What’s the point of sitting through countless awards show every year if not to celebrate the few moments on those shows that actually justify our investment? As much as I like to complain that most awards shows are poorly structured, improperly paced and ineptly directed, I watch too many of them to argue that they shouldn’t exist at all. I watch them because I’m hoping to see something that will make the time go by more quickly, be it a spontaneous reaction or an exceptional performance. In chronological order, here are five moments from this year’s awards shows that had that effect.
Tina Fey and Amy Poehler lay into James Cameron and charm us with their rapport on the Golden Globes. (January 13)
After three years of diminishing returns from the caustic Ricky Gervais, the Golden Globe Awards were blessed with a welcome blast of excellence from one of the finest comedic duos and real-life friendships of our day. Fey and Poehler eschewed a musical number or any other fancy histrionics in favor of a stationary volley of well-constructed, energetically delivered punchlines that had the slightly tipsy audience roaring with laughter. Best joke: “When it comes to torture, I trust the lady who spent three years married to James Cameron.” Close second: “Ricky Gervais could not be here tonight, because he is no longer technically in showbusiness.”
Neil Patrick Harris and (seemingly) every dancer on Broadway open the Tony Awards; later, Audra McDonald joins NPH for a barn-burner of a closing rap. (June 9)
This jaw-dropping opening number dropped the proverbial mic on every other opening number in recent and not-so-recent memory. Future awards-show producers will be hard-pressed to top this number for sheer scope, technical perfection, inspired comedy, genuine affection for the craft, stunning physical feats, rapid-fire lyrics, self-referential asides and even Tom Hooper/Les Miserables jokes. An absolute delight that will reward your time even after watching it several times (I would know). The rare extended standing ovation at the end says it all.
I could have just as easily added the mid-show “Kiss L.A. Goodbye” number featuring Andrew Rannells, Laura Benanti and the incomparable Megan Hilty (who should host next year if NPH is busy). But I didn’t want to cheat even more than I already did. This annual tradition remains fresh even though we always see it coming. (Neil’s evasive introduction – “I normally do a closing number, but we’re out of time!” – was a new twist.) Written during the broadcast and featuring a game Audra McDonald as the Alicia Keys to Neil’s Jay Z, this number climaxed with Neil daintily setting the mic down, setting Audra up to triumphantly drop her own mic before strutting offstage.
Justin Timberlake, Snoop Dogg and Pharrell join Charlie Wilson on the BET Awards. (June 30)
Watch the full tribute here.
This year’s awards show tributes ranged from excessive (five different speeches and an In Memoriam segment during the Emmy Awards) to paltry (a measly thirty seconds dedicated to George Jones on the CMT Music Awards). The BET Awards’ epic-length tribute to R&B legend Charlie Wilson benefited from the presence of Wilson himself, who appeared gracious and eager to commiserate with his pop culture antecedents. Though it ran for almost 30 uninterrupted minutes, the caliber of participating talent (India.Arie, Jamie Foxx and Stevie Wonder plus the trio mentioned above) and the ebullience of Wilson’s music kept the proceedings endlessly entertaining. Highlights: Pharrell, JT and Snoop bowing down to Charlie; Charlie’s affectionate shout-out to his wife; shots of the audience singing along to every word.
Tony Hale feeds Julia Louis-Dreyfuss her acceptance speech at the Emmy Awards. (September 22)
A strong year for HBO’s Veep culminated in Louis-Dreyfus’ second win in the Best Comedy Actress category for playing this part. (She’s won many times before for Seinfeld and The New Adventures of Old Christine.) This time, though, Hale threw a wrench into proceedings. In character as Gary Walsh from the acclaimed comedy, Hale pretended to manipulate the speech Vice President-style, injecting a welcome dose of spontaneity into a night so flat that Neil Patrick Harris came out looking less than exceptional. (Seriously Emmys, what was that?)
Taylor Swift recruits Vince Gill, Alison Krauss and more for Red on the CMA Awards. (November 7)
Whether you think Taylor Swift is a music icon or an overrated superstar (I’m closer to the former than the latter), you can’t deny that she’s one of the savviest navigators of music industry politics of our time. Look no further than her performance at the CMA Awards. The country music world fractured this year over debates between traditional and modern country, male and female representation, pure pop and country-pop, even cowboy hat and no cowboy hat. In rebuttal, Swift used her CMA slot to assert that it’s possible to be a part of both worlds, producing pop hits with musical craftsmanship that can attract traditional musicians like Gill and Krauss (as well as backup instrumentalists Sam Bush, Edgar Meyer and Eric Gardner). Savvy – and easy on the ears.
- The aforementioned cancelled-TV number on the Tonys
- Carrie Underwood’s excellent hits medley on the CMA Awards, redeeming her lackluster vocals from earlier in the year
- Elton John and Ed Sheeran merging two generations on the Grammy Awards
- Prince redeeming the dreadful Billboard Music Awards as only Prince can
- Daniel Day-Lewis cracking wise during his acceptance speech for Lincoln. He’s also funny? That’s not fair!
- “I Saw Your Boobs” and the rest of Seth MacFarlane’s sexist shtick on the Oscars
- The miniscule length of the otherwise enjoyable NSYNC reunion during Justin Timberlake’s epic set on the MTV Video Music Awards
- Sound-mix issues galore on the ACM Awards
- Toby Keith and Kristen Bell’s noxious “banter” on the CMT Music Awards
- Miguel nearly committing a violent crime during his performance on the Billboard Music Awards