Previewing The 2012 Golden Globes

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association has been handing out the Golden Globes since the 1940s, and for decades it was considered a Hollywood joke, derided for its inexplicable winners and long history of accepting “favors” and even outright bribes in exchange for trophies.

But increasing public attention to awards season, and NBC’s decision to begin broadcasting the usually irreverent show, has made the Globes one of the highlights of winter television, even if the actual awards still command little respect. And the HFPA’s best recent move was picking Ricky Gervais to host the Globes in 2010, a role he will fill again this year (you may have heard something about this). While the Globes were once known as the awards show where presenters and winners would dare to be a little informal (and are often tipsy to boot), thanks to Gervais and his track record of zinging major stars, it now has the cachet of being one of the few times in the television year where you need to watch, so you’ll be up on what everyone will be talking about tomorrow.

Gervais has played the media like a fiddle ever since the aftermath to the 2011 Globes led to speculation that he’d never be asked back, never mind that he has gotten primary credit for a rise in the show’s ratings of late. Essentially daring NBC and the Globes to replace him, he was finally officially brought back in November, under the theory that he’s less dangerous inside the tent than outside. But since his brand, and that of the show, is now all about skewering the biggest stars, can there be any turning back? On the contrary: Gervais has signaled he intends to be harsher than ever, and he almost has to be in order to deflect the charge that he had to promise to be nice in order to return to the Globes.

Possible Gervais targets (this is including only those who are nominated or will be presenting):

George Clooney and his chorus line of younger girlfriends

Alec Baldwin’s behavior on airplanes

Ryan Gosling’s omnipresence, and his bare chest

The current state of Brad Pitt’s beard

Jessica Biel being able to beat up her fiancé

Kelsey Grammer ’s adultery

Ashton Kutcher … where do you begin?

NBC ’s latest season from hell (too much?)

It’s also likely that the celebs will be better prepared for Gervais this year – it’s hard to imagine that they wouldn’t be, given how many questions they have all fielded about him. Many were visibly startled a year ago by the way they were introduced. Robert Downey Jr., who was the one figure a year ago that took vocal exception to Gervais’s tone, is scheduled to present again this Sunday; it would be surprising if he and Gervais haven’t come to some understanding ahead of time.

As for the awards themselves, the Globes have had significant predictive value in recent years when it comes to the Academy Awards and acting: the four Oscars for lead acting and supporting acting have exactly matched the Globes for drama leads and supporting acting in both 2010 and 2011. Oscar nominees have not yet been announced, but on the best actor in a drama side, a win for either Clooney or Pitt will make one of these “movie stars” the favorite to take the big prize next month. Best dramatic actress is a little trickier, since almost everyone seems to believe Globe favorite Meryl Streep is a cinch to win Sunday, but Viola Davis is likely to be at least an Oscar co-favorite in this category.

The television Globes always get less attention than the movie awards, in part because we’re so far removed from the Emmys, and in part because the HFPA doesn’t really seem to pay much attention to American television (remember, these are the folks who once nominated Jennifer Love Hewitt with straight faces). There’s a good chance that the large international cast of Game of Thrones will give that series a leg up for the best drama Globe. On the comedy side, six-time nominee and three-time winner Baldwin could return to the podium, but if there’s such a thing as predicting a “surprise,” you could do worse than wondering if Matt LeBlanc has a shot for playing himself in Episodes. The show is the remake of a British series, and LeBlanc is both a known quantity and someone you’d never expect to win, which makes him perfect for the Globes.

We’ll be back on Monday to sort out the champions and the carnage.