Ricky Gervais, returning as host of the Golden Globe Awards on Jan. 10 after three years off, said this about an hour before the show’s end: “Kill me.”
“This is no joke,” he went on, miming exhaustion with the show’s running time. “This is ridiculous.”
He wasn’t wrong: The show, which moved relatively briskly by the standards of awards shows generally, felt bogged down by the Globes’ own standard. In recent years (specifically, the previous three, when the show was hosted by Tina Fey and Amy Poehler), the show felt joyful, odd and unpredictable, like a cocktail party whose hosts had planned thoughtfully.
This year’s Globes were a party, too (no show at which Leonardo DiCaprio side-eyed Lady Gaga could be a total snooze), but this one felt as though everyone were there out of simple social obligation. Genuine moments of mirth—like Taraji P. Henson, winning best actress in a TV drama for playing Cookie on Empire and handing out cookies on her way to the dais—were wildly outnumbered by moments we were instructed to think were funny. That latter sort included Jim Carrey delivering a humorless, dour monologue about how cosmically unimportant the Golden Globes are while presenting, and Jonah Hill playing the bear from The Revenant and, like many other presenters, getting muted for so long that he became unintelligible. (Perhaps there was no better way to express oneself in a ceremony so vexed than through profanity. Can you blame him?)
Carrey’s and Hill’s moments had a lot in common with Gervais’s general mien as host: The British comedian went so far in deflating the glamour of the evening that he put the audience in the uncomfortable position of defending the awards ceremony. Taking a bit of air out of Hollywood types’ egos is one thing. But Gervais wasn’t taking down Hollywood: He was telling viewers at home they were stupid even to be watching. It wasn’t offensive, which is what he wanted it to be. It was just a bore.
Here’s the thing: Very few people watching actually think the Golden Globes are important. It’s meant as the sort of distraction Gervais himself has spent his career producing. And even those limited number of people who, for some reason, tuned into a three-hour awards ceremony despite their utter contempt for Hollywood celebrities, might wish for something more creative than Gervais just calling actors notionally being honored for their work “filth” or “scum.”
What a bore! The rest of the night seemed to follow suit, with the Cecil B. DeMille lifetime achievement award going to a star, Denzel Washington, whose lack of reading glasses seemed like a comic bit until he suddenly just gave up on his speech and walked offstage. Best actress in a comedy winner Jennifer Lawrence (from Joy), usually a memorable part of awards ceremonies, seemed a bit defeated by the evening in her speech, too.
Even as it’s annoying, Gervais’s performative frustration with Hollywood culture is understandable enough. Both Leonardo DiCaprio’s and Brie Larson’s best actor and actress in a drama speeches felt rehearsed within an inch of their lives; Larson’s unintentionally revealing admission that she’d spent time “getting to know” the people of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association was the only moment that felt refreshing. Lady Gaga, winning best actress in a limited series for American Horror Story: Hotel, was similarly stiff, claiming to feel as excited as Cher did when she won an Oscar but adding the bizarrely stagey trivia fact that Cher was in “the John Patrick Shanley film Moonstruck.”
But merging staginess with genuine feeling is what star performers do best. It would be silly to be mad about Lady Gaga’s display of emotion rehearsed with a theater kid’s glee, just like it would have been silly to be mad at Kate Winslet’s 2009 display of open emotion when she won two Golden Globes in a single night. It felt like sweet revenge that she was back, receiving another award for Steve Jobs, after a period out of the spotlight that may have something to do with the backlash against her perceived aggressive awards thirst. It was a reminder, too, that getting too mad about celebrities perceived as wanting awards too much tends to punish a certain type of performer who’s “begging for awards”—while others, like Washington or like the cast and crew of best drama The Revenant, are just doing their best work.
Not that anything like that troubled Gervais’s placid revulsion. Had he made a single sly remark about any element of any other nominated star’s persona, he might have earned the label of bad boy he keeps placing on himself. But just declaring that everyone sucks isn’t sophisticated.
Notably, the one person Gervais didn’t really go after was presenter Mel Gibson, brought out years after his various scandals in order to, perhaps, rehabilitate his image, and more importantly to provide the Globes a social media moment. (It seems unlikely a figure as problematic as Gibson would ever be invited to present at the more staid Oscars). Gervais asked Gibson a question that was entirely muted, which was either poor or perfect planning for a host whose aired material wasn’t prime-time worthy; he otherwise left the guy basically alone. With no particular animus against Gibson, I’d posit that he’s in a slightly different class than the actors and actresses Gervais dislikes simply for existing. But then, those people appeared excited to be on an entertainment broadcast. Surely, if Gervais hosts again next year, fewer stars will make that mistake again.