What Is ‘Mozart in the Jungle’ and Why Do the Golden Globes Love Freshman TV Series?
The most unpredictable awards show of them all turned even weirder than usual on Sunday night. While the Golden Globes are known for favoring the unexpected, they’ve hardly been a reliable bellwether for the Oscars, nor for the Emmys. Sometimes they honor the dark horses and underdogs that other award shows fail to recognize, but when it came to television the 2016 Globes winners favored the newest series on the block.
If you made any bets on the Globes this year, you probably won big with Leo, but failed miserably in your TV predictions. The biggest surprises of the night came when the HFPA awarded two new series —one great, one not so great — the top prizes. Best Drama Series went to USA’s breakout hit Mr. Robot, one of the most refreshingly smart and critically lauded new shows of 2015. Christian Slater also won Best Supporting Actor for the series. Then Best Comedy Series went to Amazon’s Mozart in the Jungle, leaving nearly everyone watching at home to experience bouts of confusion. It’s quite possible you’d never even heard of the Amazon series before last night, so let’s do a quick summary. The show was developed by Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman and Alex Timbers, and stars Gael García Bernal as a New York Symphony conductor in a story that follows Lola Kirke as a young oboist navigating New York City and the orchestral music scene. Not bad so far, right?
That’s what I thought when I first watched the pilot, the most I could bear of the 10-episode half-hour comedy, which debuted its first full season this past December. Mozart in the Jungle is like a wannabe Girls (never mind it stars Jemima Kirke’s sister) that attempts, and fails, to make classical music hip and sexy. I may only be judging it based on the pilot, but the TLDR version: It did not deserve to beat Amazon’s actual prize Transparent, nor Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black, or HBO’s Veep OR Silicon Valley. (I can’t personally speak to the sixth nomination that I’ve yet to see, Hulu’s Casual.) The series also went home with a second accolade on Sunday for Bernal named Best Actor in a Comedy Series. The other least expected, though most cherished win of the night came in Rachel Bloom’s win for Best Actress in a Comedy Series for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. The CW’s sleeper hit charmed critics with its bold take on mental health issues through the lens of a musical comedy. I don’t blame Bloom one bit for her wonderful “Oh my god!” moment on stage.
As surprising as these TV wins were they aren’t incredibly out of character for the HFPA. For the past several years the group has named multiple freshman series as the Best Drama and/or Best Comedies, as well as in acting categories. Honoring newcomers and underdogs in light of the shows that usually win big at the Emmys, the HFPA has carved out a bit of a pattern for themselves. Last year’s Best Comedy Globe went to Transparent, with star Jeffrey Tambor winning Best Actor in a Comedy. This marked the first Best Series Globe award for an online streaming platform (Netflix had previously only won in acting categories), which is huge for any show, but especially a show about such a daring topic, a transgender woman in transition. The association also recognized Showtime’s newcomer The Affair last year as Best Drama and Best Actress in a Drama for Ruth Wilson, and gave us a double dose of a surprise in Comedy, awarding Brooklyn 99 the Best Comedy along with Best Actor for Andy Samberg. And for the Best Actress Comedy category, HFPA shined the spotlight on one of the most deserving new stars and most underdog new shows of 2014 with Gina Rodriguez for Jane the Virgin.
It’s clear the HFPA loves to recognize the new, and this fetish reaches back even further in Globes history. Girls, Homeland, Boardwalk Empire and Glee all won Best Series awards for their premiere seasons. But each of those wins makes sense for those shows that came from major networks with big-named creators and casts up their sleeves. Of course good new shows are going to get honored, but the difference is how those debuted in an era unlike the one we’ve recently entered. Now more and more online studios are developing new series for niche demographics and interests, with networks taking chances on some risky topics with unknown stars and creators. We still have our Walking Dead and Game of Thrones reigning supreme in the drama field, while the likes of Veep and (somehow) Modern Family are still taking home comedy prizes. Unlike three or four award shows ago, lists of the best television series of the year are becoming more diverse and varied. The fact that a musical comedy and a telenovela satire from The CW, both with female leads by the way, have won Golden Globes in the past two years is pretty incredible. And anywhere from one to three of the nominees in every television series category this year were from a streaming platform, either Netflix, Amazon or Hulu. It’s nothing new to say television is getting more diverse with the growth binge-watching culture, but the Globes are making it a point to highlight those shifts.
