If Ricky Gervais gave the Golden Globes unexpected sizzle with his thumb-in-the-eye host treatment of the room, pairing Tina Fey and Amy Poehler as hosts felt considerably safer — an attempt to cash in on their hipness, yes, but also promoting host network NBC twice over. Mostly, the two brought their shared “Saturday Night Live” rapport to the gig, delivering a safe if reasonably funny opening that set the tone for the evening. Like a “Weekend Update” segment, the jokes were occasionally funny, slightly barbed but never cutting enough to break the skin.
Fey and Poehler took playful jabs at the industry, joking about things like the perceived disparity between TV and movie stars — a gag that could play both inside and outside the Beverly Hilton. That said, the best line was more inside baseball and involved “Zero Dark Thirty” director Kathryn Bigelow, whose film has engendered controversy over its depiction of harsh interrogation techniques.
“When it comes to torture, I trust a lady who spent three years married to James Cameron,” Poehler deadpanned, appropriately bringing down the house.
Despite their “SNL” lineage, Fey and Poehler are more comic actresses than true standups, but they were fine in getting the ball rolling and punctuating the night through sporadic appearances thereafter. That said, for once the Globes — notwithstanding its reputed party atmosphere — takes a back seat to the Academy Awards’ forthcoming Seth MacFarlane experiment in terms of perceived edge.
In the past the Globes telecast often appeared determined to cultivate its reputation for irreverence and unpredictability, and there were certainly glimpses of that — particularly, as usual, in some of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn.’s outside-the-box selections.
As for unscripted breakdowns, they were relatively minor. Jeremy Renner got bleeped, Paul Rudd experienced a TelePrompTer malfunction introducing best TV drama, and Adele mentioned “pissing” herself during an ebullient acceptance for “Skyfall’s” best song.
The standout moments had more to do with intramural appreciation of Hollywood: Kevin Costner reminisced about his career through the prism of the Globes, Anne Hathaway extended a shout-out to fellow nominee Sally Field, and the Oscar-nom omitted Ben Affleck won best director for “Argo,” then had his wife, presenter Jennifer Garner, finish his thank-you list.
The night’s one real coup came in lining up Bill Clinton to introduce the clip for “Lincoln,” although the response — both enthusiastic and genuine — will feed red meat to Hollywood-bashing conservatives, already no doubt smarting over comments surrounding the honored HBO movie “Game Change.”
By contrast, Jodie Foster’s speech accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Award — while riveting with its references to privacy, coming out, and her mother — proved too rambling and unfocused to drive home any of her points.
Simply put, the evening was in many respects a corporate affair — warm, but efficient and bloodless. By the time Sacha Baron Cohen came out with a brandy in hand and began skewering fellow “Les Miserables” cast members, it felt like a belated effort to conjure something worthy of YouTube the next day. (By that measure, frankly, the night’s most replayed moment will likely entail sorting out exactly which parts of Jennifer Lopez’s ornate dress were actually skin.)
From a production standpoint, very little played with award-show conventions. Having Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig riff on not having seen the nominated films started well enough but dragged on beyond its freshness date. Even Lena Dunham literally read thank-yous until she became almost as annoying her character, though the speech did allow Fey to tartly note the “Girls” wunderkind cited admiring her fellow actresses while in “middle school.”
Of course, having two of its stars handle the hosting chores amounted to extra promotion for NBC, which blatantly used the show for those purposes at every turn — from coy banter between Jay Leno and Jimmy Fallon to a gratuitous shot of Comcast-NBC management during Foster’s presentation to having Matt Lauer, Savannah Guthrie and other members of the “Today” team emcee the arrivals show. Small wonder both Leno and Fallon earned red-carpet time for no reason other than intramural pom-pom waving.
The “Today” tie-in also highlighted how lightly regarded morning TV’s “news” component is, although at least there were more questions about the actual movies before leaping straight to the banality of “Who are you wearing?”
At 70, the Globes are wearing well enough. But Sunday’s telecast merely reminded us aging into the establishment tends to leave one’s carefree risk-taking days in the rear-view mirror.