Review: Netflix streams a SAG Awards graced by Barbra Streisand but also much of the usual

Los Angeles, CA - February 24: Barbra Streisand photographed during the 30th Screen Actors Guild Awards in Shrine Auditorium and Expo Hall in Los Angeles, CA, Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Barbra Streisand accepts a lifetime achievement award at the Screen Actors Guild Awards on Saturday. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
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Awards, awards, awards — so many they constitute a season of their own. Saturday night it was the turn of the Screen Actors Guild Awards, the 30th edition, going out from the Shrine Auditorium & Expo Hall to the globe for the first time via Netflix.

This was not the streamer's first foray into live entertainment. Chris Rock's "Selective Outrage," some "Love Is Blind" events, a golf match that paired pro golfers and Formula One drivers came first. There is some irony in a platform created to let you to watch what you want whenever you want getting into the see-it-now game. Or perhaps it's progress, moving from solipsism to community. Or just business. (That said, you will be able to watch the show at your leisure for the next 28 days, though there will be interruptions on the ad-supported tier.)

The SAG Awards have in fact aired for decades on TBS and TNT — basic cable! The least prestigious of television platforms. I must confess to never having watched a single one of those broadcasts, or being aware of them — my interest in awards shows, and awards, as an adult anyway, being limited to what I've been professionally assigned to cover, and this is the first year that has been deemed necessary. Because: Netflix. And so I'm unable to speak to how this year's SAG Awards compared to any other's.

Read more: SAG Awards 2024: Will the winners go on to repeat at the Oscars?

Compared with other awards shows, it was not significantly better or worse than the Oscars, Emmys, et al., but possibly more to my taste because it honors a particular craft rather than an industry, and it put money — I assume — in the pockets of a labor union. (And also because it lasted only a couple of hours.)

As little interest as I have in stars or celebrities, I do love actors, who are as good as magic to me. There was the familiar scripted banter for the presenters, which ranged from kind of funny to clumsily delivered, and at times the former because of the latter. But all in all, the evening lacked the self-congratulatory air that can hang around the Oscars; there's only so much you can get away with in a room full of people who know what you know. Even famous actors are glad to get work.

The evening began with what I learned was the traditional humorous "I am an actor" declarations, which relayed from Michael Cera and Colman Domingo, to Hannah Waddingham and Idris Elba, the latter who acted more or less as host. "Personally, I can't wait to get home and have Netflix recommend this show to me based on all the shows I've watched myself in," said Elba. As to swearing on a streaming platform, his advice was, "Maybe don't say anything you wouldn't say in front of Oprah." Cut to Oprah. "F—, that was Oprah."

A surprised man in a white shirt accepts an acting honor.
Pedro Pascal at the Screen Actors Guild Awards on Saturday. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Inevitably, there were memorable moments. The ASL speakers in the room reacting to Troy Kotsur's finger-spelling the name of Steven Yeun (male actor in a television movie or related series, for "Beef") before Greta Lee read it aloud. Billie Eilish autographing Melissa McCarthy's forehead. A surprised Pedro Pascal (male actor in a drama series for "The Last of Us") in pirate-white shirtsleeves admitting, "I'm a little drunk — I thought I could get drunk. ... So this is an incredible f— honor. … I'm going to have a panic attack and I'm going to leave.")

Also: An inspirational speech by Da'Vine Joy Randolph (outstanding performance by a female actor for "The Holdovers"), who bothered to write one. An "in memoriam" segment not marred by cutaways to a celebrity singer. The room jumping to its feet at the announcement of Lily Gladstone winning female actor in a motion picture for "Killers of the Flower Moon." Speeches honoring the SAG-AFTRA strike, by President Fran Drescher and others, because unions make us strong. The everlasting weirdness of Jeff Goldblum, paired with his "The Fly" costar Geena Davis to present the evening's final award to the cast of "Oppenheimer."

Halfway through the evening, Barbra Streisand ("proud to be a member for over 60 years") received a lifetime achievement award, introduced by Jennifer Aniston ("magnificent talent aside, she's also a mensch"), who said she once kissed the honoree at midnight, and Bradley Cooper, who played Kris Kristofferson in the remake of the Streisand remake of "A Star Is Born." Having enjoyed her recent memoir, "My Name Is Barbra," and being generally a fan, I might have tuned in just for this, especially given that Streisand doesn't like attending awards shows or public speaking. "This is such a wonderful award to get 'cause you know in advance you're going to get it," she said; that is, it didn't require one to look happy when one lost.

Read more: Barbra Streisand, Fran Drescher shake up 2024 SAG Awards: All the best and worst moments

Streisand's favorite subjects — coffee ice cream, Marlon Brando and the openness of director William Wyler and cinematographer Harry Stradling to her suggestions on "Funny Girl" — all got a mention, as well as a reminder of the Jewish roots of the picture business: "They were all fleeing the prejudice they faced in Eastern Europe, simply because of their religion. I dream of a world where such prejudice is a thing of the past."

Streisand aside, the ad-freeness of the evening was its most notable feature, though in fact there were commercial placeholders, most featuring backstage interviews by Tan France that unfortunately brought the red carpet into the midst of the program proper. So, one step forward, one step back.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.