TV review: Golden Globes - bring us the head of Ricky Gervais

By Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 17, 2011; 10:55 AM

"The Social Network" won a lot of Golden Globes on Sunday night (best picture, director, screenplay, musical score), while most of Hollywood considered unfriending the award show's bombardier host, Ricky Gervais.

Are we at war with England? If not, then why have we been subjected to two years of Gervais hosting the Golden Globe Awards, witnessing a growing hostility between the British comedian and a resentful audience of celebs? (Colin Firth, best actor winner for "The King's Speech," with your sophisticated and magnanimously eloquent acceptance speech - do something!)

"I warned 'em," Gervais said at one point in the lazy and perfunctorily smarmy show. He meant he warned the producers, but it seems we've all been warned now.

Gervais proved last year that he wasn't the right bloke for the job. From his lame jokes about Charlie Sheen, "The Tourist" and Scientology to the uncomfy bit of open warfare between the host and the press association that puts on Tinseltown's schlockiest award show, you kept hoping the crowd would rise up and pummel Gervais.

Somehow Gervais has lost some of his ability to be funny about being true. But why not let Robert Downey Jr. review the show, as Downey took the stage after Gervais introduced him with references to porn movies and stays at the Betty Ford Center: "Aside from the fact that it's been hugely mean-spirited with mildly sinister undertones, I'd say the vibe of the show has been pretty good so far, wouldn't you?"

(Audience coughs, laughs nervously, checks watches. Home viewers watch listlessly.)

As Gervais would say, Shall we git on wid-it? Please do - this year's show felt like duty, leavened by only a handful of highlights, which included:

Best supporting actress winner Melissa Leo, recognized at last, this time for her work in "The Fighter." ("All that and kissed by Jeremy Irons too?" she effused.) One of the "Glee" writers thanking public school teachers, in a bit of contra-"Waiting for 'Superman' " appreciation. And a best actress win for pregnant Natalie Portman for "Black Swan."

Also: Aaron Sorkin accepting the best screenplay award for "The Social Network" by apologizing, sort of, to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (about that cutting line delivered early in the movie when a girlfriend dumps Zuckerberg and tells him what a horrible man he'll always be); and Jane Lynch's razor-sharp acceptance speech ("I am nothing if not falsely humble") for best supporting actress for her role as the villainous Sue Sylvester in the popular Fox series "Glee."

The Globes are the one night a year where we don't officially care that our TV peas are touching our movie mashed potatoes: Annette Bening, in horn rims and Al Pacino's hairdo, won best actress in a comedy film for her role as one half of a lesbian couple (the other half played by fellow nominee Julianne Moore) raising two teens in "The Kids Are All Right," which also took the prize for best comedy film; the deserving Jim Parsons, of CBS sitcom "The Big Bang Theory," won his first Globe for best actor in a comedy series.

HBO's "Boardwalk Empire," a lavishly crafted saga of Prohibition-era Atlantic City, won best TV drama series. The show's star, Steve Buscemi, won best actor in a TV drama for his energetic portrayal of the city's corrupt treasurer. Everyone involved with the show had a "well, of course" look on their faces - and well, of course. After all that money HBO spent making it!

Christian Bale, appearing ready to headline a community theater's production of "Jesus Christ Superstar," won best supporting actor for his role as a drug-addicted former boxing champ in "The Fighter," but he lost the round with Globe telecast producers who cut him off just as he began giving some sort of honorary shout-out to Robert De Niro, the night's special honoree.

At least give the Golden Globes credit for a brutal adherence to momentum. The only slow spots are when they stop to "introduce" clips for all the nominees for the best film categories (drama, as well as comedy or musical), which not only seems unnecessary, it also serves to emphasize how the Golden Globes nominations seem to exist in a parallel reality ("Burlesque"? Hey, it took best song. But "The Tourist"? "Red"? "Alice in Wonderland"? And not a single speck of "True Grit"?).

The question we must ask every Golden Globes show: What are these lucky stars winning exactly? Answer: an ephemeral triumph at best, their photos on fashion and gossip Web sites for a news cycle, and barely anything for the trivia books.

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association - made up of between 80 and 90 men and women with press credentials who cover, or perhaps sort of cover, the film industry for a variety of overseas news outlets - has been doling out Golden Globe awards since 1944. The awards come with but one true intent: publicity. (The HFPA also says that advertising and network proceeds from its awards show has helped raise some $11 million for charity.)

People of award-show discernment, from actual journalists to the film aesthete who organizes your office Oscar pool, carped for years that the Globes were all but a sham event, rife with favors and payoffs.

Stirring that sentiment late last week, the Globes' former head publicist sued the HFPA for $2 million for terminating his contract in 2010. In his suit, first reported by the Hollywood Reporter, the longtime publicist, Michael Russell, calls some of the group's award-show practices "unethical and potentially unlawful." The suit claims that HFPA members accept trips and gifts from studios in exchange for nominating films, while others accept payment to lobby other members' votes.

"That's rubbish," Gervais cracked, as he made a joke about how HFPA were influenced by quality time with Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. "That is rubbish. They also accepted bribes." (A joke! Right?)

"Some of them were taken to a Cher concert," Gervais went on, referencing the sexagenarian star of "Burlesque." "How is that a bribe? 'Do you want to go see Cher?' 'No.' 'Why not?' 'Because it's not 1975.' "

Later in the broadcast, Philip Berk, president of the HFPA and correspondent for an Australian film magazine, seemed to dodder out and jab back at Gervais, warning the comedian not to get his hopes up about ever having any movies nominated for a Golden Globe. The whole thing has always had an unseemly feel to it, even if it's just the booze talking. (Why else does anyone watch the Golden Globes but to witness all these famous people drink like fish? Or Paul Giamatti, who won best actor in a comedy film for "Barney's Version," wig out on five boxes - ?! - of complimentary Godiva chocolates?)

Here in the supercelebrity age of four-hour red-carpet pre-shows and cutthroat fashion commentary, criticism of the Globes has dissipated. In the last decade or so, the show found its identity as a piece of junk for junky times - a kickoff to an awards-show season that will culminate with the Academy Awards on Feb. 27.

Some regard the show as the Iowa caucus in a Hollywood campaign for ticket sales and marketing, but it's more like the White House Correspondents' Association dinner - no one can quite tell you why it even exists, nor is anyone willing to put a stop to it.

For television fans, the Globes are a good way to acknowledge some of the better new shows and performances in the midseason, instead of waiting for the Emmys in late August.

Also, the Globes acknowledge that the barriers between TV and film are more porous than ever - the ballroom at the Beverly Hilton was packed with actors who happily flit between the forms, and categories are crammed with film stars now doing their best work in boutique cable offerings, such as Al Pacino's win for HBO's "You Don't Know Jack" and Laura Linney's win for Showtime's "The Big C."

In happy news, Katey Sagal won best actress in a TV drama for her consistently good (and underappreciated) role as the motorcycle gang matriarch on FX's "Sons of Anarchy," which is the best movie that's actually a sprawling TV series. And "Carlos," the meticulously long (51/2 hours, for those of us who still can't believe we ate the whole thing) movie about the nefarious life of terrorist Carlos the Jackal, won for best TV miniseries or movie.

Chris Colfer, one of the "Glee" kids (Kurt, the gay one who fled the bullies of fictional McKinley High to join a private school's glee club), won best supporting actor in a TV series, and spoke out against bullies everywhere.

But who wouldn't be surprised if someone didn't bully Gervais the moment school lets out tomorrow?

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