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Golden Globes Review: Ricky Gervais Sets a Low Bar That the 2020 Ceremony Barely Meets

An uninspired opening monologue set a rocky stage for an awards show that could've been exciting.

77th ANNUAL GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS -- Pictured: Ricky Gervais at the 77th Annual Golden Globe Awards held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 5, 2020 -- (Photo by: Paul Drinkwater/NBC)

Ricky Gervais hosts the 77th Annual Golden Globe Awards

Paul Drinkwater/NBC

Ricky Gervais has been saying this is his last time hosting the Golden Globes since the first time he hosted the Golden Globes. In 2010, after making a crack about winners buying trophies, the always “unpredictable” comedian explained his apparent devil-may-care attitude by quipping, “I’m not going to do this again anyway.” In 2020, he started the night with that same promise. “You’ll be pleased to know this is the last time I’ll be hosting these awards,” Gervais said. “I don’t care anymore. I’m just kidding. I never did.”

Think about that for a second. The host of a highly anticipated, well-rated awards show — an awards show, mind you, that bills itself as a giant party for famous people — started the night by saying he’s never coming back and he doesn’t care. Now, imagine you walk into a party and the host greets you by saying, “I’m never doing this again. I don’t care about it. I never have.” You’re not going to think, “Oh, this party is going to be wild!” You’re going to think, “Ugh, when can I leave?” So the implication with Gervais’ opener isn’t that he’s going to be so bold, so daring, and so offensive that he’s hauled out of the Beverly Hilton in handcuffs; it’s that he doesn’t really want to be there.

So why should we? The 2020 Golden Globes gave plenty of pretty good reasons for its existence (when Joaquin Phoenix wasn’t eradicating the Hollywood awards machine altogether), but none gripping enough to overcome its black hole of a host. Sure, the honorees set the stage for the Oscars (“1917” is feeling good, “The Irishman” not so much) and crowned a few surprising TV winners (“Succession”! Ramy Youssef!), but no entertainment program, live or otherwise, should lead with the face of the show dismissing its value. Even when that’s the point of his would-be edgy comedy, Gervais’ jokes weren’t good enough to overcome the initial sentiment. Instead, his weird downer of an opening tied down the moments of what could’ve been an exciting night.

So let’s run through the highlights: aka the moments we’ll try our damnedest to remember instead of the show’s other two-and-a-half hours. Topping the list is Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s shout-out to President Barack Obama, thanking him for putting “Fleabag” on his best-of-the-year list and then reminding everyone that he’s always been on her list. (Note to Gervais: This is how you write a good masturbation joke.) Stellan Skarsgard’s speech was an ideal mix of weird and memorable, as he credited his fake eyebrows in “Chernobyl” for his first Golden Globe win, while Brian Cox kissing co-star Kieran Culkin on his way to the stage topped not only his speech (still good), but another walk-up shot showing Jason Momoa in a sleeveless black tank top. (I still don’t understand his interpretation of “black tie.”)

On the film side, “Parasite” director Bong Joon Ho nailed his stage time. “Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you’ll be introduced to so many more amazing films,” he said after winning Best Foreign Language Film. Chris Butler and Arianne Sutner’s stunned reactions to “Missing Link” pulling the upset made for the kind of sweet surprise awards shows are built around, while Charlize Theron’s excellent, personal introduction to Tom Hanks (who won the Cecil B. DeMille award) was even better, despite knowing the winner.

77th ANNUAL GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS -- Pictured: Tom Hanks accepts the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the 77th Annual Golden Globe Awards held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 5, 2020 -- (Photo by: Paul Drinkwater/NBC)

Tom Hanks accepts the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the 77th Annual Golden Globe Awards

Paul Drinkwater/NBC

Speaking of, Tom Hanks. Thomas Jeffrey Hanks. Not only did the stereotypical clip package elicit the oft-impossible goosebumps, but his cold-ridden speech was a delight throughout. From the “Love Boat” shout-out to choking up over his family to paying tribute to actors he “stole” from, Hanks commanded the room in a way only an actor of his stature and grace can. You felt it at home. You felt it when Charlize Theron bent to the ground as Hanks said she was a one-name talent, and you felt it when he paid tribute to the crafts team, including Stellan Skarsgard’s makeup artist (showing he was actually paying attention to this show, which is no small feat). Hanks had them laughing, swooning, and even fit in a Cecile B. DeMille impression. Did he go a little long? Sure, but that’s OK when you hit so many marks throughout.

The same goes for Joaquin Phoenix, who did more with his two-minute speech to push buttons than Gervais did all night. Condemning the people of Hollywood for taking private jets to Palm Springs, all to walk a red carpet and win an award designed to sell advertising likely hit too close to home for many in the room, especially as Oscar campaigning season kicks into full gear. Moreover, you just didn’t know what Phoenix was going to say next. When he mentioned Rooney Mara’s name and the camera cut to her excited but anxious face, she embodied the kind of tense exuberance you hope the audience feels during the Golden Globes.

The rest of the show was fine. Just fine. But “fine” becomes aggravating when it could’ve been “good,” if not for being dragged down by apathy. It’s not just that Gervais said he didn’t care, it’s that it felt like he really didn’t care. Frankly, no matter how raunchy the monologue — which, to be clear, wasn’t anywhere close to raunchy enough — the “I don’t care” attitude can’t be the first foot forward. Yes, it shields him from criticism (critics are simply too sensitive for his uncensored personality), but it also risks swallowing the entire telecast.

77th ANNUAL GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS -- Pictured: Joaquin Phoenix accepts the award for Best Actor - Motion Picture, Drama for "Joker" at the 77th Annual Golden Globe Awards held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 5, 2020 -- (Photo by: Paul Drinkwater/NBC)

Joaquin Phoenix accepts his Golden Globe Award

Paul Drinkwater/NBC

And it did. As the show rolled on, Gervais’ schtick went from feigned indifference to actual laziness. Just look at his “joke” about how the HFPA didn’t nominate any women for Best Director. By saying he convinced the studios to stop hiring women altogether (so no one can complain they’re being excluded anymore), was he trying to say it’s the industry’s fault for not hiring enough female directors? Maybe, but what he actually choked out was something bland and confusing that sounds provocative without saying anything at all. There’s no bite to it. The target is lost in the delivery.

The same could be said about his monologue, when Gervais kept saying “I don’t care” every time he hit a taboo word on the bingo card. Most of those jokes weren’t offensive. He just said a forbidden name (like Jeffrey Epstein and Felicity Huffman) and then chastised the audience before they could react. He’s not reading the room; he’s reacting to whatever he perceives to be the truth. Gervais is the one saying his jokes are offensive, that people are angry, and that it’s all OK because he’s just being funny.

In the past, he would wait for the groans from the audience before telling them to calm down, or mumbling that he doesn’t care. Even if you didn’t like what he said, he was in the moment; he was part of the show; he was pushing the buttons of everyone he could in an effort to get the party started. Looking at his first monologue, back in 2010, he waited until he’d made a few jokes about people in the room before refusing to apologize for them. In 2020, he stepped on his own lines, trying to create controversy to make up for a lack of laughter.

Gervais has been saying this is his last time hosting the Golden Globes since the first time he hosted the Golden Globes. It’s time the funnyman finally keeps his word.

Grade: C+

The 77th Golden Globe Awards aired Sunday, January 5 at 5 p.m. PT on NBC. 

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