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Emmy Awards Show 2011: Highs and Lows

September 18th, 2011 | Posted by Melanie McFarland in Commentary | Emmy Awards | Live Coverage | TV News

Winners, losers, predictions and bets aside, one thing you can count on when it comes to the Emmys is disappointment. It’s simple math – losers always outnumber the winners.  Indeed, the 63rd Primetime Emmy Awards telecast yielded a few worthy winners – some of them wonderfully surprising – and one that had us scratching our heads.  (That would be the Emmy for Barry Pepper, who was not there to accept his Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie statuette for his work in the lukewarmly-received miniseries “The Kennedys“.  Maybe he didn’t see that one coming, either.)

For every emotional peak one may have experienced with each award announcement, one also had to slog through dry gulches of flat skits and strange production choices.  Some of the Emmy voters’ ultimate choices were inspired, but the alleged entertainment served up between each envelope’s opening was often brutal to endure.

The Highs

The biggest winners were the usual suspects. “Mad Men” took home the Outstanding Drama Emmy for the fourth year in a row – its only win of the evening – and “Modern Family” reeled in its second Outstanding Comedy statuette. It was a good night for the ABC comedy, which won a total of five Emmys including awards for directing and writing, and Best Supporting Actor and Actress Emmys for onscreen husband and wife team Ty Burrell and Julie Bowen.

More shocking were the actors, actresses and shows most people believed were locked-in for the prize, but went home empty handed. Steve Carell was widely expected to finally walk away with the Lead Actor in a Comedy Emmy that had eluded him for so many seasons. His character Michael Scott was widely liked, and this represented his last shot at the prize for this work on “The Office“.  But the award went to “The Big Bang Theory’sJim Parsons for the second time in a row, giving CBS one of four Emmys the network’s shows would go on to win Sunday night.

Julianna Margulies handled her entirely expected Best Actress in a Drama win for “The Good Wife” with grace. But if Margulies had a wonderful evening,  Melissa McCarthy must have been over the moon at winning a Best Comedy Actress Emmy for her work in BridesmaidsMike & Molly.”  Anyone ticked off that McCarthy won instead of Amy Poehler should probably to consider this: at least this year, the award went to an actress who is actually funny. And who didn’t love it when all of the Comedy Actress nominees, led by Poehler, took the stage and held hands like pageant queens, taking the bit to its natural denouement by crowning McCarthy with a tiara?

McCarthy’s was one of several pleasantly surprising wins, including one for “Game of Thrones‘” amazing Peter Dinklage for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama and, much to the relief of everyone who cherishes great television, Margo Martindale’s Best Supporting Actress clinch for her tour-de-force performance during the second season of “Justified.” (Had she not won, we suspect Academy of Television Arts and Sciences voters would have received gift baskets from anonymous senders containing at least one bottle of Apple Pie.)

It was also an excellent night for “Downton Abbey,” the superior PBS miniseries that squared off with HBO’s “Mildred Pierce” and emerged victorious in the Outstanding Miniseries or Made for Television Movie category, while also winning Emmys for supporting actress  (Dame Maggie Smith),  writing (Julian Fellowes) and directing (Brian Percival).  “Mildred” was not shut out entirely; Kate Winslet won the Miniseries Best Actress Emmy, with Guy Pearce taking one for Supporting Actor. Even so, in the miniseries category the final score was four Emmys for PBS, two for HBO.

A more bittersweet upset came at the hands of “Friday Night Lights” lead Kyle Chandler who, like Carell, had his final chance (for now) at the prize on Sunday. Chandler was a dark horse in the category; nearly everyone expected Emmy’s glow to finally shine on “Mad Men’s” Jon Hamm. But when the envelope was opened, it was Chandler’s name that was read  – by his ecstatic former castmate Minka Kelly, creating one of the evening’s most heartwarming moments.

