There is a God, and apparently she is a voting member of the television academy.
Despite overwhelming consensus that the dramatic portion of the 64th Primetime Emmys would an intra-AMC face-off between “Breaking Bad” and perennial favorite “Mad Men,” Showtime’s politically and narratively ambitious “Homeland” dominated the competition, winning for drama, actress, actor and writing.
The wins were not just well-deserved, they saved the broadcast from being a complete and utter bore. Maybe it was the heat — 94 degrees on the red carpet outside the Nokia Theatre — or the equally suffocating effect of “Modern Family’s” dominance of the comedy categories but the first half of Sunday night’s show was surprisingly snoozy, filled with repeat winners who seemed chosen off some collective “We Predict the Emmys” sheet and only occasionally enlivened by host Jimmy Kimmel’s deadpan wit.
Which may also have had something to do with the initially enervating air of what is usually the second most entertaining awards show (for sheer energy, it’s hard to beat the Tonys.) Enlisting some of the top female nominees, including Kathy Bates, Lena Dunham, Connie Britton and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Kimmel opened with a pre-taped sketch that had him hiding in the women’s dressing room with a face full of Botox and a heart full of fear. Even with the pixilated image of Dunham eating cake in the nude and Bates punching through a door, it fell a little flat.
Kimmel did better with his opening monologue, acknowledging the election year with observations that “Downton Abbey” allowed viewers to “know what its like to grow up in Mitt Romney’s household” and that President Obama shouldn’t be watching “Homeland” “for the same reason Charlie Sheen shouldn’t watch ‘Breaking Bad.’”
He kept things moving with a few equally amusing one-liners — if you want to know what it’s like at the Nokia during commercial time “imagine all your favorite TV stars looking at their phones and not talking to each other,” a few lively presenters (can Amy Poehler just host next year?) and several funny enough pre-taped sketches. But there was no getting away from the fact that while familiarity may not always breed contempt, it’s difficult to deny the boredom that comes from watching the same people win awards they have won in previous years.
Even if “Modern Family’s” Steven Levitan won this year for directing instead of writing (the writing award went to Louis C.K. who also won for writing for a variety show) it doesn’t help much in the dramatic tension department. Jon Cryer’s second win for best actor in a comedy was a bit of a shock even to him, but by the time Julia Louis-Dreyfus picked up her third Emmy, we were just grateful that least it was for a different show than her previous statues. Also, she did a fabulous gag with Poehler, pretending to have swapped acceptance speeches, and her voice did seem to be shaking with honest emotion. No matter what you think of “Veep,” it’s hard not to love Louis-Dreyfus.
In fact, she may have marked the turning point for the show The cast of “The Big Bang Theory” did what may be the funniest introduction of the obligatory CPAs involved in the voting process. By the time “Breaking Bad’s” Aaron Paul gave a spirited and touching acceptance speech for his second best supporting actor win — “Vince Gilligan, thank you so much for not killing me off” — everyone in the audience had apparently rehydrated sufficiently, one way or the other, to lift the energy of the room and the show.
Best presenter award is a tie between Tina Fey for pretending not to be able to read the prompter without her famous glasses and Aziz Ansari for feigning a British accent because it made him seem like a more serious actor. Best joke that probably isn’t really a joke: Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Fallon tackling Jon Stewart on his way to pick up the annual Emmy for “The Daily Show,” which at this point even Stewart finds ridiculous. As for “Hatfields & McCoys’” Tom Berenger, whose acceptance speech for best supporting actor in a movie or mini-series included references to rabid raccoons, aligning planets and garden gnomes, well, there are performances for which no single award can suffice.
Which is something that the cast of “Mad Men” might want to keep in mind this week. Although the latest was inarguably the best season since the show’s first, the show walked away from what many thought would be its record-breaking year empty-handed, making them a four-time drama winner with no Emmys in acting categories.
But by the time that reality sunk in, “Homeland” was basking in newbie success and HBO’s take on the 2008 election “Game Change” had rounded out the political nature of the drama wins. Everyone was so giddy with the prospect of dinner and the cool evening air, that no one seemed to care when the “Modern Family” creators got cut off halfway through their acceptance speech for outstanding comedy.
“Do you want to stay here for another hour,” said Kimmel, taking a firm line. No, and for better or worse, we had heard that speech before.