Ricky Gervais

If nothing else, Ricky Gervais is a master at upending our expectations. Last year, he drew blood as host-turned-heckler at the Golden Globes, redeeming his lackluster performance of the year before. Returning to the scene of his crime against Hollywood sensitivities, for a third and reputedly final gig, Gervais met the challenge of topping himself by not even trying.

"So, where was I?" he joked, taking the stage Sunday night amid a crescendo of anticipation. A few minutes later, that's what the rest of us were wondering. Where was he?

The targets in his smirkingly off-color but ineffectual monologue couldn't have been more obvious and tired: Kim Kardashian, Eddie Murphy, Jodie Foster's Beaver (a roundabout way to insert a Mel Gibson joke), Justin Bieber — and, in what became something of a running gag, women pooping (thanks, Bridesmaids).

The show seemed to be so determined to live up to its naughty reputation that it choked on its self-awareness. Like this lead balloon of an intro from presenter Gerard Butler, describing the Globes as "the only awards show where the only thing worse than not hearing your name as a nominee is hearing your name from the host." That wouldn't have been funny even if it had been well written or delivered.

Want more TV news? Subscribe to TV Guide Magazine now!

Gervais disappeared for long stretches of what felt an interminably long evening, but unlike last year, when the Twitter universe exploded in conspiracy theories that he might have been fired or muzzled mid-broadcast, there was a collective sense of "so what" as the show dragged on.

The strain also was apparent as Madonna responded to Gervais' feeble "like a virgin" joke by retorting, "If I'm still like a virgin, Ricky, then why don't you come over here and do something about it?" After a pause, she snarked, "I haven't kissed a girl in a few years." Gervais then dashed across the back of the stage, but the gag went nowhere.

It became more entertaining to wonder if some of the presenters might be auditioning for the gig next year. Such as Jimmy Fallon, doing a Mick Jagger riff as he presented with The Voice's Adam Levine. Or Seth Rogen, appearing next to the glamorous Kate Beckinsale to announce, "I am currently trying to conceal a massive erection." To which she hiccupped, "How nice." (The better penis joke was during George Clooney's acceptance speech, suggesting fellow nominee Michael Fassbender of the sex drama Shame could play golf with no hands.)

Or my personal favorite, the married duo of Felicity Huffman and William H. Macy, who sang their intro like a comic madrigal: "These actresses did stunning work, heartbreaking, true and bold./Though four will go home empty-handed, one will take home gold./Don't be humiliated, you all did a terrific job./It's an honor to be nominated, blah blah blah blah blah blah."

Charm, what a concept.

There were some other grace notes along the way: the decision to include a clip from the original The Electric Company, of Morgan Freeman singing "I like to take a bath in my 'C'asket," in his Cecil B. DeMille Award tribute reel; Brad Pitt and Clooney introducing each other's movies; Tina Fey mischievously photobombing Amy Poehler as their category was announced; Matt LeBlanc, winning for playing a version of himself in Showtime's Episodes, conceding the fictional Matt "is way more interesting and fun than the real thing. I wish I was him."; Meryl Streep swearing when she realized she'd forgotten her glasses (and then watching members of the audience, including Clooney, try to hand the specs her way).

And among the TV winners, it was gratifying to see Showtime's Homeland win some major gold (for drama and Claire Danes as actress) and Modern Family take home the comedy prize after losing to Glee two years in a row. Downton Abbey as best miniseries and Luther's Idris Elba as best movie/mini actor? Yes and yes, although these shows tend to blur the definition of miniseries. In my picks column in the magazine, my preferences almost all came to pass, although Kelsey Grammer's win over Bryan Cranston and Damian Lewis and Enlightened's Laura Dern beating New Girl's Zooey Deschanal were unexpected.

But by the time Gervais signed off, sheepishly noting "I hope that took your mind off the recession for a little while," I couldn't help wishing I'd spent my Sunday more productively — with The Good Wife, Once Upon a Time, The Simpsons, Downton Abbey. You know, actual entertainment.

Subscribe to TV Guide Magazine now!