Golden Globes TV Review: Ricky Gervais’ Return Flounders On Night Of Big Wins For ‘1917’, ‘Once Upon A Time In Hollywood’, ‘Succession’ & ‘Fleabag’

Paul Drinkwater/NBC

On the eve of the start of Harvey Weinstein’s rape trial, there were literally no bombshells tonight on the Golden Globes.

Bombshell star Charlize Theron lost out on a Best Actress – Drama trophy from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association to Judy’s Renee Zellweger, and returning host Ricky Gervais veered far away from the topic of the much-accused producer and once-frequent Globes attendee until one virtually buried quip at the very end of the night.

In his fifth stint as frontman for the still boozy NBC broadcast ceremony, After Life creator Gervais oddly distinctly avoided being topical on the whole with nothing directly to be said on escalating tensions in the Middle East, Donald Trump, the WGA’s battle with the uber-agencies over packaging. In fact, with the exception of a slicing Jeffrey Epstein remark at Tinseltown’s underbelly and a very unsuccessful Felicity Huffman prison slag, Gervais was weakly cheeky rather than cutting tonight at the 77th annual Globes ceremony.

In fact, in stepping away from the politics that dominated most awards shows in recent years, most of tonight’s Globes were as low energy as Jeb Bush’s pursuit of the White House back in 2016 – and I’m not just talking about the bath the much nominated Netflix and the streamer’s The Irishman suffered.

Now a fully paid up member of the celebrity club he used to skewer, the usually TKO-inducing The Office co-creator took painful swings at terming the HFPA as “racist,” Netflix’s The Two Popes as being a pedophile flick because of the Catholic Church scandals it addresses and the lack of any women being nominated for Best Director. Catapulted with huge tours, streaming specials and the renewed After Life, Gervais was long since past or over his last Globes gig in the long-ago era of 2016 – which could have been a liberating sight to see as the host said he didn’t “care anymore” and actually “never did.”

“If you do win an award tonight, don’t use it as a political platform to make a political speech,” Gervais hectored the progressively inclined well-heeled audience in front of him. “You’re in no position to lecture the public about anything, you know nothing about the real world,” he added in what felt at first like a knife sharpening. “Most of you spent less time in school than Greta Thunberg. So, if you win, come up, accept your little award, thank your agent and your God and f*ck off. OK?”

Four-letter words aside and a blurred tour around cultural yardsticks like the manufacturing process of Apple (with boss Tim Cook in the crowd), Leonardo DiCaprio’s dating habits, the college admission scandal and the dominance of streaming services, the knife never came out tonight as Gervais played the obvious card over and over. Better than company men Jimmy Fallon or Seth Meyer but lacking the sunny sparkle of Sandra Oh and Andy Samberg from last year, Gervais seemed sometimes more unprepared than unconcerned with playing the game.

Put simply, despite a few censored expletives, not a lot of sliced-up red meat was tossed out at this vegan-only event, and there wasn’t much to feast on.

Yes, there were big small-screen wins for HBO’s Succession and Chernobyl, Amazon’s Fleabag and its creator and Barack Obama-loving Phoebe Waller-Bridge. In the just over three-hour show, an admittedly slightly drunk Olivia Colman of Netflix’s The Crown had a good night too, as did The Act’s politically acute and pink-sunglasses wearing Patricia Arquette, and Fosse/Verdon’s Michelle Williams, who encouraged women to use their right to vote this year.

In the ceremony that mixes TV and film, the big screen also saw large and perhaps prophetic victories for Best Motion Picture, Drama 1917 and director Sam Mendes, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and a disarming Quentin Tarantino and kindness-advocating Brad Pitt, plus Parasite and director Bong Joon-Ho. Ignoring Gervais’ caution about speechifying, The Joker’s Joaquin Phoenix dropped some (bleep), shattered some genre barriers and asked Hollywood for some personal environmental responsibility with his Best Actor – Drama prize, and past winner Laura Dern also sought a better world in her win for Marriage Story. Awkwafina made some history with her The Farewell victory, and Taylor Swift leaped up to applaud Best Song for Elton John and Bernie Taupin for Rocketman’s “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again.” In a Sunday night for winning, Rocketman earned another liftoff with Taron Egerton’s Best Actor – Musical or Comedy win.

Yes, giving out its first award with a big win for Ramy Youssef within the first 10 minutes and the Hulu comedy co-creator joking that most people in the crowd probably think he is an editor and “Egyptians love Michael Douglas,” it must be said that the Globes repeatedly tried to move fast in the often-bleak ceremonial environment. But after Gervais’ lardaceous monologue, even a concise climate change speech in absentee from The Loudest Voice’s Russell Crowe and seasoned stage patter from The Morning Show’s co-leads and co-nominees Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon couldn’t fuel inject this kick off to awards season.

The collective immune system got some small jolt from Sir Elton and longtime collaborator Taupin’s entrance to introduce the unconventional biopic of the bespectacled singer, but it was no foot to the pedal. With a lot of Australians at the Globes, to paraphrase Cate Blanchett, 2 Broke Girls co-creator Whitney Cummings had a charitable idea to turn near tragedy into triumph, on a couple of levels.

Starting with a very 1970s-toned overhead shot of the Beverly Hilton and correspondingly bland voice-over, the 77th annual Golden Globes commenced right on time with that languid opening monologue by Gervais. Time was a bit of a joke for Ellen DeGeneres in her acceptance of the second Carol Burnett Award. Talking about “the power of television,” the syndicated talk show host and Nemo regular fortunately did not use the spotlight as a live audition to be center stage for next year’s Globes.

After tonight, if dick clark productions, the HFPA and NBC are still on the lookout for hosts in an increasingly hostless arena, they may want to look again at who was on stage this evening. And I don’t mean Amy Poehler. Half of a previously killer hosting team with Tina Fey, the Russian Doll EP was on simmer with a looming Taylor Swift by her side handing out the Missing Link winning animation feature award Sunday, as if she was trying to not get noticed.

A more straightforward form of humility poked its head up in what could be two very different directions for the Globes.

“This kind of event does your head in,” Succession’s Brian Cox told the ballroom in his win for Best Actor in a TV Series — Drama. Yes, and maybe the man who called it out as such could take the reins and “condemn and move on,” to quote his media mogul Logan Roy character from the HBO show, in a new way.

Or perhaps effortlessly poignant Sacha Baron Cohen, who captured almost an entire era with his latest targeted slap on Mark Zuckerberg in an introduction of Nazi satire JoJo Rabbit.

In the end, I have only three real questions after Gervais’ near closing line of “kill me, it’s nearly over.” Was tonight the night that we will see in hindsight that awards shows careened out of control towards oblivion? Is there anyone who doesn’t love Tom Hanks, with or without a cold? And, where, oh where, is Mel Gibson when you need him? Seriously.

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