Ricky Gervais’ impish approach to comedy revels in making audiences wince and squirm – hardly a custom-made formula for the worshipfulness of award shows, even one that cultivates a loosey-goosey image like the Golden Globes. The British comic’s fourth turn as host produced the expected barbs, but more awkward moments than genuine, funny or spontaneous ones weighed down the bloated, ungainly telecast that surrounded him. However much the producers and NBC relish the publicity that Gervais generates – and apparently, they don’t know how to quit him – it’s time they put more effort into shaping the broader ceremony.
As is so often the case, Gervais and all the “Oh my, who will he offend this time?” hand-wringing was something of a cheat, a promotional hook for the telecast given the relatively modest role the host occupied in terms of actual screen time. Not surprisingly, he got the Sean Penn-El Chapo joke out of the way early, saying he planned to go into hiding after the ceremony, and “not even Sean Penn will find me.” Gervais also gleefully bit the hands that feed him, referencing the Globes’ spotty history by suggesting that the awards were bought (and the camera dutifully found mogul Harvey Weinstein, which magnified the gag); ridiculed the nomination of “The Martian” as a comedy; and jabbed NBC for being shut out in this year’s TV nominations.
In theory, it’s great to have a host who will let some air out of the event’s self-importance and puffiness. The challenge is to not allow that to become something approaching a toxic leak pervading the room. “That award is, no offense, worthless,” Gervais said, amusingly, at the outset, urging winners to contain their enthusiasm.
Seven minutes of monologue, however, does not a show make, and in some respects, Gervais felt like the most restrained (or at least predictable) element of the evening, amid a flurry of dragged-out presenter exchanges, bleeped-out utterances and rote acceptance speeches.
The Globes really should be built for speed and made for TV, with categories designed to put a parade of stars on the screen. Dispensing with production numbers, the show tries to keep things moving by bringing out as many actors as possible, including those who appear simply to introduce clips of nominated films.
The producers kicked off the 73rd annual installment with what turned out to be a harbinger of things to come – an amateurish bit in which Jonah Hill played the bear from “The Revenant,” unleashing some invective that prompted him to be bleeped for an extended stretch. Jane Fonda’s pained reaction shot pretty much said it all.
Those interludes careened unevenly throughout the night, from the occasional bright spot – Eva Longoria and America Ferrera messing up each other’s names; Ryan Gosling feigning anger at Brad Pitt; Jamie Foxx spoofing Steve Harvey’s Miss Universe screw-up – to virtually everyone else, including too-long riffs from the pairs of Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg and Amy Schumer and Jennifer Lawrence.
As the show progressed, memorable moments, such as a spontaneous standing ovation for Sylvester Stallone, proved few and far between. And while it was kind of funny to see Gervais make Matt Damon uncomfortable by introducing him with a shot at pal Ben Affleck’s personal life, couldn’t the host have ad-libbed a joke at Mel Gibson that didn’t have to be bleeped to the point where the audience at home didn’t hear a word of it?
By the final hour, when the big movie awards were handed out, and Denzel Washington received the Cecil B. DeMille Award, even Jim Carrey couldn’t rouse the show from its stupor.
The top awards spread the wealth, while showering the most on “The Revenant,” whose star, Leonardo DiCaprio, delivered an impassioned plea to respect indigenous peoples and protect the planet – one of the few political statements, notably, other than Gervais’ glancing shot at Donald Trump. Director Ridley Scott shook his head over “The Martian,” then proceeded to deliver a note-card-reading speech – thumbing his nose at the music trying to play him off – that was numbing until he got to the end, acknowledging his late brother, Tony.
Certainly, in the TV categories (dished out almost comically early, reflecting where they reside in the pecking order), the HFPA voters outdid themselves in terms of picking winners that not many people have seen, with the notable exception of Lady Gaga, who was surely deemed worthy of having on stage for the sheer theater of it.
Inevitably, there was lots of promotion during the commercial breaks for NBC programs, and almost as much for the network’s talent during the awards. NBC again gave the “Today” show crew red-carpet duties, and Matt Lauer responded by looking like he yearned to be someplace else, bidding goodbye to interview subjects with the slightly cloying sendoff, “Have fun tonight.”
Still, other than a few of Gervais’ best digs, there just wasn’t much fun to be had. The host groused about halfway through the telecast, “This show is way too long, isn’t it?,” but returned to that gag at least once too often. Nevertheless, it was certainly hard to argue with the sentiment.