2020 Golden Globes telecast review: Ricky Gervais’s blistering barbs provide a nice balance to a funny and often somber ceremony

Thank God nobody told Ricky Gervais that the 77th Golden Globe Awards were supposed to be a party. The comedian’s fifth and, in his words, last go-round at the podium was sardonic, cutting, uncomfortable and hugely funny. Some emotional heft from the winners balanced Gervais’s dour and often hilarious hosting, making this year’s ceremony one to remember. Check out the complete list of winners here.

Gervais opened the show with a very clear message: “I don’t care anymore. I’m just joking — I never did,” he exclaimed before launching into a searingly funny opening monologue. Gervais warned the A-list audience that the jokes would be at their expense. And he went at his targets with guns blazing in what was as much a roast as a monologue. Gervais kept repeating that he didn’t care, and it was clear that he meant it.

Gervais took shots at everyone. Felicity Huffman’s jail sentence. Joe Pesci’s resemblance to Baby Yoda. Jeffrey Epstein’s “not a suicide.” No celebrity or film was spared. He called actors in fantasy/adventure films “ripped junkies,” seemingly as if that was the punchline. The discomfort in the audience was palpable and the camera cut to many in the audience — Tom Hanks, Jonathan Pryce and Amy Poehler among them — who sat stone-faced. 

Yes, the jokes were mean. At times it seemed as if even Gervais himself worried that he was going too far, even taking a hesitant pause before a lewd joke about Dame Judi Dench in the critically lambasted “Cats,” a joke that left Gwyneth Paltrow’s mouth agape. But these jabs gave the ceremony an air of tension in those opening moments, a pleasant departure from the ritual self-congratulatory back slaps that are so often ingrained in most awards show monologues. 

Did every joke work? Of course not. A swipe at Martin Scorsese’s height seemed neither original nor necessary. We all knew that there would be jokes about the length of “The Irishman.” Fortunately Gervais turned movie lengths into a deeply funny jab at Leonardo DiCaprio’s romantic attention span when it came to the age of his dates. 

Gervais ended his monologue with almost an admonishment about how out of touch celebrities are with ordinary people. “You know nothing about the real world,” Gervais proclaimed. “If you win come up, accept your little award, thank your agent and your God, and f— off!”

The winners didn’t take his advice. Indeed, the whole evening could have been a real downer except for some truly funny and unexpectedly touching speeches.

I think everyone can agree that Best TV Drama Actress winner Olivia Colman (“The Crown”) is at her best when she accepts an award she thinks she’s going to lose — she wins a lot, but remains charmingly humbled. Speaking of which, Ramy Yousef (“Ramy”) claimed his Best TV Comedy Actor joking that the audience hadn’t seen his show and probably wondered if he was an editor.

There were also moments of genuine emotion. Michelle Williams (“Fosse/Verdon”) had one of the great lines of the night during her acceptance speech for Best TV Movie/Limited Actress, when she emphasized a woman’s right to choose: “So women — 18 to 118 — when it’s time to vote please do so in your own self-interest. It’s what men have been doing for years.”

Both Carol Burnett Award winner Ellen DeGeneres and Cecil B. DeMille Award winner Tom Hanks gave speeches that were funny and touching. Best Film Supporting Actor winner Brad Pitt (“One Upon a Time in Hollywood”) aced his Oscar audition by giving a funny speech that ended with a simple plea for people to be kind to one another.

There are always things to nitpick, especially with this particular awards ceremony. As is common with Globes hosts, Gervais became incredibly scarce after the ceremony’s first hour. There was a long lull between film acting awards that cost the show some momentum. And apparently the show’s producers forgot one cardinal rule when it came to presenters: don’t have people present to a winner from their own film — it’s a bad look. Even Best Screenplay winner Quentin Tarentino said that his “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” star Margot Robbie presenting in his category was a good sign. (“Knives Out” wasn’t so lucky: Chris Evans presented two categories that his co-stars from that film lost.)

This was also a sobering Golden Globes ceremony, with many presenters and winners calling attention to the bush fires in Australia. Ironically, the sentiment was perfectly conveyed by a winner who wasn’t even at the ceremony. Best TV Movie/Limited Actor Russell Crowe (“The Loudest Voice”) sent a message, read by presenter Jennifer Aniston, that highlighted the devastating impacts of climate change and a plea to preserve the planet for the future. It was a sobering message that gave the entire evening a sense of purpose beyond merely handing out awards.

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