At an awards show notorious for predictability in so many categories, it’s crucial for every other element of the Emmys to inject some life into the proceedings. Luckily, the 64th edition of the kudocast was up to the task.
For every sleep-inducing repeat win — take a bow, “Modern Family,” “The Amazing Race,” “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” — the Emmys managed to scatter just enough moments of laughter and drama to make producers for the Academy Awards and Golden Globes want to take notes.
That said, much of what energized this year’s Emmys most was unplanned by its producers: the surprising sweep of Showtime’s “Homeland” and memorable acceptance speeches from the likes of Aaron Paul and Steve Levitan. “I wouldn’t be standing here without your faith in me,” Levitan tells himself aloud, acknowledging the absurdity of an executive producer winning for a directing assignment he gave himself.
But so much else about the night was right, starting with host Jimmy Kimmel. Though his opening monologue was way too tame for someone capable of Gervais-ian savagery, as attendees of the annual ABC upfront presentation can attest to each May, Kimmel was that rare example of a host who seemed to get better as the night wore on.
Kimmel may want to consider making Tracy Morgan a permanent co-host once “30 Rock” ends. While a social media prank that attempted to convince those on the Internet that Morgan had collapsed on stage probably played better on paper than in its actual execution, another bit in which Kimmel drummed his parents out of the theater put his newly minted sidekick to better use.
It was the pretaped segments that may have delivered the evening’s biggest laughs, the highlight being a reimagining of what AMC’s “Breaking Bad” would have been looked like were it filmed “Andy Griffith Show”-style before cable programming was invented. The show opener was good too, though perhaps for no other reason than providing the indelible image of “Girls” star Lena Dunham sitting on a toilet naked eating birthday cake.
While most of the audience may not have gotten a joke drawn from a series that is at best a cult hit, it was the closest the Emmys got to delivering what many thought the night seemed to miss most: a Dunham acceptance speech.
Truth be told, the first hour of the Emmys wasn’t its best. Kimmel’s soft material and the dreary sameness of “Modern Family’s” dominance saw to that. But the evening seemed to elevate once Paul took to the stage and exhibited actual emotion in his acceptance for supporting actor in a drama. It was as if the glib mood that pervaded the assembly-line efficiency that carried the comedy categories along faded, and the show slipped into a higher gear.
The night got better as Kimmel got more comfortable and “Homeland” started to string together win after improbable win, setting up some suspense for the final minutes as to whether it had the momentum to spoil “Mad Men’s” quest for a fifth consecutive win in the drama series category.
There were so many other small ways that the Emmys stayed as vital as it’s had the fortune of remaining in recent years. The acceptance-speech bits worked more often than not. Julia Louis-Dreyfus pretending to mix up her speech with Amy Poehler’s was a cute touch. Stewart getting tackled by Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Fallon as he struggled his way to the stage was a total riot.
Another small but wonderful bit: the cast of “Big Bang Theory” riffing to the sight of the Ernst & Young accountants doing their traditional walk on stage. “Good to see him back in action after blowing out his finger during a Powerpoint presentation,” enthused Jim Parsons, in character as Sheldon Cooper.
Another idea that may have sounded better on paper was the pretaped introductions featuring the nominees in some of the lesser categories, which weren’t as consistently funny as they needed to be to really work. And the slog that is the movies/miniseries category was only enlivened so much by watching HBO’s “Game Change” run the table — Don Mischer et al needed to put a little more creativity into this section of the show.
Still, the point is that the Emmycast tries hard — and succeeds more often than not — to strike a good balance between satisfying its industry constituents while remaining appealing to a broad audience.