Ricky Gervais

A night that saw more abuse heaped on NBC than any host network in recent memory.

The dreary weather outside only exacerbated pre-show host Billy Bush’s irritating giddiness, while hope that Ricky Gervais would capture lightning in a bottle inside panned out just marginally for this year’s Golden Globes. Having the British comic emcee the festivities sounded like an inspired idea, but despite flashes of brilliance there was only so much he could do during a telecast that moved along briskly enough but only sporadically lived up (or down) to its loosey-goosey reputation, amid a night that saw more abuse heaped on NBC than any host network in recent memory.

Gervais opened with about five minutes of stand-up, but it wasn’t exactly his A-list material — gently jabbing at the stars in attendance, joking about masturbation and delivering a pretty obvious gag about Jay Leno replacing him.

He fared slightly better as the evening wore on — swilling what looked like beer (and turning that into a fabulous gag to introduce Mel Gibson), insulting the Irish, and nearly bringing the house down when he quipped, “One thing that can’t be bought is a Golden Globe — officially.” Given the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn.’s sometimes-shady history (hello, Pia Zadora), that struck hilariously close to home.

Still, there wasn’t much imagination invested in how to use Gervais, relying on his comedic chops to conjure magic simply standing behind the podium. In that respect, it resembled Chris Rock’s Oscar turn of a few years ago, with Gervais disappearing for extended stretches. Even with an event determined to behave more like a televised cocktail party than a fusty Academy-backed ceremony, igniting an awards showcase to life, ultimately, is a lot to ask.

Then again, the awards-show gods, as producers of such exercises call them, often reside in the spontaneous flourishes that emerge, and the recipients only occasionally did their part. The highlights ranged from Mo’Nique’s overwhelmed response to open the evening — setting the bar high, as Drew Barrymore observed, for those who followed — to Robert Downey Jr. cheerfully rattling off a list of those he didn’t need to thank. Attempts to call attention to the humanitarian crisis in Haiti were also laudable, but at times collided with the self-congratulatory nature of the event.

As for not-so-high lights, it’s still a little fuzzy what Meryl Streep was talking about, James Cameron really did speak Na’vi, and too many non-star winners seemed determined to dare the producers to play them off — an implied threat that was never executed.

Of course, the Globes possess several structural advantages — representing an almost perfect made-for-TV mix in that the categories are designed to put big stars on stage as often as possible.

As usual, Globes voters didn’t disappoint in the high-Q score department, and the top film choices of two box office blockbusters — “The Hangover” and “Avatar” — reflect a populist streak that other award presentations must surely envy. That said, the group also persists in independent-minded choices, such as gracing Showtime with a trio of well-deserved awards and anointing Fox’s newbie musical “Glee” outstanding comedy.

In terms of NBC’s long night, Julianna Margulies used her win for “The Good Wife” to pointedly thank CBS for its commitment to 10 o’clock dramas, and even Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger took a potshot at the network’s latenight woes.

That followed several jabs during the red-carpet arrivals show, with Julia Roberts almost gleefully noting to Bush that NBC is “in the toilet right now,” and Tina Fey describing the rain as “God crying for NBC.” Bush had no response then, nor when George Clooney told the “Access Hollywood” host they were standing in the rain like “two idiots.”

Clooney leads a blessed existence, but in this case, he was only half right.

The 67th Annual Golden Globes

Special; NBC, Sunday, Jan. 17, 5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET

Production

Broadcast live from Los Angeles and produced by Dick Clark Prods. in association with the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. Executive producers, Orly Adelson, Barry Adelman; coordinating producer, Don Harary; co-producer, Melissa Watkins Trueblood; director, Chris Donovan; writer, Adelman; production designer, Brian Stonestreet; music director, Lenny Stack; talent coordinators, Heather Douglas, Rebecca Lambrecht, Rachel Springmann Margolis. Running time: 3 HOURS.

Cast

Host: Ricky Gervais

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