Ricky Gervais Goes Soft as Golden Globes Host, And The Show Suffers

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For the record, I felt the “controversy” stemming from Ricky Gervais’ previous appearance as the Golden Globes host–his second consecutive turn in the role–was absurdly overblown. Sure, he was indeed edgy and unhinged, and while I could perhaps understand some egotistical A-listers objecting to being skewered the way they regularly do politicians, other celebrities and societal stereotypes on shows like “Saturday Night Live,” I absolutely could not understand why the media and fans shared in the “disgust.” Shouldn’t we have been celebrating his attempt to inject a tank of fresh air into a tired room saturated with egotism and redundant proceedings?

Shockingly, it was easier to find an online message board post willing to ignore masterpieces like “Extras” and “The Office” in calling Gervais “unfunny” than it was to find someone defending an at least mildly-entertaining hosting performance.

And yet, the second some gossip outlets started reporting claims that major names would boycott the awards if Gervais ever hosted again, it became very clear that NBC and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association would indeed welcome the English comedian back for a third try.

Equally predictable was the fact that the promotion around Gervais’ lack of a filter–the only angle NBC could use to make an awards show that honors Johnny Galecki as superior to Jim Parsons, “American Horror Story” as superior to “Breaking Bad” and “Glee” as superior to “Louie” compelling–would likely be a misdirect. It seemed entirely improbable that this year’s Gervais would rival last year’s Gervais on the “gasp-o-meter.”

What was not so expected, however, was how excessively-tame Gervais would be in round three.

Though the comedian was occasionally funny as host, his unique persona was decidedly-absent from the humor. Instead of coming across like a loose cannon whose purpose in life was to make everyone in the room feel nervous and uncomfortable, he cut his own legs out and landed in the same category as recent “comedic” awards show hosts like Chelsea Handler and Russell Brand (his material was much funnier, obviously). Essentially, the goal here was artificial edginess–he would say things that, while technically raunchy and insulting, so long ago abandoned their “off-limits” classification that no one would actually feel offended.

Rather than reloading his gun with harsh attacks towards the actors, writers and directors in the room, he made cliched, non-Globes attendees Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber the prime targets of his monologue. Had his monologue gone a few minutes longer, one can only imagine there would have been some cutting-edge jokes about Snooki from “Jersey Shore” and Paris Hilton’s sex tape.

And when going after individuals in attendance, he would simply play-up exhausted topics (delivering puns over the fact few guys have seen Jodie Foster’s “Beaver” or that Madonna is not exactly “Like a Virgin”), focus on random, absurd exaggerations that could not possibly offend (people respect Colin Firth because they don’t know how secretly racist and evil he is) or even pander to the person (his insincere sucking up to George Clooney, who later followed up with his own pandering to Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender’s penis).

Over the course of the night, it seemed like Gervais actually took more pot-shots from the celebrities in attendance than he returned. And, in that sense, he basically sold himself out as a clown for the amusement of the Hollywood bigwigs in attendance. Rather than using his biting, irreverent wit to drag these so-called “superstars” nervously to the edges of their seats, he pandered to their watered-down convention of “acceptable,” delivering the “edgy” jokes that they think are funny. He thus forfeited the right to the first–and last–laugh to those in the room, coming across as no more special or risque than any Awards show clown.

Granted, in a vacuum, that is probably the more fitting role for a host than that which Gervais played last year. And, as noted, Gervais’ timing and sense of humor did breathe some life into the otherwise-stale material. But given the expectations surrounding Gervais’ return to the stage, it was impossible not to feel disappointed.

And there was no room for such disappointment, given how uninteresting the rest of the show was. Beyond the aforementioned ridiculousness of the awards (let’s add another gem like Kelsey Grammer beating out Damien Lewis and Bryan Cranston for best actor), there was just no excitement to be had. Save for the cute “Modern Family” acceptance speech, in which the show’s creator Steve Levitan humorously mis-translated star Sofia Vergara’s Spanish rantings, few of the stage appearances came with any palpable emotion or life (another possible exception might be Seth Rogen’s crack that standing alongside Kate Beckinsale gave him an erection, somewhat fun for those who know about his infamous “failed kiss” with Megan Fox on “Jimmy Kimmel Life”). Even the usually-charming speeches from those who do not excel with English–various French winners from “The Artist,” in this case–failed to keep the crowd engaged.

Yes, the stars usually look sexier due to the less formal fashion requirements, and the atmosphere allows for the occasionally-fun camera shots during the proceedings, but without especially-compelling, credible awards selections and without a must-see attraction leading the ceremony, the Golden Globes simply do not feel relevant.