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Golden Girls: Fey and Poehler Make Hosting the Globes Look Easy

Yeah, movie stars dominate the cool kids' tables at the Golden Globes. But it takes polished TV stars like these two to make the night a party.

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Paul Drinkwater/NBC

I will not pretend that it’s an easy thing to successfully host an awards show. You can be too edgy or too dull; you can play too much to the room and bore the viewers or too much to the TV viewers and lose the room. After decades, awardscasts are still flailing around to find that magic formula: the Oscars next month is going with Seth MacFarlane, because what the hell.

But Tina Fey and Amy Poehler damn sure made it look easy. The duo, each of whom has been one of the best things at any awards show they’ve presented at in the past few years, managed to turn in a perfomance that was hilarious without overshadowing the show, pointed without being mean-spirited and surprising without trying too hard. Their hosting was simply funny, well-delivered and accessible both to the Globes crowd and the home audience–something that might seem simple but is clearly anything but.

They began with an opening that rained down showbiz jokes faster than I could type, riffing, for instance, on the hierarchy of Hollywood as the movie celebrities “rub[bed] shoulders with the rat-faced people of television.” Yeah, the Globes may reaffirm that movie stars dominate the cool kids’ tables. (Literally. You could have made and eaten a sandwich in the time it took the TV winners to make it from their seats in the back of the Beverly Hilton International Ballroom.) But it’s TV that makes it a party, and it takes polished TV personalities like Fey and Poehler to keep the party moving.

They played off the usual glad-handing banter: “Meryl Streep is not here tonight,” said Poehler. “She has the flu. And I hear she’s amazing in it.” They photobombed their own show, sneaking into nominee announcements for two acting categories (Poehler made up as actress “Darcy St. Fudge,” Fey in drag as the hirsute “Damian Francisco… a professional volleyball player battling restless leg syndrome in Dog President”). As they were beat out by Lena Dunham in the TV comedy actress category, they gave mock ice-stares from the audience, then came onstage, drinks in hand, to fake-snarl their congratulations (“I’m glad we got you through middle school,” said Fey).

(Photos: 2013 Golden Globes Fashion: The Bold, The Beautiful and The Boring)

And even when their jokes drew blood—Poehler said of Zero Dark Thirty director Kathryn Bigelow, “When it comes to torture, I trust the lady who spent three years married to James Cameron”–it didn’t feel nasty. Maybe it was that their delivery didn’t carry the feel of self-congratulation that accompanied the (also hilarious, at least one time out) truth-telling of previous host Ricky Gervais. (Though they were also cutting-but-kind to him, making light of his controversies: When you run afoul of the Foreign Press, they make you host this show two more times.”)

It helped Fey and Poehler that it was an exciting night overall, in terms of speechmaking and sometimes award-giving. Dunham accepted two awards with flustered happiness, cracking jokes–”remembering” to thank Chad Lowe in reference to the time Hillary Swank forgot to mention her then-husband–but also saying emotionally that the award made her feel “there’s a space” for her. (There was, to be sure, also the usual hyperbole in the acceptances: we got to hear how “brave” it was [1] to give a performance mocking Sarah Palin, in Hollywood, and [2] to make a film adaptation of Les Miserables.)

But are most likely to remember was the elliptical but moving remarks from Jodie Foster, receiving a lifetime achievement award. Foster thanked her longtime female partner from the stage, but not before going through a long, soul-searching talk about coming out, privacy and the demands on celebrities–especially gay celebrities–to be public.

Foster said that she’d come out long ago: to friends, family, people that she actually knew in person. What she resisted was the pressure to make a private conversation into a public event or an example, to turn it, as she said into “reality TV” (“I’m not Honey Boo Boo Child”). It was an unusually self-revelatory public statement about being a private person, and if it was tough to follow and at times close to an internal monologue, it was also a rarity: a Hollywood speech that didn’t feel like a studied performance.

As for the awards themselves, my colleague Richard Corliss assesses the movie hardware elsewhere on this site. (Dog President was robbed!) With the TV awards, it’s worth remembering that, when the Globes get it right, wrong or somewhere in between, it usually is more about buzz, celebrity and a critical mass of media coverage than it is about the quality of any given work or performance.

Thus Girls won, and I was happy because it was the best new series of 2012 (I might have preferred Louie or Parks and Recreation, but Girls was better than its nominated competition). But the award probably rewarded Dunham’s media heat as much as anything. Homeland had a problematic second season, but it got the kind of publicity that made it a Globes no-brainer. And Don Cheadle is a fantastic actor whose Type-A-hole character in House of Lies is written too one-note to show his range; but he was the biggest star in his category, and the Globes likes movie stars. If there was an overarching message to the TV wins–which also included more tributes to HBO’s Game Change–it was that Hollywood Foreign Press Association members can expense pay cable.

But the usual caveat applies: the Globes are fun because you don’t need to take them too seriously as awards. And yet there was at least a semi-serious theme to the evening, that it was a night of honoring the power and talent of Hollywood’s women—from the hosts to Foster to female-centered winners like Girls and Homeland. Even when Bill Clinton made a surprise appearance, Poehler followed it up, channeling Leslie Knope, with an excited, “That was Hillary Clinton’s husband!”

With few exceptions, that was about as heavy as it got. Another winning woman, singer Adele, was her usual disarming awards self, high-fiving her way to the podium and saying that she and a girlfriend who came with her “were pissing ourselves laughing.” Likewise! And at the Globes, that’s the biggest prize of all.