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Ricky Gervais Goes Soft, and Other Observations From the Golden Globes

In this handout photo provided by NBC, host Ricky Gervais.
Photo: Handout/NBC

In the weeks leading up to the Golden Globes, Ricky Gervais and NBC more or less promised that this year’s show would be a bloody celebrity evisceration, a fitting sequel to last year’s uncomfortable, relatively hard-hitting, and totally riveting installment. The whole show was marketed this way, with promo ads that had Gervais promising he — just like you —would be making fun of all the uptight famous people, but, unlike you, he would be doing it to those famous peoples’ faces. Well, we don’t know quite what happened: Maybe Gervais didn’t want to have to spend the next year arguing that Hollywood wasn’t actually mad at him, or maybe he was just feeling benevolent, but the guy who hosted this Golden Globes was the kinder, cuddlier Gervais. In his opening monologue, he took aim at such soft targets as NBC, the Kardashians, and Bieber, giving the people in the room a free pass. He even got Johnny Depp to come onstage for some more ribbing about The Tourist. That Ricky Gervais, basically a nice guy! Too bad that without his tough humor acting as a lightning rod, this show was unfocused and irrelevant. The audience — at home and in the auditorium — came expecting fight night, and all we got instead was a regular old awards show.

To be fair to Gervais, none of his new material was all that bad (well, except the very tardy bit on the Kardashian marriage), and his delivery remains stellar, as with his introduction of the “racist” Colin Firth and his bit demanding to know whether Depp has actually seen The Tourist. (You can see his best bits here.) But we were promised no-fear joke bombs, and all we got were jibes about how he “could say anything he wanted,” though apparently all he wanted to say was pretty inoffensive. We weren’t the only ones whose expectations were subverted: Much of the talent made reference to Gervais’s bad behavior, partially because Hollywood types have long memories when it comes to being insulted, but possibly because the patter writers weren’t informed Gervais was going to be so gentle. Last year, the audience united against Gervais; this year, there were a few minorly tetchy reactions from the likes of Jodie Foster and Elton John, but by and large everyone settled in for a far more standard, dull, and irrelevant seeming show. 

Not helping with the night’s disjointed vibe: The fact that there was no big movie — or even big TV show — to provide a solid narrative, or a project to root for or against. The Descendants and The Artist had the best evenings, both winning Best Film and Best Actor, and putting them in good position for the Oscars. The Help fared less well: It lost Best Film to The Descendants and Viola Davis lost Best Actress in a Drama to Meryl Streep. (Though Octavia Spencer did take Best Supporting Actress.) But, generally speaking, the awards were spread around — to Woody Allen, Michelle Williams, Christopher Plummer, and Marin Scorsese. Even Madonna hilariously sneaked in there. (The Globes really love them some famous people.) Awards pundits have been observing for months now that there is no really big film in the running — in the blockbuster (Avatar), Zeitgeist (The Social Network), or even momentum-having (King’s Speech) sense — and the tepid results of such a lackluster race were finally plain for all to see: There’s not much to care about this year. Without a really big movie trying to run the table or Gervais acting the jester, the whole show lacked zip.

All in all, it was a scattered evening, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t some nice, minor moments. So to wrap up this haphazard awards show, a quick list of the good and the bad, bullet point style.

The Good:

  • Uggie (The Artist dog) onstage! Doing tricks with Jean Dujardin!
  • The BFF Presenters: Clooney for Moneyball! Pitt for Ides of March! Friendship is a beautiful thing.
  • George Clooney salutes Michael Fassbender, Michael Fassbender’s penis, Michael Fassbender’s ability to play golf with said penis. (Looking forward to the GIF of that golf shot.)
  • Dustin Hoffman spends the first half of the ceremony looking bored, then the second half making delightfully dry jokes during his award presentation. (“I’d like to thank my wife and agent for supporting me,” etc.)
  • Photobombs. (Congrats to Tina Fey and Jesse Tyler Ferguson for pulling them off.)
  • Matt LeBlanc’s reemergence on the scene as a stone cold silver fox. Welcome back, Joey!
  • Angelina Jolie nailed the pronunciation of Artist director Michael Hazanavicius. (Meanwhile, Mark Wahlberg awkwardly passed off the Best Actor announcement to Jessica Biel, rather than attempt to pronounce “Jean Dujardin” aloud. French is tricky!)
  • Downton Abbey, victorious! The war on weekends continues!
  • Two notable cute children moments: Jodie Foster’s kids (those were her kids, right?), who looked very happy to be hanging out with their mom, and then the young actors of Modern Family, who held hands while running to the stage. Vulture would like to see more children running hand-in-hand through crowds of drunk celebrities.
  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the undisputed Miss Congeniality of the night. So many great faces! Such a happy guy!
  • Kim Novak’s absurd war against The Artist’s score suffered a major setback. Sorry, Kim Novak! Congrats, everyone with perspective.
  • Homeland wins! So does Claire Danes!

The Bad:

  • Meryl Streep got played off. No you didn’t, HFPA.
  • When Madonna first took the stage, to accept the award for Best Original Song (“Masterpiece,” from W.E. Haven’t you heard it?), she appeared uncharacteristically flustered, as if Taylor Swift had temporarily taken over her body.  Then she returned to present the award for Best Foreign Film with all of her usual attitude, but none of the funny. Consider her answer to Ricky Gervais’s (admittedly annoying) joke about her old songs: “If I’m really still Like a Virgin, Ricky, why don’t you come over here and do something about it.” O … kay? Then she continued with a joke about kissing women on television that did nothing except remind everyone about Britney Spears, and how sad that whole situation is.  Finally, she revived her fake British accent long enough to let everyone know that the films in question are not, in fact, foreign to her. That last quote had a little bit of delicious Hydrangea anger in it, but too little, too late. Not her most impressive night. 
  • Felicity Huffman and William H. Macy introduce an award in two-part harmony. It’s cute they’re married and goofy, but we draw the line at harmonizing.
  • The anonymous, overlong acceptance speech for The Artist — no one wants a speech from a French producer when a dog is doing tricks stage left.
  • Thomas Jane’s hat. 
  • Robert Downey Jr., what happened? Where was the charm? Where was the making fun of Ricky?
  • Scowly Charlize Theron. Is she actually her character from Young Adult? Related: Did she and Michelle Williams form some sort of Headband club?
  • Kelsey Grammer over Bryan Cranston and Damien Lewis? Please. 
  • The twice-nominated Ryan Gosling was nowhere to be found.

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Ricky Gervais Goes Soft, and Other Observations From the Golden Globes