It may come as small comfort to Fox on a night when its shows failed to earn a single win, but the network knows how to throw a helluva Emmy Awards. The 63rd edition of the kudocast succeeded because at a time when the Oscars seem stuck in a state of perpetual reinvention, this year’s Emmys gave off a distinctly ain’t-broke/don’t-fix-it vibe.
Executive producer Mark Burnett took good care of the Emmys by sticking to all the elements that have made the show work in recent years: a strong host, an increasing reliance on musical numbers and clever skits, and a few things you just can’t plan: inspired acceptance speeches and underdog winners.
Like Jimmy Fallon and Neil Patrick Harris before her, Jane Lynch proved an inspired choice by being funny and energetic without resorting to the kind of scorched-earth tactics that burned the bridge between the Golden Globes and Ricky Gervais (who brilliantly poked fun at the incident in a pretaped segment).
Which isn’t to say Lynch didn’t land a few punches. Her best zinger came introducing the presenters in the miniseries category: “Many people want to know why I’m a lesbian. Ladies and gentlemen, the cast of ‘Entourage. ‘ ”
Lynch also shined in canned segments, some of which had lots of fun cross-pollinating stars from one TV show to another. AMC drama series ended up the unlikely comic highlight in more than one such skit. Lynch gets a hilarious dressing down from Jon Hamm in character as “Mad Men’s” Don Draper, who goes apopletic when Lynch shows up from the future to explain that DVRs will allow viewers to skip ads. It was topped only by “Breaking Bad’s” Aaron Paul showing up at Dunder Mifflin to sell crystal meth to Creed Bratton on the set of “The Office.”
Most of the evening was nicely sequenced, getting off to considerable momentum by frontloading the night with comedy categories, which “Modern Family” promptly swept. And just when the Emmycast seemed to lapse into a numbingly predictable pattern — with the return of “The Amazing Race” to the top of the heap in the reality competition category and double wins for repeat victor “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” — the show snapped itself out of complacency with fun upsets like “Friday Night Lights'” Jason Katims’ win for writing in a drama series and “Justified’s” Margo Martindale, who may have gotten off the line of the night accepting for supporting actress in a drama.
“I love you, Graham, even though you killed me,” she said, referencing series creator Graham Yost’s decision to have her killed off the show.
While many comedy coups marked the night, they weren’t all winners. Charlie Sheen squandered a perfect opportunity to earn some redemption but managed to offer a strangely stilted good-luck message to “Two and a Half Men.” The show’s stars, Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher, didn’t fare too much better in presenting an award together.
Strangely, Burnett stuck with the typical highlight reel with sappy-song accompaniment for the “In Memoriam” segment even though he vowed at a TCA press conference a few months ago to try something that wasn’t a “downer.” Perhaps the press reaction made him reconsider.
Of course, Burnett couldn’t work the miracle of saving the Emmys from the movies/miniseries portion that typically drags, given that most viewers haven’t seen the nominated entrants. While industry insiders might have enjoyed watching HBO lose ground in a section of the show it usually treats as one long commercial, that it was replaced by the unknown, soft-spoken Brits who won for “Downtown Abbey” will only rekindle the debate about the inclusion of the movies/miniseries category in the broadcast.
At least maybe the slow section may have provided viewers with an opportunity to check out Emmy.com’s “Backstage Live,” where comedian Michael Kosta nicely riffed from the control room as multiple cameras caught behind-the-scenes moments like “Thank You Cam,” where winners got to make up for what they couldn’t cover onstage.
If anything, the kudocast may have overcompensated for this year’s new reduction in categories on the telecast by hurtling through movies/miniseries and finding itself approaching the end of the evening with minutes to spare. But a little breathing room for “Modern Family” to claim the night’s final trophy without the awful rushed feeling that punctuates most award shows was a welcome change.