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Critic's Notebook: A Golden Globes Show With a Message

Reese Witherspoon accepts the award for Best Television Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television for “Big Little Lies” during the 75th Annual Golden Globe Awards.

As the ancient (and possibly apocryphal) Hollywood saying once went: "If you have a message to send, call Western Union." From the "black carpet" to Oprah Winfrey's remarkable "Their time is up!" anthem, this year's Golden Globes ceremony could well be remembered as the Western Union Awards.

In a night celebrating the essential message of female empowerment, speaking out against harassment and abuses in the entertainment and other industries, Seth Meyers rightfully took a closer look to mock his own appointment as the show's male, white, straight host. "Hello, ladies and remaining gentlemen!" is how Meyers kicked off his smart, tart opening monologue, which took special aim at "the elephant not in the room"—disgraced mogul Harvey Weinstein, who Meyers predicted in 20 years will be "the first person ever booed during the In Memoriam."

That joke itself received a boo, but if ever there was a year when crossing the line was worth it, it's this one. Still, the best moment in his monologue was in a handoff during the "Jokes Seth Can't Tell" segment, when his Saturday Night Live co-star and former Globes co-host Amy "I'm reclaiming my wine" Poehler schooled him for "man-splaining" the routine: "I'm a woman in Hollywood, Seth! I don't need a set-up to make a punch line work." And she didn't.

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While progress has clearly been made, a few presenters couldn't help but take swipes at how much remains to be done. Following (future president?) Oprah Winfrey's rousing acceptance of her Cecil B. DeMille Award, which included a defense of the press as well as a rallying cry that "A new day is on the horizon," Natalie Portman wryly introduced "the all-male nominees" in the directing category—notably not including Greta Gerwig, whose Lady Bird won the top musical/comedy movie prize. Presenters Jessica Chastain and Geena Davis (the latter as part of a Thelma and Louise reunion) each made barbed jokes about the gender pay gap in the movie industry.

The acceptance speeches often bore eloquent testimony to the #MeToo and Time's Up movements. The Handmaid's Tale's Elisabeth Moss quoted Margaret Atwood, and Big Little Lies' Laura Dern asserted, "May we teach our children that speaking out without fear of retribution is our culture's new North Star."

Perhaps saying it most punchily was Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri's formidable Frances McDormand, who noted that while "I keep my politics private … It was really great to be in this room tonight and to be a part of this tectonic shift in our industry's power structure. Trust me, the women in this room tonight are not here for the food. We are here for the work."

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And they were in that Beverly Hilton ballroom a long time. The show went 10 minutes over its scheduled three-hour running time, and viewers felt every minute of it, women and men alike. In that, at least, there's equality.

While there may have been surprises among the movie winners—Three Billboards topping Dunkirk and The Post as top movie drama probably qualifies—there were few shockers in the TV categories. The Handmaid's Tale and Big Little Lies repeated their Emmy triumphs, and the Globes once again embraced an Amazon newbie with The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and its title star Rachel Brosnahan scoring wins. About the only TV winner I didn't see coming was Ewan McGregor for his dazzling dual role in Fargo, but no argument there.

Still, by the time the final presenter, Barbra Streisand, took the stage, with one last salute to those "who speak out against gender inequality, sexual harassment and the pettiness that has poisoned our politics," it's understandable if even the more progressive among us might have started pining for a time when the Globes was more about the party than the soapbox. And yet this year, the Globes seized the moment in a way that will resonate in Hollywood history. And the Oscars is only two months away.