The Emmy Awards: TV Review
The host and telecast were strong, but the Emmys' inconsistency — yes on 'Breaking Bad,' no on 'Modern Family' — and unexpected twists made for a strange night
After Emmy voters had one of their worst years ever in the nominating process, Monday's ceremony ultimately came down to whether they'd at least get the winners right. And, as is custom, whether the host — in this case, Seth Meyers — and the telecast itself, could entertain.
In one hell of a weird, head-scratching awards show, Meyers was very good, the actual telecast held it together for most of the night and Breaking Bad got the sendoff it so richly deserved. But there was a lot of stink in the air as well.
Winners were all over the map, including an embarrassing rubber-stamping of Modern Family in too many categories. Repeat winners were everywhere, a sometimes painful reminder that Emmy voters have serious lag-time issues in uncovering bright new things in their own industry.
But since so many of these Emmy reviews in recent years have been (justifiably) bitter affairs, let's start with the positives: Meyers was funny the majority of the night. While he didn't deliver searing, belly laugh-inducing jokes (Jimmy Kimmel and Ricky Gervais did, with Jimmy Fallon, late in the evening, helping Stephen Colbert make up for a terrible bit), Meyers was affable and steady and kept the banter light and upbeat. Meyers is slyly proficient at getting consistent chuckles with whatever he does, so it was nice to see him nail it under pressure for the most part. It's not an easy job, and he ultimately gets high marks.
The show itself was also thankfully light on filler, the curse that bloats and ruins most awards shows — and especially the Emmys in years past. It had a surprisingly strong pace, and many of the elements worked well: Bryan Cranston and Julia Louis-Dreyfus with a call-back kiss to Seinfeld; Meyers letting stars ask intentionally bad Emmy questions; Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson bantering; Amy Poehler and Meyers bantering; Meyers and Billy Eichner on the streets of New York; fine, fun or touching acceptance speeches (Steven Moffat, Julianna Margulies, Aaron Paul, Ryan Murphy); a beautiful In Memoriam segment that concluded with an extended ode to Robin Williams from Billy Crystal. Overall, the batting average on this Emmys was much higher than last year.
But director Glenn Weiss, who earlier won his own Emmy for directing the Tony Awards, also misjudged whom to play off in the early and middle stages, which resulted in the unfortunate rushing off of winners at the end. This is a befuddling problem that seems to afflict all directors of awards shows, and it's not so difficult to fix. Do you really want to play off Breaking Bad, which just won the highest honor in your industry?
Speaking of, there was the not-insignificant run from Breaking Bad during the telecast: Paul and Anna Gunn winning for best supporting actor and actress, Moira Walley-Beckett winning for best writing in a drama series, Cranston winning for best actor — all in addition to the ultimate prize of best drama series. Every one of those was deserved, but also came against very strong competition that many pundits favored for victory. So the string of Breaking Bad wins in many ways was a reflection of Emmy voters sticking with the people who created one of the best series in TV history.
That would be admirable if it didn't look like the same kind of lazy rubber-stamping that let Modern Family rack up three major victories itself, including a record-tying fifth win for best comedy. The difference? Breaking Bad retained its consistent excellence — acting, writing, importance — throughout its run. Modern Family, however, has gone from a great series to a good one, surpassed by a number of other shows. It's not just embarrassing for Emmy voters to appear oblivious to anything new; it detracts from the hard-earned consistency of something like Breaking Bad.
Elsewhere, Emmy voters shocked a ton of observers by going in heavy for Sherlock and stunningly light for True Detective, Orange Is the New Black, Fargo and the supposed Emmy-magnet HBO movie The Normal Heart.
It was a night of weirdness from the start, with Ty Burrell winning for supporting actor when Andre Braugher or Tony Hale seemed far more likely. FX's Louie won for writing, which seemed to put the telecast back on course, only to raise eyebrows when Allison Janney of CBS' Mom beat out Kate Mulgrew of Netflix's Orange Is the New Black (the beginning of a bad night for that show). When Modern Family won again, this time for best directing, there was a near meltdown on Twitter (which was nothing compared to when it won for best comedy, easily the most heinous injustice of the night).
Jim Parsons winning — his fourth time! — for lead actor on Big Bang Theory only further fueled the notion that Emmy voters were mailing it in. Not an unfamiliar charge, obviously, but one you'd think they'd have corrected in a decade or two's time.
The night went on like this, decisions made erratically it seemed — a deserved win in a tough field for Louis-Dreyfus followed by the tenth win for The Amazing Race; Sherlock carrying the miniseries writing category; Kathy Bates trumping Julia Roberts; Sherlock's Martin Freeman absolutely stunning a supporting actor field with four nominees from The Normal Heart.
Happy surprises (Sarah Silverman winning for writing in a variety series) were intermingled with the previously identified shockers just in time for eyebrows to be lowered to normal height with wins for Fargo (miniseries), The Normal Heart (TV movie) and True Detective (directing).
Overall, the Emmys this year were inconsistent and weird, though certainly not all bad — just jarring at times.
Click here to see the best and worst moments from Monday night's ceremony.
A complete list of winners can be found here.