Ricky Gervais' Golden Globes monologue highlights the show's Hollywood insecurities

Gervais certainly drew headlines — but is insult comedy really the “edge” that the Globes desire?
Golden Globe Awards - Season 77
Ricky Gervais at the 77th Annual Golden Globe Awards held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Jan. 5, 2020.Paul Drinkwater / NBC
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By Ani Bundel

This year’s 77th annual Golden Globes was hosted by Ricky Gervais, marking a record fifth time he’s been the face of the award show. That Gervais was asked back again for 2020 is notable because of the comedian’s reputation, both as a host and a comic, over the intervening years. After insulting actors to their faces during his last turn in 2016, Gervais has developed a “tell it like it is” attitude, which is really a nice of way of saying he expresses his opinions (and bigotry) as fact. Gervais’ jokes this time around served to highlight how the Globes’ insecurities may always keep it in the shadow of the Academy Awards.

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association got what it asked for, one supposes, with barbs that spanned from ISIS to something so rude about “Cats” star Dame Judi Dench that Gervais actually hesitated before saying it.

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association got what it asked for, one supposes, with barbs that spanned from ISIS to something so rude about “Cats” star Dame Judi Dench that Gervais actually hesitated before saying it. Perhaps the worst “joke” was his judgmental rant claiming actors shouldn’t make political acceptance speeches. This was directly followed by the first award of the night, won by Russell Crowe. The Australian actor, who was not in attendance due to the massive brush fires threatening his home and family, used his acceptance speech (read by Jennifer Aniston) to beg the world to do something about climate change as his country burns.

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Crowe’s pointed speech was the first of many, however, as many honorees — notably Michelle Williams, Cate Blanchett and Patricia Arquette — used the podium to speak out about political and social causes.

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Gervais wasn’t the only controversial part of the evening. Despite notable wins for “The Farewell,” actress Awkwafina and Ramy Youssef, the Golden Globes failed to nominate any women directors, or women writers. They mostly snubbed one of the best films of the year, “Little Women,” as rumors have circulated that male voters didn’t even attend screenings. (It won nothing.)

Going in, it looked like the big winner of the night was going to be Netflix. The best drama picture nominees were Hollywood’s secret nightmare: “The Irishman,” “Marriage Story” and “The Two Popes” are all Netflix releases that had short runs in theaters but were mainly streamed by audiences at home. The fourth nominee was “Joker,” a comic book movie with pretentious stylings, which took home the best actor statue for Joaquin Phoenix’s lead performance.

But after nominating a slate of films that actually reflected what audiences at home watched, Netflix came up empty handed in the motion picture category. Perhaps unsurprisingly, “1917,” the only traditional nominee in the best picture drama category, magically won. In the end, Netflix wound up with only Laura Dern taking home a trophy for “Marriage Story,” suggesting that when push came to shove, voters flinched.

In television, the nominees at least looked more diverse, both in terms of story and studio. But instead of handing nominations to worthy series such as “Watchmen” or “Pose,” Apple TV+’s critically ravaged “The Morning Show” was nominated for best television series, as well as nods for both Aniston and Reese Witherspoon for best actress. On the one hand, it’s good to see voters consider streaming shows as equals. But doing so at the expense of far better series on more traditional channels seems a little shortsighted. (Thankfully, “The Morning Show” didn’t actually win anything.)

There has also been some noise about the Globes’ snub of the final season of “Game of Thrones.” But the Globes had never been that wild about the fantasy series. While the Emmys could always be relied upon to shower HBO’s jewel in nominations, the Globes never gave more than two nominations in any given year, and that only happened twice. This year, the only nomination went to Kit Harington; that he lost to Brian Cox in HBO’s newest fan obsession, “Succession,” at least felt like a passing of the torch.

Awkwafina’s win for best actress in a musical or comedy for “The Farewell” made her the first actress of Asian descent to win in that category. Ramy Youssef won for best actor in a musical or comedy for playing a fictionalized version of himself in his self-titled Hulu show “Ramy,” which explores the clash of modern American culture and a Muslim upbringing. But these small moments were mostly drowned out by a rash of wins for “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood,” which also included the most self-absorbed thank you speeches.

Though it’s not considered a bellwether for the Oscars, due to the HFPA’s well-documented offbeat taste in nominees, the Globes are important because of their leading spot on the calendar. The second most glamorous red carpet of awards season, this mixing of both film and television gets more attention than most. Narratives build from the ceremony’s moments, which can affect how voters (and audiences) view both films and actors going into the Oscar campaigning that follows. (James Franco’s loss of an Oscar nomination in 2018 can be tied back to his appearance on the Golden Globes red carpet, and his win just weeks before.)

Clearly, though, the Golden Globes are still looking to remain separate and apart from the more conventional Oscars. This presumably explains the show’s ongoing courting of Gervais. He certainly drew headlines — and much love from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. But is insult comedy really the “edge” that the Globes desire? Sure, it’s a way for the show to set itself apart. But one would think there has to be a better way to go about it.

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