Gervais' barbs hit HFPA, NBC but show shambles along

The inspired choice of Ricky Gervais to host the 2010 Golden Globes soured last year, when the multifaceted star’s “fearless insult comic” persona prompted him to go beyond his debut in irreverence, leaving award-show decorum in an uncomfortable shambles. Inviting him back thus introduced a whiff of anticipation into the ceremony (“Who will he bash next?”) that virtually eclipsed the nominees heading into Sunday’s telecast. Still, the late great Gil Cates spoke of the unpredictable “award-show gods,” and with Gervais largely an absentee most of the night, they didn’t smile on Sunday’s lifeless telecast.

“Boy, he’s fun,” said Johnny Depp after Gervais’ six-minute opening monologue, and in a broad sense, it’s hard to argue. It’s just in hindsight that the telecast peaked with his open, and was practically all downhill from there.

With people anticipating another celebrity flaying, Gervais reserved his harshest barbs for NBC and the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., exhibiting his iconoclastic streak by (repeatedly) biting the hands feeding him.

“So, where was I?” he began, before likening the HFPA to the corrupt immigrants in “Boardwalk Empire” and quipping that the Globes are to the Oscars “what Kim Kardashian is to Kate Middleton,” which actually sounds about right. In terms of naughtiness, Gervais danced up to the line with jokes about Justin Bieber and the Jodie Foster-directed “The Beaver,” but otherwise — except for a later expletive — there was little to make the room or censors blanch.

Depp’s appearance right up front reinforced the “it’s all in fun” mentality, given Gervais’ jabs at him over “The Tourist” last year. (Of course, that also gave Gervais a chance to plug his upcoming HBO series “Life’s Too Short,” in which Depp makes a twisted appearance as himself.)

Even if the jabs smarted — the HFPA isn’t exactly known for its sense of humor regarding questions about the group’s legitimacy — bringing Gervais back was a essentially clever misdirection in light of the minimal amount of time he actually appeared within the three-hour telecast. Ultimately, having Gervais host felt like a bait-and-switch tactic.

Then again, the Globes are normally deft practitioners of shaping a telecast — quickly racing through TV awards to splash as many movie stars on screen as possible.

Beyond Gervais, the show was virtually lifeless, characterized by lots of acceptance speeches that droned on without a hint of spontaneity or magic. When Kate Winslet, Meryl Streep and Madonna all get cut off by music, you know you’re in for a rough night.

Nor did it help that the voters inadvertently seemed determined to select as many little-seen winners as possible.

While the Globes have traditionally cultivated unpredictability, there was a deficiency of that as well. OK, Streep forgot her glasses and there was a presentation mixup with Rob Lowe and Julianne Moore; mostly, little reinforced the customary “expect wackiness” vibe.

Seth Rogen bucked the trend, referencing glamorous co-presenter Kate Beckinsdale by saying he was “currently trying to conceal a massive erection,” and George Clooney went below the belt in praising “Shame” star Michael Fassbender’s, er, performance.

After that, the pickings were awfully slim: Felicity Huffman and William H. Macy’s little presenting duet. “Modern Family’s” bilingual acceptance. Madonna awkwardly trying to zing Gervais.

Even director Louis J. Horvitz, a veteran of the award-show wars, struggled to find reaction shots from anybody who looked like they were having fun, except during the warm tribute to Morgan Freeman.

As for the arrivals program, Carson Daly proved less giddy than his co-hosts, but the only fireworks came from Elton John, who had to be bleeped for saying fellow song nominee Madonna “hasn’t got a f–kin’ chance.” Given Gervais’ slip and the FCC fine levied over Bono using the same term in 2003, the network might want to time-delay Europeans in future telecasts.

By the way, Madonna — who pretentiously said her song “magically came out of me” — later won, making John’s premature exclamation one of many misfires in a painfully long evening.

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