The return of Ricky Gervais to the Golden Globes was promoted with the promise of tension, insults and discomfort, which distinguished his now infamous hosting gig in 2011, but it didn't quite pay off this time.
The reason it worked for him in 2011 – or didn't work, depending on your point of view – was because it was unexpected. It took the Globes attendees and the TV audience by surprise: a brilliant sneak attack, or a fiasco, or a little of both. He returned the following year somewhat de-fanged, and then passed the baton to Tina Fey and Amy Poehler for three great years.
I wasn't a fan of Gervais's on-the-attack style when he eviscerated the Golden Globes and their honorees back in 2011, but if nothing else it was authentic. This year he was on the attack again, but it felt less sincere. The barbs felt more carefully calculated and the targets were mostly safe and predictable: Bill Cosby, "Pixels," Roman Polanski, Charlie Sheen, Hollywood sexism (which didn't land as well as when Fey and Poehler tackled that topic).
Gervais also resumed his "rivalry" with Mel Gibson, whom he memorably insulted in 2011 and had to introduce again this year. I put "rivalry" in quotes because it felt more like play-acting. They both knew the moment was coming and came prepared, so the tension between them felt like shtick, except for one possibly shocking moment of profanity from Gervais that was bleeped beyond recognition by the censors, so whatever Alan Cumming was reacting to in the audience, jaw agape, was lost on me.
To be fair, Gervais was damned if he did and damned if he didn't. The element of surprise was long gone, and the Hollywood Foreign Press at this point was in on the joke; Gervais introduced the HFPA president Lorenzo Soria and compared him to a depressing In Memoriam segment, but Soria seemed to react less with offense than with the satisfaction of someone attending a celebrity roast. This is exactly what they brought Gervais back to do, which is why he could never really land any satisfying blows.
Eventually, Gervais started revisiting a bit where he questioned why the Golden Globes were running so long, but there wasn't really a joke there because at a certain point much of the audience probably agreed.
The telecast wasn't without highlights, but they came from the presenters and winners more than the host. For instance, Amy Schumer and Jennifer Lawrence, real-life friends and Globe rivals for their respective films "Trainwreck" and "Joy," had superb chemistry when they presented their films together, Lawrence as the glamorous straight woman to Schumer's ribald everywoman. I wish someone would tap them to host next year.
Probably my favorite joke of the night came from presenters America Ferrera and Eva Longoria, who explained who they were (and who they weren't), riffing on the fact that they are frequently mistaken for other Latina actresses. Specifically, the Golden Globes made that mistake last month when their Twitter account misidentified Ferrara as Gina Rodriguez when she helped announce the nominees.
That joke was pointed and well-delivered and reminiscent of some of Fey and Poehler's best material from recent years.
Among the acceptance speeches, there weren't too many showstoppers, though Taraji P. Henson's enthusiasm is as infectious as ever. Upon winning Best TV Drama Actress for "Empire," she distributed cookies to the audience in honor of her character, Cookie Lyon, and then fired back beautifully when the music began to play her off, "I've waited 20 years for this."
Maybe she could host the Globes next year, and bring Ferrera, Longoria, Lawrence and Schumer with her. Hell, I'd even welcome back Gervais, but with the understanding that the mean routine no longer works on this particular crowd.
Golden Globes 2016 photo credits: HFPA