The upside is how the HFPA are bringing attention to shows that otherwise might have gone largely uncelebrated. The Globes brought major acclaim to Transparent and, possibly helped give the series the push it needed to win big at the Emmys. They brought praise to Jane the Virgin, which was largely snubbed at the Emmys last year. Now more people will likely check out Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Mr. Robot after their wins, and I assure you Google traffic spiked for Mozart in the Jungle last night. But something about honoring the newcomers also feels a bit unwarranted, especially with Mozart in the Jungle.
It’s one thing to give credit to the new guys, but the HFPA seem so hungry for alternative fresh meat that they’re almost forgetting what their categories are supposed to honor: the “Best” in TV. At this rate, they might as well change it to Best New Series. I can just imagine all “about 90” HFPA members – why can’t they get an exact number?? – collectively agreeing to choose the absolute weirdest, newest nominees just to stand out. This year their criteria seems to be more about honoring the darkest of the dark horses just for that fact alone, rather than the most deserving. If they wanted to honor a deserving newcomer with a show that was: A) very good, B) actually funny, and C) used the medium of TV to comment on larger issues, they could’ve given the Best Comedy Actor award to Aziz Ansari. His Master of None was one of the best new comedies of the year that brilliantly touched on a variety of topics from race to sex to age. That sounds like the perfect HFPA charmer to me.
The the Globes’ eagerness to honor freshman TV may also be seen in with their taste in film this year. As Salon’s Sonia Saraiya pointed out, the film actresses nominated at this year’s Globes were noticeably younger than the nominated actresses on the small screen, and younger than the men in both fields. The youngest range from Saoirse Ronan (21), Brie Larson (26), Alicia Vikander (27) and Jennifer Lawrence (25), while TV actresses tend to be above the age of 40 with Julia Louis-Dreyfus (54), Taraji P. Henson (45), Regina King (44) and Jamie Lee Curtis (57). This of course says a lot about the age gap in both industries, casting, the types of films that opened in 2015 (many about young women’s stories), and the lead female roles in TV, among other various factors. But there is still an interesting (though not direct by any means) correlation between how often the HFPA has chosen to nominate and hand out Globes to the youngest and freshest, be it actresses or series.
My one worry is that if these 90 or so voters are so focused on a general sense of newness, how can they value talent as it increases over time, whether that’s through a show or an actor’s career? The HFPA giving the Best Drama Actress award to Larson over Cate Blanchett is a very Golden Globes thing to do, but could it be because of their supposed aim to celebrate Hollywood’s young new talent? As far as TV, Transparent showcased immense growth in its second season expanding into more complex areas with its characters and storylines, yet the Globes failed to recognize that this year. Similarly, FX’s Fargo proved itself one of the smartest uses of the anthology format in its second installment. It’s a series that continues to be a fascinatingly original product despite its Coen brothers inspiration, and also employs a fantastic cast of film actors. Kirsten Dunst gave one of the best TV performances of the year in Fargo and was one of the biggest snubs of the night. Although Fargo won big last year for Best Miniseries and Best Actor in a Miniseries for Billy Bob Thornton, it failed to get any love this year. To the HFPA, Fargo isn’t “new” anymore, so instead they gave Lady Gaga a Golden Globe, which in and of itself I won’t argue against, but again, it’s the “weird” and “unexpected” choice.
It may be too early or even inaccurate of me to claim the HFPA’s voting is any type of trend or pattern, especially in the midst of such a fast-changing moment in television. But I have a feeling that, like Transparent, Fargo and Jane the Virgin, Mozart in the Jungle and Mr. Robot won’t have a second-coming next year. While the latter may deserve more accolades once its second season premieres, the HFPA will likely be too busy drooling over whatever show debuted in 2016. Like a group of kids, they run for the new toy while tossing last year’s Christmas present in the trash. In this age of television, the HFPA has only continued to prove themselves as a group of mystery people with very short attention spans.