01/16/2012 12:20 am ET Updated Mar 16, 2012

Golden Globes 2012 Review: Ricky Gervais Flops the Third Time Around

The talk last year was that the Golden Globes organizers would never invite Ricky Gervais back. Simply put: He was too mean.

But if Gervais doesn't get invited back in 2013, it might be because he was so boring Sunday night.

After weeks of media speculation about what Gervais would do at the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's annual awardsfest, Gervais' performance as host was decidedly anti-climactic and underwhelming. Its general mediocrity gave the ceremony as a whole a certain deflated quality. It took that adorable dog from "The Artist" and a few quips from celebrities skilled at improvisation to liven things up, though the NBC telecast never really stayed consistently lively.

It was that kind of Globes broadcast. Sometimes they skate along swimmingly; this one didn't (in part due to dreadful direction).

As host, Gervais' jokes generally fell into a few predictable categories: There were mild barbs aimed at very famous people; zingers aimed at Hollywood hypocrisy and the HFPA's wacky reputation; schmoozy in-jokes about the industry; and comments that seemed designed to make him seem like a rebel. But true rebels don't have to aggressively point out how edgy they are. It was hard for Gervais to come across as subversive when most of his material seemed cloying, tired or obvious. (Anyone making jokes about Madonna and virginity in 2012 needs to be sent to comedy jail.)

"You're so much better than last year's audience," Gervais said at one point. "They had a right stick up their ass."

Perhaps the assembled celebrities were simply more amenable to Gervais' emcee stylings this time around -- after all, they certainly had fair warning that he was returning to host and that he wouldn't necessarily tread lightly. Or maybe this year the stars were less restive because they were bored.

Last year, Gervais took far too many victory laps after his Globes performance, which was, in my opinion, not nearly as rebellious as he thought it was. Aiming at easy targets and grabbing all the low-hanging fruit isn't particularly difficult or admirable, but Gervais seemed to view the momentary disconcerting of a few giant Hollywood egos as some kind of noble achievement.

This year, none of his jokes landed with much force or accuracy, and the tone of the broadcast was set by the number of references there were to the sink-pooping scene in "Bridesmaids." (Gervais: "Amazingly, that's still less demeaning than what most of you have done to make it in show business." Ha ha.)

It was left to winners and presenters to liven things up, and they did so ... occasionally. As Jace Lacob pointed out on Twitter, Johnny Depp appeared to be channeling Christopher Walken during his brief appearance, and George Clooney got a big laugh by making a joke about the, er, personal equipment of actor Michael Fassbender, who was nude a great deal in "Shame." Madonna, whose breasts appeared desperate to escape her dress (and perhaps the sleepy Beverly Hilton ballroom), briefly turned the tables on Gervais by saying he should "take care of" her alleged virginity.

"I haven't kissed a girl in a few years," she noted.

Other than that, the liveliest moments of the evening included Uggie, the dog from "The Artist," rolling over on stage when that film won an award, and the clip reel in which Morgan Freeman's career was celebrated -- specifically the footage of him as a vampire taking a bath on "Electric Company," which may have been the high point of the 2012 Globes ceremony.

Some blame for the program's slack pace and aimlessness must go to the Globes director, who seemed to choose camera angles at random. Reaction shots would often be of completely oblivious or bored-looking celebrities (no, I did not need to see Piper Perabo's reaction to anything). And when Gervais joked that presenter Colin Firth was racist, the director immediately lined up reaction shots of African-American actors, as if they wouldn't understand that Gervais was speaking in jest. Actually, his mini-rant about Firth's alleged flaws ("I've seen him punch a little blind kitten!") was one of his few successful bits of the evening.

It was terrific to see "Homeland" win as best TV drama and Claire Danes win as best actress for the show; and "Game of Thrones" actor Peter Dinklage showed a great deal of class by using his speech to make a point about an appalling situation (read more about that here).

But the many of the wins in the TV realm ranged a little disappointing to a lot disappointing. Globes voters love big stars slumming it on TV shows or TV stars who were once in better shows -- hence the win for Matt LeBlanc, who in no way deserved to win as best comedy actor for the screechy Showtime program "Episodes," and the win for Kate Winslet, who was good, but in a very dull and too-literal adaptation of "Mildred Pierce." Jessica Lange won a Globe for making mincemeat of the scenery in "American Horror Story," and though Kelsey Grammer is good in Starz's "Boss," the show around him is generally pretty awful.

But hey, at least we got to hear Gervais' hilarious joke about Justin Bieber: The only way the pop star could have gotten anyone pregnant was if he "borrowed one of Martha Stewart's old turkey basters," Gervais said in his opening routine, wearing a smug expression that began to wear off as the tedious evening progressed.

By the end of the three-hour broadcast, Gervais had been upstaged by a dog, Madonna, a rambling Meryl Streep and by Seth Rogen's mid-show zinger about how he was "trying to conceal a massive erection."

Sure, all awards shows tend to spin out of control, but little that Gervais did or said helped right the ship, and his last joke smacked of serious flop sweat. He told the assembled celebrities that he hoped the ceremony "took your mind of the recession for a little while."

It wasn't funny, and he delivered the line in an uncomfortable rush, but a truly assured host never lets the folks at home (or in the room) see him or her sweat.

Next year, if we're very, very good, can Neil Patrick Harris host? Please?