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Ragged format and no surprises make Globes a fitting mid-January diversion

Hollywood took care of its own at last night's Golden Globe Awards. Even Ricky Gervais played it safe.

As in years past, there was much glitz but little fizz at the 69th edition of the awards presented by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Broadcast live from the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles, the Globes were hosted for the third straight year by Gervais, who last year took withering barbs at the likes of Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie and Robert Downey Jr.

Not this year, however. Viewers who tuned in to watch Gervais's opening were denied the pleasure of seeing the British comic actor eviscerate Hollywood stars attending the ceremony. You could practically hear the sighs of relief from the A-listers in the first few rows.

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In his opening gambit, Gervais worked in a dig at Eddie Murphy quitting his Oscar-hosting gig ("When the man who said yes to Norbit says no to you, you're in trouble…") and took a crude swipe at a woman's attempt to launch a paternity suit against Canada's own Justin Bieber ("The only way he could impregnate a girl is if he took one of Martha Stewart's old turkey basters"), but otherwise he was the perfect English gentleman for most of the three-hour broadcast.

The only real zingers in the early rounds of the show were directed at the Golden Globes themselves, which have long been considered the warm-up act for the Oscars broadcast in February. As Gervais put it succinctly in his monologue: "The Golden Globes are to the Oscars as Kim Kardashian is to Kate Middleton."

As a broadcast event, the Globes continue to be the most tossed-together awards show on television. The show takes place following a dinner event and guests are allowed to drink before and during the broadcast. As Gervais noted: "Movie stars in the middle, TV people around the edge."

As in Golden Globes broadcasts of years past, you could hear people rustling and racing back to their seats upon the return from every commercial break.

Yet somehow the ragged format of the Golden Globes has always seemed appropriate for an awards shows transpiring in mid-January. Equally split between honouring the worlds of film and television, the Globes draws an average U.S. audience of 17-million viewers, with another three-million-plus Canadians tuning in.

In keeping with Globes of years past, the format involved squeezing in a minimum of three categories in between commercial breaks, which this year were dominated by spots for next week's return of American Idol and the upcoming series GCB (which originally stood for Good Christian Bitches and has been recently amended to Good Christian Belles).

One of the first stars to appear on stage wasn't even there to hand out an award. Jeremy Irons walked out with the president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, made a brief pitch for the group's philanthropic endeavours. And then they walked offstage.

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The early stages of the broadcast were devoted to the lesser celebrated awards, in categories such as Best Actress, Comedy or Musical (Laura Dern, for the HBO comedy Enlightened) and Best Foreign Language Film ( A Separation, from Iran).

The most ribald moment of the night came from another Canadian, Seth Rogen, who presented an award with sexpot British actress Kate Beckinsale and chose to announce: "Hello, I'm Seth Rogen and I'm currently trying to conceal an enormous erection."

As per every Hollywood awards shows, some of the winners thanked too many people and had to receive a gentle nudge off the podium.

Kate Winslet, a winner for HBO's Mildred Pierce, went on too long. Producer Howard Gordon, the co-creator of Best TV Drama winner Homeland, went on too long. Even Madonna, collecting her first Golden Globe since her 1997 win for Evita, was rushed off while accepting the award for composing the best original film song ( Masterpiece, from W.E.). But not before she thanked Harvey Weinstein.

Soon after came some fleeting forced sauciness. Gervais introduced Madonna as a presenter and make a harrumphing comment about her still being like a virgin. Madonna took the stage and said, "If I'm still like a virgin, Ricky, why don't you come over here and do something about it? I haven't kissed a girl in years." Oh, behave!

Amid the scripted posturing there was, incredibly, the odd touching moment. The speech by Octavia Spencer in accepting her best supporting actress award for The Help was moving and real. So was the crowd warmth expressed for Morgan Freeman, this year's recipient of the Cecil B. DeMille lifetime achievement award.

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Less moving was the acceptance speech by Martin Scorsese for winning the Globe for directing the film Hugo. Scorsese thanked every person in the cast and crew, even pausing to search his mind for names, while Ben Kingsley – who starred in the film – was shown waving at him from the back row. Awkward.

In the end, it was another typical Golden Globes broadcast: No surprises, not terribly exciting but still more than enough to engage viewers with flashes of Hollywood royalty – which somehow means even more to people in these troubled economic times.

Gervais didn't skewer any celebrities, but he summed it up perfectly in his signoff line: "I hope you enjoyed the goodie bags and the gold. And I hope it took your mind off the recession!"

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