, it was a dream come true...until I (got) here," she quipped, jokingly threatening to beat up producers if they tried to play her off with music before her speech was done. "Someone said to me: 'You speak English?'...I said, 'Yeah, the flight here was about 13 hours long, so I learned.'"

Producer/director Ryan Murphy, accepting the Carol Burnett award for TV achievement, used his acceptance speech to highlight LGBTQ performers he had worked with who had been pressured to hide their identities, like Pose stars Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, Jeremy Pope and Billy Porter. "My mission was to take the invisible, the unloved, and make them the heroes I long to see but never did in pop culture," he added.

Still, even with all these wonderful moments, there were too many great performances and projects by people of color left out – from movies like Till and Nope to TV shows like Reservation Dogs, Atlanta and Pachinko. Which left a feeling that the Globes have only just begun to make up for their past missed opportunities.

Playing winners off with music during emotional acceptance speeches kills one of the biggest elements of the show.

This is a mistake too many awards show producers make, including those at the Globes. Early in the night, Carmichael and a few presenters seemed to take their time, eating up precious minutes and throwing the show off schedule. This forces producers to curb the amount of time winners have for their speeches so they can end the show on time for the broadcast network – even during showcase moments like Yeoh's long-awaited win, Spielberg's acceptance of the best film drama award for The Fabelmans or Quinta Brunson's win as best TV comedy for the show she created, Abbott Elementary.

They even played off filmmakers trying to talk about the struggle for democracy in Argentina (Argentina, 1985).

Worse, the show had a pianist onscreen who was getting blamed for playing people off, but the music was pre-recorded and coming from the producers, as the pianist herself explained on Twitter.

Bottom line: emotional, eloquent acceptance speeches are what viewers love and what critics like me talk about the next day. Setting up a situation where you're rushing big winners through their moment helps no one – especially the onscreen pianist unfairly blamed for the music.

Making fun of weather emergencies is rarely wise

Because some celebrities chose not to attend the Globes on principle – like nominee Brendan Fraser (The Whale) – the show went out of its way to tell the audience when a celebrity wasn't present because they were working or otherwise indisposed.

These announcements could lead to some suspicion and snark, including when Regina Hall made fun of the idea that inclement weather trapped Yellowstone star Kevin Costner in Santa Barbara and kept him from accepting his award as best actor in a TV drama.

But Costner had released his own video on social media explaining that heavy rain had washed out the roads in his area and he truly had intended to attend the ceremony – which highlights the dangers of snarking before you know all the facts (and yes, I snarked too, until I saw Costner's video).

Even when his acceptance speech is just a few minutes long, Eddie Murphy knows how to bring down the house.

To be honest, I was hoping Murphy would speak longer during his acceptance speech for the Cecil B. DeMille award – a lifetime achievement honor for one of the most influential comics in film or TV. But he offered a short, serious speech where he thanked family, friends and colleagues, before ending with three things he said were the key to success and happiness in Hollywood.

"Pay your taxes. Mind your business. And keep Will Smith's wife's name out your f—ing mouth!"

Now that's the kind of in-your-face, irreverent funny bit that the Golden Globes could have used a lot more of.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: January 10, 2023 at 11:00 PM CST
A previous version of this story misstated the name of the film Argentina, 1985 as Argentina, 85. It also misspelled The Fabelmans as The Fablemans and Cate Blanchett as Cate Blanchette.
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Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.