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Ricky Gervais' Golden Globes Insurrection

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The Golden Globes are most entertaining when watched in the company of someone who knows that the awards and the awarders are best not taken too seriously. Last night, that person was host Ricky Gervais, who—hilariously and to Hollywood’s apparent discomfort—didn’t so much host the awards as he conducted a three-hour roast of them.

It was the second straight year hosting for Gervais, who came off atypically tame at last year’s awards. He was anything but this year, with a blistering monologue that left a smoldering crater where the floor of the Beverly Hilton had been. He limbered up with some Charlie Sheen jokes—easy enough—then laid into dubious movie nominee The Tourist (stopping to apologize, “I haven’t even seen the Tourist! Who has?”) and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association itself. (The foreign press, he said, contrary to rumors did not nominate the film just to hang out with Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp. “They also accepted bribes.”)

On it went, with a joke at the expense of certain closeted gay Scientologists (whose names legal advice forbade Gervais to name, or me to guess), Hugh Hefner and his new young bride (“Just don’t look at it when you touch it”) and the cast of Sex and the City 2 (“I saw one of you in an episode of Bonanza!”). It continued into the awards (Gervais introduced Bruce Willis as “Ashton Kutcher’s dad”) that caused several presenters to grumble back in a way that was probably scripted, but possibly also genuine. (Bantered the usually genial Tom Hanks to Tim Allen, “We recall back when Ricky Gervais was a slightly chubby but very kind comedian.” Replied Allen, “Neither of which is he now.”)

The assembled stars may not have enjoyed it much. The room was often uncomfortably unresponsive, as funny as the jokes were at home—it was like the Hollywood version of Stephen Colbert at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner—and Gervais conspicuously vanished for much of the last half of the show. But it was a good time at home, and added some zest to an evening that included the Globes’ usual jumble of head-scratchers and surprisingly on-the-money picks.

As for the awards, I’ll let the movie critics hash out the movie choices. (Though it was nice to see Robert DeNiro pick up a Cecil B. DeMille Award, just as Little Fockers made his accomplishments unignorable!)

As for the TV categories, though, my usual caveat: the Globes are even less predictive of the Emmys than they are of the Oscars, and reflect an idiosyncratic HFPA (which, for instance, must absolutely love The Big C). For all that, it was great to see Katey Sagal recognized for her great work on Sons of Anarchy, and Steve Buscemi for his commanding work among a great cast on Boardwalk Empire. (Though I’d have given the trophy to Mad Men over it, and Breaking Bad over both were it even nominated.)

And it was a big night for Glee—though a generally weak 2010 for the show (compared with the strong first half of season one) argued against its best-comedy win, I can’t begrudge Jane Lynch or especially Chris Colfer. And both gave winning acceptance speeches, Lynch cracking, “I am nothing if not falsely humble,” and Colfer, who plays a bullied gay teen on the show, thanking the fans who are told they can’t do things because of who they are: “Screw that, kids.”

And unsurprisingly, the Globes largely reflected the creative dominance of cable over network TV; the only broadcast show to pick up a major Globe that was not Glee was The Big Bang Theory, getting a well-earned actor award for Jim Parsons.

For the biggest evidence of the chasm between cable and broadcast, though, just look at the frisson that HBO regular Gervais brought to NBC. As for Gervais’ future hosting the Globes, we’ll have to see whether the tension in the room was real or, well, showbiz. But he may have ensured his exit from the podium with his last joke, “I’d like to thank God—for making me an atheist,” a sentiment that, celebrity-roasting aside, may not sit well with a broadcast network.

But maybe Ricky Gervais will be back someday. When the Golden Globes move to cable.