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Even Bears, Martians And Robots Can't Perk Up The Dull Golden Globes

Host Ricky Gervais kept his drink close at hand during Sunday night's Golden Globes ceremony.
Paul Drinkwater
NBC Universal/Getty Images
Host Ricky Gervais kept his drink close at hand during Sunday night's Golden Globes ceremony.

In recent years, the Golden Globes have been picking up steam as a less stuffy, less predictable awards show than most others. From the marvelous hosting of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler for the past three years to glorious little moments like Emma Thompson tossing her shoes in the air, the Globes were starting to get a little bit of air under them — a fun diversion during awards season.

It was not to remain so. Sunday night, Ricky Gervais, who hosted the three ceremonies before the Fey/Poehler years, returned. What distinguished Gervais' previous appearances was the attempt to position him as a dangerous, rebellious, take-no-prisoners host — a tough sell when he was making jokes about things like Hugh Hefner being really old. But for the most part, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (which gives out these awards) has successfully sold the narrative of Gervais as fearless provocateur, and from the minute he stepped on stage Sunday, it was clear he was going to ride that horse as far as it would take him.

His early targets included Caitlyn Jenner (one joke about her car accident followed one that was basically just "transgender people, right?"), Jeffrey Tambor for playing a transgender woman, NBC for having no nominations (true, but there are far more daring things to say about network TV than that NBC didn't get nominated for any Golden Globes), and the Globes themselves, which he ribbed with a tamer version of a joke he made years ago about how the awards are all bought and paid for. It's a joke that doesn't feel particularly daring since he's basically already made it and been invited back. They clearly don't mind and he's already said the same thing years ago, so where's the risk?

Unfortunately, Gervais' weak monologue was followed by a weird appearance by Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill, who — OK, look. The whole reputation of the Globes is that everybody is bombed the entire time. Either bombed in practice or in spirit — that's part of the charm. And I would never comment on who is bombed and who is not as a matter of science, but I can say that Hill, wearing a bear head, threw himself into the bombed feelingof the ceremony in the "some drunk people are hostile and nonsensical" fashion rather than the more enjoyable "some drunk people burble delightfully with enthusiasm" fashion. Whether he was actually bombed or not, you see.

The bear bit was also the beginning of a recurring problem over the course of the evening: at some point, people seemed to forget entirely that they were on network television, and they swore so gratuitously that big chunks of things said on stage were silenced by the censor button, rendering certain appearances rather difficult to interpret. Swearing isn't necessarily bad in and of itself, but the way it leaves giant gaps in the audio doesn't make for a very good show at home.

One of the most striking things about the evening was that the low points brought out the ability of some of the presenters to instantly lift audience spirits. Andy Samberg, who hosted the Emmys, has become a reliably lovely and funny presence at events like this, and America Ferrera and Eva Longoria did a really funny bit about being confused with other Latina actresses: "Hi, I'm Eva Longoria, not Eva Mendes." "And hi, I'm America Ferrera, not Gina Rodriguez." (Ferrera and Rodriguez actually were mistaken for each other by the Globes themselves during the nominations. Mentioning that? That's a little daring.) It ended with the women addressing each other as "Salma" and "Charo." Funny!

At times, though, these awards just seemed a little snakebit, having trouble getting joy where joy should have been easy: What should have been a great moment for Sylvester Stallone (who won a supporting award for Creed) was marred by his forgetting to thank writer-director Ryan Coogler or anyone in the cast, which he reportedly ran back on stage to correct, but after the TV coverage had already cut away. Aziz Ansari had a very funny bit where he was in the audience reading How to Lose to Jeffrey Tambor with Dignity when the lead TV comedy actors were announced, but his joke fell victim to the unexpected victory of Gael Garcia Bernal for Mozart in the Jungle — a very low-profile Amazon show that was also named the best TV comedy.

Of course, the advantage that awards shows have is that when you put enough charismatic, enjoyable people on stage, you'll get good moments. Rachel Bloom of the CW's Crazy Ex-Girlfriendwas an excited delight as the winning TV comic actress, Oscar Isaac was charming accepting an award for the HBO miniseries Show Me a Hero, Taraji P. Henson was luminous accepting for Empire, and Tom Hanks made a predictably fine presenter of the Cecil B. DeMille Award to his Philadelphiaco-star, Denzel Washington, who got a very good career montage out of the deal.

Other winners included The Revenant for outstanding dramatic movie and The Martianfor outstanding comedy/musical (another moment marred by a side issue: in this case, whether The Martianis actually comedic), Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant) and Brie Larson (Room) for their lead dramatic roles in film, Jennifer Lawrence (Joy) and Matt Damon (The Martian) for their lead roles in comedies (or comedies-ish), and the terrific USA show Mr. Robotfor TV drama series — exactly the kind of slightly offbeat winner the Globes redeem themselves by sometimes crowning.

There have been worse awards shows, certainly. But Gervais' ancient-feeling shtick about Mel Gibson and Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's adopted kids was enough to put the evening at a disadvantage that the awards themselves struggled to overcome.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.