The 2019 MTV Movie and TV Awards Deliver a Bold, Unpredictable Message: Be Nice

Kevin Winter/Getty Images for MTV
 Zachary Levi onstage during the 2019 MTV Movie and TV Awards at Barker Hangar on June 15, 2019 in Santa Monica, Calif.

RIP, old MTV. No, not the 24/7 music video era of MTV. The MTV of three years ago. You know, when the network aired its annual movie-themed awards show just so listless stars clad in leather jackets could shill their upcoming popcorn releases, inebriated winners could test the censors and performers could lip-sync a forgettable summer single. No more. The 2019 Movie and TV Awards -- the “TV” was added in 2017 in case you were wondering -- promoted tolerance for all and authenticity and community service. From the awards show that once brought you Kesha and Snoop Dogg smoking a doobie on stage comes a guy named Noah Centineo, who stars in a Netflix rom-com called To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. He stoically noted in his acceptance speech for breakthrough performance, “I’ve learned external things don’t make you happy. The thing that truly made me happy was doing what I loved and giving back to other people.” Swear.       
 
The weird development was evident from the start. Congenial host Zachary Levi of Shazam! went in to the monologue like a champ, making vicious digs about Ray-J’s infamous sex tape with Kim Kardashian and the Fyre Festival documentary water-bottle fiasco (call it, um, Water-gate?). Loved the clever Us send-up. But he capped his monologue by flashing retro photos of himself, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista on the big screen above him and making an actual point instead of just pointing (and laughing). Something about loving your inner-14-year-old self. Contrast this with Rebel Wilson, who ended her vulgar 2013 speech by sniping in a thick Australian brogue about Lena Dunham’s vagina in the best beard category. 
 
Before the first commercial break, the great Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson had accepted his generation award for his body of work and admitted to piggy-backing off of Levi’s positive remarks. He spoke proudly of his half-Black, half-Samoan heritage and implored the audience to be kind and compassionate and inclusive and to be good to people because that’s all that matters. You know what that means, right? No self-deprecating jokes about how he showed little compassion for his fans with last summer’s movie dud, Skyscraper. (Still love you, Rock! Please don’t hurt me!)

You can even kinda extract a lesson out of Lizzo proudly shaking it during her joie de vivre rendition of “Juice” and busting out the delightful lyric, “I'm like chardonnay, get better over time.” Bazzi, meanwhile, mesmerized with his hit “Paradise.” Of course, he may have lost of street cred when Centineo later referred to him as “Andrew” and revealed that “when we were young, we would talk about the future of our careers... this is full circle.” This guy was born in 1996. In 1999, Jim Carrey dressed in full-on dirty hippie garb to accept an award for The Truman Show and took note of all the "fine-looking p***y" in the audience and lamented that the network no longer played Foghat. 

Winner Brie Larson brought on her Captain Marvel stuntwoman after winning best fight sequence to pass along inspiration. Surviving R. Kelly beat RBG for best documentary. His assault victims exulted in the victory. Jada Pinkett Smith nabbed the trailblazer award and exclaimed, “Eternal obstacles must be challenged so we can forge paths. Every single person in this room is trailblazing.” (Her husband, Will Smith, won the generation award in 2016 and turned his respective speech into a referendum on himself, saying that he was dedicating himself to “bringing light in the world.”) Even best kiss -- the most MTV category of all MTV categories, the one that will never be retired a la the icky “most desirable female,” the one that gave us then-couple Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams running into each other’s arms in a Notebook reenactment -- served as a teachable moment. “Kiss you want to kiss, love who you want to love,” declared Lana Condor of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. Note to self: Watch To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. 
 
To the stars’ credit, they had time to craft their speeches and chose to say something purposeful as opposed to semi-incoherently reading off a boring list of names. The MTV Movie & TV Awards have never pretended to be credible in the suspense department. Winners are tipped off in advance; if they agree to show up to the ceremony, even better. That’s why the camera panned to Sandra Bullock exactly two seconds into the broadcast. Look, everyone! We got an A-list movie star to share the same oxygen as the cast of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina! Do you think she’ll win most frightened performance for Bird Box? (She did... and tied the role to the importance of being a protective mother to her children IRL.) Presumably this is also the reason why Nick Cannon bested Gayle King for best host. Sit down, indeed. 

A show airing on a tape-delay during a Monday night in the middle of June isn’t destined for ratings high heat. The added TV element during this golden age of streaming was surely a last-ditch effort to garner more eyeballs -- and, in the case of this year’s edition, spoof the controversial Game of Thrones finale in a digital short. The Movie and TV Awards, even during the heyday years, have always lacked the outrageous unpredictability of the VMAs. Nobody is going to hijack Elisabeth Moss’ acceptable speech for her work in The Handmaid’s Tale. Beyond the ephemeral Tweets, few ever talk about it the next day, let alone the next week. But the messages may actually stick around a little longer.  

It’s an unnerving form of rebellion, this gentle MTV. Some would say boring and toothless. But guess what’s also boring and toothless? Being obnoxious and crass just for the sake of it.  Young viewers could do a lot worse than famous and not-so-famous celebrities pumping them with positive messages of encouragement. Especially when you consider that it was broadcast immediately following an episode of Teen Mom OG. If you complain that VMAs have devolved into a noisy scrap heap, then you can’t vent that its little brother is too earnest and staid. 
 
Maybe Lizzo had the line of the night after all. Some things do get better over time.   


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