Midway through the Golden Globes, Ricky Gervais slumped toward the beer that was perched by his microphone and grumbled, “Kill me.” He might as well have been speaking for the rest of us. When was the last time the Globes were this painful to watch? The jokes weren’t funny. The winners were far more senseless than usual, even for an awards show that prides itself on erratic choices. The acceptance speeches weren’t nearly tipsy enough. Worst of all, it was boring. If ever there was a moment when we desperately needed Jacqueline Bisset to rush the stage, smacking her lips and slurring, “Go to hell and don’t come baaack!” this was it.
You can argue about the winners all you like, but the truth is, the trouble started with Gervais. He should’ve been the perfect host. He has earned a reputation as one of the all-time greats, alongside Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, because he’s brave enough to be the voice of Hollywood’s self-loathing. When he first hosted in 2010, he shocked and delighted the crowd with ruthless barbs about celebrities, bit the hand that fed by insinuating the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (which presents the show) accepts bribes, and raked in huge ratings, despite then-HFPA President Phillip Berk’s complaint that Gervais had “crossed the line.” Six years later, though, he was still making the same jokes.
There was the Angelina-Jolie-adopts-anyone-who’s-not-white joke. (2010 version: “You could be a little Asian child with no possessions and no money. But you could see a picture of Angelina Jolie and you’d think, ‘Mummy!’ ” 2016 version: “When Brad and Angelina see [Kevin Hart and Ken Jeong], they’re gonna want to adopt them.”)
There was the Mel-Gibson-has-issues joke. (2010 version: “I like a drink as much as the next man. Unless the next man is Mel Gibson.” 2016 version: “I’d rather have a drink with him in his hotel room tonight than with Bill Cosby.”)
There was the Charlie-Sheen-is-a-very-bad-boy joke. (2010 version: “It’s going to be a night of partying and heavy drinking — or as Charlie Sheen calls it, ‘breakfast.’” 2016 version: “Joy and Trainwreck — no, not the names of Charlie Sheen’s two favorite hookers … the films of our next two presenters.”)
When Gervais did manage to riff on more timely subjects, the punchlines were just as lazy. He offered such expected jabs at the expense of Donald Trump and Sean Penn that people on Twitter congratulated themselves for anticipating the jokes. Some took offense to his riffs on transgender women – Caitlyn Jenner and Jeffrey Tambor’s character in Transparent ere two early targets – but the general problem was his lack of imagination. (No disrespect to the fourth-graders out there who found the line about Tambor’s low-hanging testicles hilarious!) When Gervais tried to poke fun at the pay gap between men and women in Hollywood, a subject that Poehler and Fey would’ve relished, he ended up sounding self-congratulatory. “I’m being paid the same as Tina and Amy last year,” he said. “It’s not my fault if there’s two of them, and they want to share the money!”
He was trying to call attention to an important issue. But in a year when the Globes honored very few female creatives outside of the acting categories, and even fewer people of color, it was probably difficult for his underpaid peers to laugh.
Of course, you can’t blame everything on Gervais. He might’ve failed to shock anyone, but when the Globes did manage to surprise us, that was a problem, too. Mozart in the Jungle, a show that EW’s own Jeff Jensen panned, beat the critically adored Transparent for best comedy series, leading most of America to Google “What is Mozart in the Jungle?” (Sadly, it’s not a biopic about the composer’s lost years in the Amazon.) The Martian trumped Trainwreck in the best comedy or musical film category, despite the fact that it’s neither a musical nor a comedy. Aziz Ansari, a nominee for his performance in Master of None, would’ve gotten one of the night’s biggest laughs when he hid behind a book called Losing to Jeffrey Tambor With Dignity – except he ultimately lost to Mozart star Gael García Bernal. When the HFPA did get things right – yay for Mr. Robot, Taraji P. Henson, Rachel Bloom, and Maura Tierney! – it was such an anomaly, you’d be forgiven for imagining that fsociety, the anarchist group behind Mr. Robot, had hacked into the system and changed the votes.
Awards shows usually thrive on spontaneity. Give us an on-stage interruption by Kanye West or pratfall by Jennifer Lawrence, and suddenly, the carefully choreographed self-seriousness of these stuffy, red-carpet events gives way to the exciting possibility that crazy things can and will happen. But this time, when it came to acceptance speeches, we could’ve used something slightly more rehearsed. Quentin Tarantino made a factual error about the number of Globes Ennio Morricone had won. Sylvester Stallone, who won for Creed, earned sentimental applause when he called his character, Rocky Balboa, “the best friend I ever had,” but he forgot to thank the friends who weren’t imaginary, Creed director Ryan Coogler and costar Michael B. Jordan, during the broadcast. The number of stars who got up in front of the microphone, only to discover that they’d lost their speeches (or in Denzel Washington’s slightly-more-charming case, his reading glasses) was staggering.
Everyone likes to joke that it’s not a big deal to win a Golden Globe, but this lack of preparation suggested that the awards are so low-stakes now, even the winners don’t care enough to prepare. Many seemed to forget that you couldn’t curse on television, resulting in profanity-censoring silences that lit up Twitter with the frustrating question: “WHAT DID HE JUST SAY?!?” Those actors and directors who did put in the effort were often rewarded by the house band playing them off stage. Who could blame Henson if she bugged out a little, Cookie-style, when she heard the familiar orchestral music cut into her speech. “ ‘Please wrap’?” she huffed. “I waited 20 years for this! You gon’ wait.”
At least the guys behind the night’s big winner, The Revenant, were ready when they accepted their trophies for best drama, best actor (Leonardo DiCaprio) and best direction (Alejandro González Iñárritu). DiCaprio seemed to satisfy the traditional requirements for a speech: getting a tiny bit teary-eyed, thanking the big names(Iñárritu, costar Tom Hardy), and the under-appreciated talents (his make-up artist!), before closing with a sincere, this-isn’t-just-about-me message about indigenous people. But it was Iñárritu who scored the best line. Acknowledging the film’s famously grueling shoot, he said, “We all in this room know very well that pain is temporary, but a film is forever, right?”
Well, it’s hard to know how to answer to that. Will this year’s Golden Globe winners be remembered forever? That’s up for debate. Personally, I find it hard to imagine future historians deconstructing Mozart in the Jungle. As for the pain of watching this year’s awards, let’s hope it’s only temporary. Next year, maybe the HFPA can get the night’s best presenters, Amy Schumer and Jennifer Lawrence, to host. Until then, Ricky Gervais, go ahead and chug that beer that’s been& resting on your mic stand. You owe a round to the rest of us.