There was a spring in the step of the 62nd Emmys that's been missing from awards shows so generally and for so long that some of us had begun to believe it had been permanently unsprung. Ambitious, energetically hilarious, and, most important, almost seamlessly constructed, this year's telecast actually did what the Emmys are supposed to do — celebrate television.
Of course there was quite a bit to celebrate Sunday at the Nokia Theatre, what with the resurrection of network comedy and the return of the 10 p.m. drama, and this year's host, Jimmy Fallon, took full and marvelous advantage of it. He played to his own strengths as well—the art of the wide-eyed amiable jab, some wicked guitar-accompanied transitions and a surprisingly good Green Day.
Opening big, bright and funny, Fallon and the "Glee" kids corralled various nominees, including Tina Fey and Jon Hamm, into a live on-stage rendition of "Born to Run." It's hard to go wrong with Springsteen, or "Glee" for that matter, but by using current touchstones as diverse as Kate Gosselin and Betty White, the number brought a palpable energy to the room, and the screen. It also served as a crucial reminder that nothing moves these things along better than humor, and a little humility (can you imagine any Oscar nominee taking a red slushee in the chest during the opening number?).
Last year, Neil Patrick Harris managed to retrieve the Emmys from the pit into which it had sunk — remember when someone thought it would be a good idea to have the five reality TV host nominees serve as the telecast hosts? Without a script? Although he pulled it off with sheer nerve and terrific personal stage presence, Fallon and his producers reconsidered the entire show.
As a white-tuxedoed, wandering minstrel, Fallon played perfect host in the traditional sense of the compliment—he did not dominate so much as facilitate, making the category transitions lightly and cleanly, introducing presenters with humor and an insider's ease, and remaining infectiously happy to be there without drawing too much attention to himself.
But comedy was the foundation of the show's success. Much of its first hour was devoted to the once-again strong comedy categories, with many first-time, and much-beloved, winners, including "The Big Bang Theory's" Jim Parsons and "Glee's" Jane Lynch. (Not all of the freshness was due to newbies--though no stranger to the Emmys, Edie Falco was clearly shocked and overwhelmed by her win for "Nurse Jackie.") So taken with the new state of TV comedy was the academy that it saved outstanding comedy series," which went to "Modern Family," for the final award, an honor most often been reserved for drama.
The 21/2 hours in between were peppered with just the right amount of laughs — a spoof of potential network meddling with the "Modern Family" cast that featured Humanitarian award recipient and general scene-stealer George Clooney; Fallon's short and sweet musical tribute to "24," "Law & Order" and "Lost" ("the island it was mythical and everybody died; I didn't understand it but I tried") and the indefatigable Ricky Gervais lamenting the lack of alcohol and refusing to make a Mel Gibson joke because the star has "been through a lot." Beat. "Not as much as the Jews…"
Meanwhile, lame bantering between presenters was pruned, the tedious list-reading of the writing and directing categories bloomed into micro-docs, with the nominees answering questions including "When was the first time you got a laugh?" and it was all strung together once again with deadly wry commentary was John Hodgman. With so much going on, the minutes flew by like, well, OK, minutes, 180 of them, which is a lot but at least they didn't feel like days.
Even when the drama awards began going usual suspect — Bryan Cranston won a third lead actor award for "Breaking Bad," "Mad Men" got a third outstanding drama — there were enough fresh faces to keep things from dragging: Aaron Paul as supporting actor in a drama for "Breaking Bad," Archie Panjabi as supporting actress for "The Good Wife." Indeed, the biggest surprise of the evening may have been Kyra Sedgwick's win over the much-favored Julianna Margulies.
Make that the second biggest surprise — it's hard to top the revelation that awards shows, declared DOA around the same time as network comedies, may just be experiencing the same miraculous recovery.