The Lows

The winners are a lucky few, but the losers will number in the millions; we won’t have a more accurate estimate until the official ratings come in. (UPDATE: As of Monday afternoon, some 12.4 million viewers are now missing the three hours of life that the Primetime Emmys telecast sucked out through their pores.)  Don’t feel bad if you’re in that crowd; after all, the past two Emmys telecasts were rather inspired affairs. We cannot be blamed for hoping that the 63rd round of the Primetime Emmy Awards, hosted by the charismatic Jane Lynch, would be just as entertaining.

To be clear,  the show’s shortcomings were not Lynch’s fault.  The actress did the absolute best with the pedestrian jokes and the workmanlike scripted segments. She didn’t stumble over the inadequate material and, in fact, got in a few gentle zingers of her own. Lynch did what a good host is supposed to do, which is keep the ball rolling and get out of the way of the presenters and the nominees.

But we knew it was going to be a rough night about a minute or so into the opening montage, which would have probably gotten off to a better start if Alec Baldwin had remained in the mix to play the “President of Television.”  Alas, Fox edited out a joke that might have offended Fox boss Rupert Murdoch, an act that definitely offended Baldwin.  He exited, and was replaced by the pleasant but far from spicy Leonard Nimoy. Thus executive producer Mark Burnett‘s awards show began on a soft note, shot squarely for the middle and slid down to the realm of the forgettable about midway through its run.

Some choices, however, were simply perplexing. Exhibit A: The Emmy Tones, a vocal group composed of Zachary Levi, Taraji P. Henson, Cobie Smulders, Wilmer Valderrama, Kate Flannery, Joel McHale.  Who thought that was a good idea…and why, oh, why, did the actors agree to it? Oh, Chuck, Robyn, Fez, Jeff Winger and Meredith…what dark, sinister deed did each of you commit to merit this level of blackmail? Surely it must be terrible, because personalities of your caliber should not have to sink this low just to get face time on a soporific awards show.

The In Memoriam segment …yikes. No offense to The Canadian Tenors, but strutting down the aisle singing “Hallelujah” in leather jackets is a bit too jarring of a juxtaposed image when we’re watching footage of departed actors such as Tom Bosley moving across our screens. We also suspect the Academy will have some ‘splaining to do tomorrow when people take account of the actors omitted from the segment, including “Taxi’s” Jeff Conaway.

Another bad idea? Charlie Sheen, surprise presenter, using the Emmys platform as yet another stop on his high-profile Image Rehabilitation Tour. “From the bottom of my heart, I wish you nothing but the best for this upcoming season,” he told his former co-workers from the stage. “We spent eight wonderful years together and I know you will continue to make great television.”

That’s lovely. Problem is, his (recently) past behavior and prolific commercials showing him driving the crazy train straight to his Comedy Central Roast (airing on the same night as the “Two and a Half Men” season premiere!) made this statement seem about as genuine as a Diamonelle.

In comparison to these baffling missteps, and a vacuous Jersey-philia skit that slapped us in our faces later on, a medley by The Lonely Island either came off as utterly tasteless or a breath of fresh nitrous. It really depends on how you feel about Akon dancing around in front of a gigantic American flag singing about having sex while Michael Bolton, dressed as Captain Jack Sparrow, provided a melodic counterbalance.

“I know this seems stupid and schlocky and already feels overly long. But this is the Emmys!”  Lynch said this during the opening montage. It’s really too bad that  statement proved to be so prescient.

Visit our Road to the Emmys section to see photos, view the complete list of winners and nominees, read the recap of The 63rd Primetime Emmy Awards telecast and more.


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3 Responses

  • Anton says:

    “McCarthy won instead of Amy Poehler should probably to consider this: at least the award went to an actress who is actually funny” ?

  • nt says:

    i guess they mean actually funny compared to actresses from dramedies like toni collett, laura linney and edie falco, who often walk away with the comedy awards. amy poehler is awesome.

  • Melanie McFarland says:

    Yes, @nt, Amy Poehler is awesome. No question. Toni Collette, Laura Linney and Edie Falco are also awesome. They’re just not funny. That’s why it’s great that McCarthy won.