By the time Ricky Gervais neared his third and final raucous stint as host of the Golden Globes in 2012, pre-show chatter focused on whether he would out-outrageous himself with more over-the-line lines like "I like a drink as much as the next man — unless the next man is Mel Gibson."
That was understandable, if somewhat unfair to Gervais, who, with beer in hand, single-handedly dragged the Globes into relevance over three Januaries, hitting his stride midway as the Oscars self-immolated with the James Franco-Anne Hathaway pairing in 2011.
Tina Fey and Amy Poehler picked up the torch, if not the beer, over the last two Globes with a tag-team approach that matched Gervais laugh for laugh, even if their body slams landed softer (as Poehler said of an absent Meryl Streep in 2013: "She has the flu — and I hear she's amazing in it!").
Now Fey and Poehler are set to host their third and final Globes on NBC Sunday, offering them a golden opportunity to exit with an Oscar-worthy performance, potentially putting them alongside the in-his-prime Billy Crystal as the most lauded awards show hosts of the past quarter-century.
Like Crystal (and Gervais), Fey and Poehler arrive ready to entertain the folks at home, rather than the stars in attendance. Like Crystal (but not Gervais), they’re amiable enough to get away with knocks at the Hollywood elite (Fey last year described “Gravity” as “the story of how George Clooney would rather float away into space and die than spend one more minute with a woman his own age”).
Fey and Poehler also carry a comic chemistry brewed long ago on “Saturday Night Live,” where they turned “Weekend Update” into one-liner Ping-Pong match. Both now are in the midst of different transitions. Fey, whose run on “30 Rock” ended nearly two years ago, is focused primarily on movies. It’s unclear what’s next for Poehler, whose final season of NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” kicks off next week.
The future can wait for Fey and Poehler as they’re presumably hard at work writing jokes for the Globes — even if they’re careful to avoid the long, all-consuming preparations associated with the production-number-heavy spectacle of the Academy Awards. The pair make hosting look easy. But more importantly, they make it look they’re having fun.
Ellen DeGeneres picked up on that spirit last year with her much-tweeted Oscar selfie and pizza-ordering bits. Her (re)casting seemed a reaction to Fey and Poehler’s success, just as “Family Guy” creator’s Seth MacFarlane’s controversial 2013 Oscars turn came off as a delayed reaction to Gervais’ sacred-cow-slaughtering Globes efforts.
This year, Neil Patrick Harris, a versatile entertainer and proven awards show host, packs the promise of a strong Oscars pick. But he likely won't be judged against his past gigs helming the Tonys and Emmys as much as against Fey and Poehler's finale. That’s both a tribute and a challenge to a duo known for leaving 'em laughing even after the credits roll.
Jere Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multimedia NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.