But even toned down from last year, he was still the best part of the ceremony
Ricky Gervais gave the Golden Globes nothing to complain about Sunday night — except, perhaps, for a sedate show.
Gervais told solid jokes. But despite promises he wouldn't hold back, none were as harsh as the ones last year, when he said nominations for "The Tourist" proved the Globes voters took bribes and claimed that "famous Scientologists" are gay.
The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which puts on the show, initially seemed hesitant to invite him back — but wisely asked him to return and host for a third time.
Also read: Ricky Gervais' Best Golden Globes Jokes
Because even toned down, Gervais was still the best part of a decidely slow show. Harsher jokes could only have helped. As it was, Gervais' funniest lines were also his surliest, and came again at the expense of the press association.
Describing HBO's "Boardwalk Empire" in his monologue, he intoned, "It's about a load of immigrants who came to America about a hundred years ago and they got involved in bribery and corruption, and they worked themselves up into high society. But enough about the Hollywood Foreign Press."
He also said the Globes were "just like the Oscars, but without all that esteem."
While it felt a little dangerous last year for Gervais to take on Hollywood sacred cows like Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie (and dangerously mean to drag Cher into it), this time out Gervais went for lots of easy targets, and didn't hit them very hard.
"The Golden Globes are to the Oscars what Kim Kardashian is to Kate Middleton," he said in one of several Kardashian jokes. "Bit louder, bit trashier, bit drunker, and more easily bought. Allegedly. Nothing's been proved."
He also joked with Depp, the first presenter, about whether he had seen "The Tourist" yet. Depp will appear in Gervais' new HBO series, "Life's Too Short."
Gervais' most risqué joke, like his Scientology joke last year, seemed to question a star's sexuality.
"I musn't mention Mel Gibson this year," Gervais said. "Not his private life, his politics, his recent films, and especially not Jodie Foster's "Beaver." I haven't seen it myself. I've spoken for a lot of guys who haven't seen it, either. But that doesn't mean it's not any good."
One of Gervais' jokes, about Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek's accents, was so censored by NBC that the punchline was indecipherable for people watching at home. The show was presented with a standard five-second delay, an NBC spokesman told TheWrap.
Gervais also touched on his own well-known atheism after urging winners to thank only God and their agents in their acceptance speeches. "God and my agent had exactly the same amount of input into my career," he said.
Meryl Streep, the rare winner who gave an entertaining speech — even without her notes — later riffed on the joke. She wittily thanked both her agent and "God — Harvey Weinstein."
Madonna had another good one. After Gervais introduced her as "just like a virgin," and made a face, she offered a quick and almost certainly scripted retort.
"If I'm just like a virgin, Ricky, then why don't you come over here and do something about it?" she said. "I haven't kissed a girl in a few years."
She added as an aside: "On TV."
But Streep and Madonna were the rare people, aside from Gervais, who could inject life into the show. Among the many slow moments was an uncharacteristically meandering joke from Helen Mirren about Morgan Freeman's "Driving Miss Daisy" as he received the Cecile B. De Mille award.
In another of Gervais' best jokes, he said, "The Hollywood Foreign Press have warned me that if I insult any of you, or any of them, or offend any viewers or cause any controversy whatsoever, they'll definitely invite me back next year as well."
They should. On the condition that he be more insulting.