Don’t beat up on yourself too much if you’ve already forgotten that Jimmy Fallon hosted the Golden Globes last night. We’ve all got only so many brain cells to play with until we die, and memorizing the complete lyrics of “99 Bottles of Beer on The Wall” would be a better use of yours. The moments when Fallon managed to make himself obnoxious—e.g., mimicking Chris Rock at agonizing length, with the unfortunate side effect of reminding us that Chris Rock is much funnier—felt like triumphs of the human spirit compared to his default mode the rest of the evening: feckless ineptitude. Yet this was the gig NBC has been hyping since Thanksgiving as Fallon’s coronation, implying we’d be thrilled to tell our grandkids about the night we saw his human margarine smeared on prime-time pastry for a change instead of The Tonight Show’s plain toast.
Granted, the pretaped La La Land parody that kicked things off wasn’t bad. A mite strange, maybe—was it the only movie in contention?—but not bad. As soon as Fallon went live, however, his teleprompter went kerflooey. He felt jumpily compelled to fill us in on that as he fumbled; Johnny Carson would have taken pride in just sailing ahead without a blink. Once the glitch got fixed, the deadly jokes that followed (Donald Trump as Game of Thrones’ King Joffrey? How hip) could make you positively mournful for the initial snafu. Fallon never really recovered, even if the concept of “recovery” is a pretty ephemeral one in his case.
Hosting an awards show doesn’t take much, but it does require poise, a quality that will, most likely, still be eluding Fallon when he’s 80 years old. We feel compelled to ask: Is there a soul alive in this great land who really thinks the dude is the cat’s p.j.’s? You know, in that “He’s my guy” way? His parent network doesn’t have much choice but to keep building him up as the socko attraction he isn’t because he is their guy, whether they like it or not. But going on three years since Fallon took over The Tonight Show, he hasn’t quit auditioning for the job. He’s a star personality at the same level Jeff Koons’s sculptures are art or “Las Vegas Raiders” sounds like a plausible name for a football team. In all three cases, oodles of money are involved in convincing us the idea makes sense.
Once upon a time, everybody knew the Globes were a total crock.
Then again, that ought to have made Fallon and the Golden Globes a perfect fit. Once upon a time, everybody knew the Globes were a total crock—a sham cooked up for the sake of rubbing elbows with glitz by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, a seedy crew with about as much credibility as the Tooth Fairy. But the show has long since become a cash cow for NBC and by now, the stars being “honored” get every bit as overcome by emotion as the Tin Man was upon receiving his heart from the Great And Powerful Oz. Basically, the Globes have become too big and profitable a charade to be perceived as meaningless.
That’s more or less true of Fallon’s latter-day career. In his old slot hosting Late Night, he at least had some impudence. Did anyone expect taking over Jay Leno’s chair would turn him into such a nincompoop? Almost any guest who sits down beside him instantly exudes more authority than he does. Right down to his overdone hilarity whenever they say anything that even facsimilizes a joke, he acts like an overeager puppy hoping they’ll rescue him from the pound before the gas man shows up. The Tonight Show still regularly trounces Stephen Colbert’s Late Show in the ratings. No doubt it always will. But that doesn’t stop Colbert—or, hell, Jimmy Kimmel or Seth Meyers—from seeming a lot more clued in to a world that’s got other values besides showbiz, the only realm Fallon is at home in.
That’s why his stabs at topical jokes about the looming Trump administration on Sunday night fell flat. They were plainly unfelt, except as symptoms of Fallon’s own panic; he was trying to make up for his ignominious (and universally panned) September sitdown with our future POTUS, when he seemed hopelessly unable to grasp that Trump might be peddling something more than a movie. Even though the words “Thank Christ for Meryl Streep” don’t often pass one’s lips at awards shows, her firm anti-Trump speech, taking full advantage of her own regal stature in the biz to make the denunciation stick, left poor Fallon looking like even more of an amateur by comparison.
Three-time Golden Globes hosts (and brilliant wiseacres) Tina Fey and Amy Poehler could probably have had the job in perpetuity if they hadn’t decided they had better things to do. The peculiar misery of Jimmy Fallon is that, no matter what he’s up to, he never seems to have better things to do—or to be much good at what he’s doing, either. After his Globes performance, someone at NBC might be getting the idea that maybe chuckleheaded flop sweat isn’t such a hot look over the long haul.