Of all the award shows, the Golden Globes are the most fun to watch. They have salty hosts, a risque red carpet and zero music-and-dance numbers. They let the actors get drunk in the audience. The Golden Globes don’t care.
It’s tempting to dismiss this year’s Golden Globe nominees as deliberately snobbish. Highbrow to a fault. Elitist, liberal and myopic. Blind to the brilliance that is “NCIS.”
That’s because the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which is exactly what it sounds like, doesn’t give points for popularity. Or accessibility, for that matter.
You weren’t going to stumble blindly into a showing of “Birdman” on a lazy Sunday afternoon. “House of Cards” doesn’t come on after the evening news. You have to pony up the cash for a Showtime bundle to see Liev Schreiber swing his trusty baseball bat on “Ray Donovan.”
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The Globes’ TV nominees, in particular, proved that sheer viewership numbers will soon matter even less than they do now. The comedy categories are dominated by irreverent stories about unapologetic characters who don’t need to be liked to stay afloat.
Edie Falco’s “Nurse Jackie” will steal your pain meds. Lena Dunham drops her drawers to troll “Girls” critics. If you want to see full-on defiance, watch Jeffrey Tambor face his family in full makeup on Amazon’s transgender coming-out comedy “Transparent.”
The criminally underwatched “Louie,” with a best-actor nod for creator Louis C.K., airs on FX, which reaches almost 100 million households, but Season 4 averaged just 650,000 viewers per episode.
Its “edgy” subject matter (fat women on dates!) means that “Louie” will be shared among friends and dissected by pundits ad nauseam, but for every one person who watched it in 2014, more than 20 were watching “How I Met Your Mother” (14.1 million) stagger to a lame, unfunny finish.
For the first time, no major network show made the cut for best comedy series: “Girls” and “Silicon Valley” are on HBO; “Jane the Virgin” is on the CW; “Orange Is the New Black” is on Netflix and “Transparent” can be streamed from Amazon.
“Girls” and “Silicon Valley” were seen by 850,000 and 1.7 million fans each week, respectively. “Jane the Virgin” hovers around 1 million viewers each week.
Just for comparison’s sake, “Black-ish,” the ABC newcomer that deserved a spot on this list, has been limping along with around 7 million per episode, putting it on the bubble for possible cancellation. “The Big Bang Theory,” recycling Uranus jokes on CBS for eight seasons, averages over 23 million.
“Transparent” and “Orange” aren’t even TV shows, strictly speaking, but language hasn’t caught up with the technology that has allowed us to gobble up entire seasons of women-in-prison dramedy from our favorite glowing screens.
Netflix, like Hulu, doesn’t share viewership numbers for its original shows, so it’s impossible for anyone on the outside to say how many people watched “Orange Is the New Black.” “Transparent,” the other streaming contender, is an Amazon original, and it doesn’t release numbers, either.
But after “Transparent” landed on pretty much everyone’s “best-of” list, it mattered even less whether the show’s first season would be profitable. Anyone new to the TV game is in an HBO-inspired, brand-building zone right now and more likely to take risks. It’s not a situation you’ll find anywhere else in mainstream entertainment, and it means the amount of quality TV is getting ready to supernova.
“Orange Is the New Black” was so refreshing in its depiction of LGBT issues because it was insulated from boycotting bigots who pressure sponsors. (Think of the awkward tampon ads a network deal would have meant.) “Transparent” followed suit with perfect timing, premiering at the height of a surge forward in public consciousness about transgender issues. (Laverne Cox’s role as transgender inmate Sophia Burset in “Orange Is the New Black” led that charge.)
The Golden Globe nominees were the shows people were talking about over craft beers and charcuterie plates. They wrap their viewers in a smug little blanket of quality-assured cultural relevance. As long as the buzz around shows like “Silicon Valley” keeps credit cards on automatic bill pay, great TV shows will be like a gym membership we’re paying for whether we use it or not.
Right now, people who are serious about pop culture need this new wave of shows more than the shows need us. Like a tipsy actress accepting her golden statue in a see-through Armani gown, the best shows don’t care what you think.
WHERE TO WATCH
The Golden Globes, with hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, begin at 7 p.m. Sunday on NBC.
Globes nominees worth watching
▪ All of the TV/miniseries nominees: “The Normal Heart” (HBO), “Fargo” (FX), “Olive Kitteridge” (HBO), “True Detective” (HBO), “The Missing” (Starz)
▪ All of the movie screenplay nominees: “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Gone Girl,” “Birdman,” “Boyhood,” “The Imitation Game”