The Screen Actors Guild has always been the sanest of awards, and its television presence almost perfect until it goes off-the-charts wrong, a so-near-and-yet-so-far thing. Because all the prizes are to actors, the ceremony is stars-stars-stars from movies and TV, none of those pesky lighting and make-up categories that clutter the Oscar show with people we don’t know. No bad songs we'll never hear again. But the SAG ceremony is cluttered with actors giving canned speeches about how wonderful their union is, and when they got their SAG cards, which can only make the rest of us think, “Lighten up, it’s a Hollywood awards show, not a documentary version of Norma Rae.”
The nominations announcement this morning was the perfect example of SAG in almost-right-until-it’s-disastrous mode.
Rosario Dawson and Angie Harmon made the announcement at the quite civilized hour of 9:00 a.m. Eastern, maybe not so civil in the West but an hour later and less punishing than most awards. It lasted all of 8 minutes (watch the whole thing here) and was live-streamed and carried on TNT, which will simulcast the ceremony on Jan 30th with TBS. It happened too late for the East coast morning shows, so there were no stars in full makeup standing by to appear on Today and Good Morning America the second their names were called, pretending to be stunned. That might have been different if TNT had a morning show, but swift and simple works.
Just when I think the SAGs are my favorite awards, though, something reminds me they don’t have their television act together. Harmon, star of TNT’s good, guilty pleasure detective series Rizzoli & Isles, was cringe-worthy. When Michael C. Hall’s nomination for Dexter was announced, some people in the audience whooped (weird enough in a room of reporters) and she broke character – yes, being an announcer is a character – to joke that she didn’t get to cheer. She made creaky jokes about her name being mysteriously missing from the acting nominees for TV drama. I guess she was going for loose and fun, but really, Angie, it’s not about you.
The nominations themselves are – almost perfect until they become unfathomable. (The full list of nominees in movies and TV is here ). SAG made room for unglamorous actors like John Hawkes, so good in his supporting role as the drugged-out uncle in Winter’s Bone. Let those pandering Golden Globes nominate Angelina Jolie in the worst-English-accent category for The Tourist. But Hilary Swank for playing a watered-down version of her usual spunky working-class woman in Conviction? And no Jacki Weaver, who certainly gave one of the best supporting performances a lethal granny in Animal Kingdom?
What SAG absolutely gets right is the existence of categories for best – or “Outstanding” as they call it -- ensemble cast. The category speaks to what acting is, collaborative unless you’re doing a one-person show. Television is divided into comedy and drama. As good as Jon Hamm and Alec Baldwin are, there’s no question that Mad Men and 30 Rock (my choices if I were voting) cohere so well because the cast makes us believe those characters really work at the same ad agency and TV network.
And there’s nothing to argue with in the movie category, including the absence of an artificial division between comedy and drama. As good as Black Swan, The Fighter, The King’s Speech and The Social Network are, I’m pulling for The Kids Are All Right to win. Annette Bening and Mark Ruffalo deserve their individual nominations, but Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson share credit for the seamless sense of family the acting creates.
Good judgment in awards, shaky on TV; that’s not a terrible compromise. If only we could watch the show and not be preached at by real-life Norma Raes