On Sunday night, the Tonight Show‘s Jimmy Fallon will host the Golden Globes—a gig as enviable as any in the constellation of awards shows. After all, it’s a show without much of a legacy when it comes to hosts. Aside from one exception in 1995, the Globes have only regularly had one since 2010. Those seven shows were divided between two acts, four times for Ricky Gervais, three for the team of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. Which is to say, there’s very little institutional memory against which Fallon can be negatively compared. This assignment is a huge chance for Fallon to put his own stamp on the ceremony, one whose self-styled reputation is as more fun and engaging than the others.
Viewed from another angle, though, the booking seems both awful for anyone and uniquely ill-suited to Fallon’s particular skill set. This is to be the first major live entertainment telecast since the election of Donald Trump, an event that the entertainment industry has had a uniquely difficult time figuring out how to handle. Fallon’s former cohort at Saturday Night Live have set the confused tone, airily acknowledging that a large portion of its audience feels confused while sidestepping entirely what, specifically, it might be confused about so as to avoid alienating anyone. Presumably, the Golden Globes will be the first in at least four years’ worth of Hollywood grasping to figure out how to make a topical awards-show monologue that reaches an audience perhaps more deeply fragmented than ever before.
To not acknowledge, in any way, the oddity of these times seems like a missed opportunity. But that’s likely to be exactly what Fallon does. He’s by leaps and bounds the least politically engaged of any current late-night host, meeting critiques of his hair-ruffling interview with Trump with confusion that anyone might have been offended. It wasn’t that Fallon was pro-Trump that was the problem—at least that would have been a point-of-view. It’s that his handling of Trump revealed Fallon’s main objective: to be inoffensive, even in offensive times. He’s not really equipped to handle the harder material, and even with celebrities—the ultimate soft targets for gentle ribbing—has evinced little insight other than that they’re fun and nice.
Forget jokes about politics entirely—the question is is Fallon engaged enough with stars to even know how to make shrewd jokes about them? The most memorable moments of recent ceremonies came when Fey, Poehler, and Gervais made laser-focused fun, either light (Fey and Poehler) or dour (Gervais), of the stars in attendance. I was not always a fan of Gervais’s approach, but it was, at least, one that extended outwards to the audience at home, letting us in on the joke even when that joke was too mean by half. And Fey and Poehler made skillful work of disassembling Hollywood’s lofty idea of itself in a way so pleasantly well-meant that even the celebrities in the room seemed to be having fun. Fallon’s complicit, we’re-all-in-this-together approach towards celebrities, whom he coddles and flatters endlessly, has an alienating effect when viewed on a TV screen. Sure they’re friends, but is there any reason any of the rest of us need to be here? Particularly at a time in which the self-appointed elites have been dealt a repudiating blow, cant and an allergy to even the most lightly critical jokes seem a poor fit.
The Globes will attempt, after all, to puncture many viewers’ dour moods. By and large, modern awards-show hosts try little if at all to fit themselves within the strictures of traditional emcee. They bend the show to their own style. That means that Fallon will likely try to play games with the attendees, whether lip-sync battling or dueling impersonations, that leave us out in the cold. Now more than ever feels like a time in which some sort of nourishment—insight beyond the low-calorie idea that Hollywood is a great place to exist—would be very welcome. Perhaps Fallon will surprise, breaking from his tradition on late-night TV by making a joke that might actually offend someone, somewhere, and thus make others laugh or think. More likely, though, he’ll host the show from a blandly sunny la la land, one that refers only back to itself.