If you’re the sort of gambler who tends to bet on the underdog, the dark horse, the lowest odds for the highest payout, then Sunday night at the Emmys was definitely your night. By now you will likely have seen links to and GIFs of the shortest speech by any acting acting award winner in the history of award shows, Merritt Wever. The winner for Best Supporting in a Comedy series took longer to get up to the stage than she actually spent there. Hers was the first award presented, and Wever the firsrt of several Emmy winners who nobody – not even the recipients themselves – expected to win.
Admittedly, had I included the “Supporting” categories in my own list of predictions, I would have fared no better than the odds makers. Equally surprising was Wever’s male counterpart Tony Hale, for his role as the obsequious and loyal Gary on HBO’s Veep. Hale, also known for his role as repressed man-child Buster Bluth, reportedly chose to submit himself for consideration in Veep over Arrested Development, but I can’t help wondering what the Academy would have made of his renewed incarnation as Buster, now that he’s got more known work to compare it to. The Drama supportings were equally a surprise: Bobby Cannavale for Boardwalk Empire and Anna Gunn of Breaking Bad, though Gunn’s only because her win was long overdue. I have personally liked both Cannavale and the incomparable Peter Dinklage since the little indie, The Station Agent, so it was nice to see both of them nominated and even better to see one of them get the win.
The Emmy winners in the Best Leading categories were a mix of both the unexpected and the predictable. Julia Louis-Dreyfus, my personal favorite and choice, took home her second consecutive statuette for her fearless portrayal of the eponymous Veep. Tony Hale was by her side to remind her of anyone she may not have thanked in one of the more humorous bits of the evening – more on that later. Jim Parsons of The Big Bang Theory was also a consecutive winner, giving CBS a rare check in the wins column for “traditional network”. Parsons later shared the stage with the legendary Bob Newhart, who had won his only acting Emmy for his guest appearance on Parson’s show. Newhart, a man of few words but impeccable comedic timing, was humbled by the spontaneous standing ovation he received.
Drama Leads were a tough call as all were so deserving. Though not my actual prediction, I had not discounted a Claire Danes repeat for Homeland, and that’s the way the voters went. But it was Jeff Daniels who ended up with the Leading Actor award for his performance in the pilot episode of The Newsroom. Despite ebbing numbers in the ratings and the show itself not even having been officially commissioned for a second series, Daniels’ win might have both viewers and HBO reconsidering the program’s merits.
The winning shows were Modern Family for Comedy and Breaking Bad for Drama and the winning “Mini-series or Made for TV Movie” was of course, Behind the Candalabra. Michael Douglas got the trophy for playing the Vegas icon, which he cheekily offered to share with co-star and fellow nominee, Matt Damon. For the ladies, it was the lovely Laura Linney who won for The Big C: Hereafter.
Apart from the awards, which almost seemed like an afterthought the way Emmy winners were “played off” before they had barely stepped onto the stage, the show was made up of mostly disparate moments that either sang with celebratory energy or lingered on loss. A dance routine called “The Middle of the Show” featured The Emmy Gold Dancers (yep) in an apparent reference to an era that most of the coveted millennials demographic would be unlikely to get. There was also a pretty snazzy routine put together by all the Emmy nominated Choreographers (who knew?), and featuring host Neil Patrick Harris, that paid homage to the nominated shows. It seemed more like something that should have opened the show, but it was still pretty cool.
The other, diametrically opposed mood of the show came from all the tributes. There was a certain amount of morning-after controversy over the special eulogies given for several of the recently departed who had made a lasting impression on the medium – or someone in it. As with any awards show memorial, who had or hadn’t been included for special mention was never going to please everybody. But it was Jane Lynch’s recollection of Cory Monteith as someone worthy of your love that seemed the hottest hot button of that teapot’s tempest.
Elton John came out and sang a song he had written about Liberace, who Sir Elton explained (unironically) had been a huge personal inspiration. However, the song was just sort of standard Elton John piano ballad, and had nothing to do with Liberace’s legendary humor or flamboyant style. Had Sir Elton even seen the Douglas/Damon movie?
Don Cheadle got roped into to introducing a “tribute” to the assassination of JFK, ostensibly because it was one of the first world events that played out live on television. A few moments later, he followed this up with recounting the night the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan, again in an effort to imply the lasting influence television as a medium still has. But the entire sequence just deflated whatever buoyancy the show still had. It didn’t help that the normally sparkling Carrie Underwood launched into a mournful, and initially out of key, rendition of the Beatles’ Yesterday.
Overall, not the best Emmys, but certainly not the worst. The new fall season has just begun so it will be fun to see who makes it to the finish next year.
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