Ricky Gervais falls flat at Golden Globes

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Perhaps it’s finally time the Golden Globes stops cultivating a reputation as a wild and woolly affair. Its 67th annual edition on Sunday was leaden even by Oscar standards, weighed down by surprisingly uninspired hosting from Ricky Gervais.

Yes, there were mitigating factors to take into account, from how the ongoing crisis in Haiti dampened spirits in attendance to the dampened umbrellas on the red carpet outside. But the Globes has done little in recent memory to merit its marketing stance as a loosened-tie kind of evening. While occasional glimpses of embracing celebrities and bursts of ambient sound from clinking Moet-filled champagne flutes are meant to convey breezy charm, the on-stage proceedings were mostly stiff.

The first hour chugged along with assembly-line efficiency, including Gervais, whose opening minutes were disappointingly toothless. He tackled predictable subjects: satirizing self-promotion by plugging DVDs for his own creations, “The Office” and “The Invention of Lying”; tossing off banal generalities about the unimportance of actors; small-penis yuks, and of course, NBC potshots. But Gervais flew through all of them so fast he didn’t land a blow, let alone draw blood.

As for the expected NBC dissing, the most cutting remark came from a non-comic. In accepting the award for best actress in a drama for CBS’ “The Good Wife,” Julianna Margulies thanked her network bosses Leslie Moonves and Nina Tassler “for believing in the 10 o’clock drama.” NBC also took a surprising knock late in the evening from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, but by then the host network seemed like a deflated punching bag.

Gervais had seemed an inspired choice to be the Globes’ first host in 15 years. He’s made some memorably raucous appearances at several awards shows in recent years. But for reasons Gervais or the show’s producers only know, the host clearly strayed from his publicized pre-Globes pledge to stay off the cuff. As the evening wore on, Gervais almost seemed to take pains to convey his wildman bona fides by leaving his necktie backstage about an hour into the show, and coming out holding a glass of beer. That prop enabled him to take one of the evening’s few inspired jabs, referencing Mel Gibson’s own troubles with alcohol, which the actor seemed to take in stride.

The only other truly cutting moment came in an introduction he gave for Hollywood Foreign Press Association president Philip Berg that got funnier the farther he drifted from the script. “One thing that can’t be bought is a Golden Globe...officially,” he joked. “But if you were going to buy one, the man to see is Philip Berg.”

Contrary to the Globes’ supposed irreverence, what little that stood out during the evening was a number of impassioned acceptance speeches. Jeff Bridges, Sandra Bullock and Jason Reitman were among the standouts in that department, as was James Cameron, except for the part where he admitted at the podium that he “had to pee.”

Kudos to the Globes orchestra conductor, who wisely kept his hands in his pockets for these speeches. While actors were rarely played off stage, executives rarely fared as well.

The Globes regained some 11th-hour momentum with surprising wins for “Glee,” “Crazy Heart” and “The Hangover.” But by then, it came across as too little, too late. The Globes may want to consider front-loading more major awards.

Should the Globes risk going with a host in 2011, they may want to consider Robert Downey Jr. His acceptance speech for “Sherlock Holmes” was the only real display of comedy chops among the winners, and he expressed genuine affection for HFPA.

As for Gervais, to borrow a baseball metaphor, he seems more cut out to be a middle reliever than a starting pitcher. No doubt award shows will spring him from the bullpen for mid-telecast jumpstarts for some time to come, but his first headline outing was evidence he can’t carry an entire event.

No matter what NBC, Dick Clark Prods. or HFPA may want to believe, or more to the point, want viewers to believe, there has ceased to be any meaningful distinction between Globes, Oscars, Emmys, Grammys, etc. There is a massive middle ground to be explored between robotic Teleprompter readings and the chaos MTV’s award shows so painfully cultivate. The Globes better find it or risk losing its identity.