“Thank you so much. …Thank you so much. … I gotta go, bye.”
Ah, Merritt Wever. In twelve succinct words, the “Nurse Jackie” star and Emmy winner for Outstanding Actress in a Comedy charmed the Spanx off of everyone watching the 65th Primetime Emmy Awards Sunday night, whether in the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles or as one of the 17.6 million viewing from a comfortable couch at home. When host Neil Patrick Harris called Wever’s response to unexpectedly winning the statue the best acceptance speech ever, he wasn’t kidding. It was unexpected, short, and hilarious.
The Emmys telecast itself was blessed with none of those qualities. On paper, at least, it seemed like the production would be entertaining. Harris has proven himself time and again to be an extraordinary host. After previous Emmys ringmaster gigs, some critics declared that he should host all future award shows for all time. As recently as the Tony Awards, the man was killing it.
Why then, midway through a sluggish, bloated telecast when Harris was joined onstage by Nathan Fillion and Sarah Silverman for the song-and-dance number everyone expected at the beginning of the show, did we feel like we were watching the television industry sink into a depressive episode? The heartfelt and personal In Memoriam segments for “All in the Family” star Jean Stapleton, presented by friend and co-star Rob Reiner; “Family Ties” creator Gary David Goldberg, remembered by Michael J. Fox; Jonathan Winters, honored by Robin Williams; Cory Monteith, as remembered by Jane Lynch; and James Gandolfini, touchingly honored by Edie Falco; were not the cause of the torpor. Yes, they forced the festivities to pause, but five more clouds in a dark grey sky shouldn’t take the blame if the rain is already falling.
As one of the producers, Harris shared the responsibility to balance dazzling spectacle with structural efficiency, ensuring that the train would not only get into the station on time but that the view during the journey would at least be pleasant. Instead, this was an awards telecast that emphasized the showiness of the show at the expense of the winners themselves, including unnecessary segments such as his “How I Met Your Mother” co-stars’ pre-recorded skit that created an addiction disorder out Harris’s penchant for hosting awards shows. (As Lily Aldrin might say, irony much, Emmy? Look in the mirror.)
No, the 65th Primetime Emmy Awards telecast was headed off the rails from the beginning, when Harris sat down in a room to supposedly binge watch the season on tens of TV screens, only to stroll out on stage and open with a dud of a monologue highlighted by past hosts Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, Lynch and Conan O’Brien joining him to joke about the fact that he was dying up there and they all could have done it better. Har!…Har! Thank goodness Tina Fey and Amy Poehler were in the front row to heckle them, not to mention Kevin Spacey’s short cameo to mug for the camera in the guise of his “House of Cards” character.
Even Sir Elton John could not save the evening with his alleged tribute to Liberace, which began pleasantly with a conversational intro in which he explained why Liberace meant to much to him and to culture in general. But then he segued into a song off of his upcoming album which has absolutely nothing to do with the man he was honoring. At least his Captain Fantastic jacket still sparkles.
And you know things are not going well when a dance number designed to showcase the Outstanding Choreography nominees, which included two modern dancers in hazmat suits harmoniously prancing around the stage in recognition of AMC’s “Breaking Bad,” was actually one of the highlights of the evening.
The misery of it is, when one looks at the actual list of winners, there were plenty of surprises. True, ABC’s “Modern Family” won Best Comedy again, and after a season that was not even its best. But “Breaking Bad” finally won Outstanding Drama just one week prior to its series finale.
All told, HBO took home 27 Emmys this year (out of 108 nominations), with CBS coming in at a distant second with 16. However, the most nominated series, FX’s “American Horror Story: Asylum,” only netted two statues. HBO’s celebrated film “Behind the Candelabra,” on the other hand, walked away with 11.
The individual wins were downright astounding at times, and not necessarily always in a good way. Honestly, Bobby Cannavale trumping Aaron Paul in the Supporting Actor in a Drama race is acceptable; he did some great work on HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire.” Anna Gunn‘s victory in the Supporting Actress category over Maggie Smith was brilliant. But Jeff Daniels winning Outstanding Actor in a Drama over Bryan Cranston? Really?
On the other hand, we got Wever. It also was a welcome surprise to see Tony Hale come from behind to seize the hardware from the “Modern Family” actors in the Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy category. “The Colbert Report’s” win over its friendly competitor “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” in both the Best Writing for a Variety series and Outstanding Variety Series categories is well-deserved after a truly inspired season. Michael Douglas’s jovial acceptance speech for his Outstanding Actor win for “Behind the Candelabra” injected laughter into an evening starved of liveliness, particularly when, in thanking his co-star Matt Damon, he referred to the award as a “two-hander” and asked Matt if he wanted the top or the bottom.
Hale even provided a glorious assist as Julia Louis-Dreyfus accepted the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series Emmy for “Veep“, remaining in character behind her as the camera cut to co-star Anna Chlumsky pouting and texting in her seat, putting the cherry on that bit.
Louis-Dreyfus is a repeat winner, as are Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy winner Jim Parsons and Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama victor Claire Danes, which is part of the longstanding snore element of the Emmys: if the voters aren’t proving that they’ve stopped watching TV by rewarding the same shows long after their best seasons have passed, they’re proving they’re more content with sticking with a known performer as opposed to branching out to reward a newcomer in a category who deserves recognition.
But perhaps the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences will show a bit of boldness next year by giving a vote of confidence to a fresh host. With “How I Met Your Mother” headed into its final season, and following last night’s performance, Neil Patrick Harris needs a rest. As for the nominees who didn’t walk away with an Emmy, there’s always next year.
For the complete list of winners, nominees, photos from the Red Carpet and more, visit IMDb’s Road to the Emmys special section.