Jane Lynch

If only we didn't have to sit through an Emmy show to appreciate the Emmy winners.

This year's labor of laboriousness, hosted by a game but ultimately defeated Jane Lynch (revealing that even this versatile talent couldn't rise above such mediocre material), was thankfully enlivened by a number of surprise and/or very deserving wins, especially when the drama categories kicked in.

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Margo Martindale, the glorious character actress who took FX's Justified to new heights in its second year? Yes! Loved her euphoric acceptance speech: "Sometimes things take time, but with time comes great appreciation."

Speaking of which: Kyle Chandler, after all those years of Friday Night Lights being ignored, finally winning in the final lap? And Jason Katims winning for writing the FNL finale? Double yes! (Why did it take the show moving to DirecTV to get noticed like this? Just wondering.)

For the record, I had been rooting for Mad Men's Jon Hamm to finally win an Emmy, and for Matthew Weiner's instant-classic "The Suitcase" episode of Mad Men to win for writing. But Mad Men could take comfort in winning, deservedly, its fourth consecutive Best Drama trophy, and even the jaded Hollywood audience seemed elated by FNL's come-from-behind victories. So reminiscent of the actual show, no?

How gratifying to see such a wide range of great dramas get recognized by the Emmys this year: Justified, FNL, Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire (for Martin Scorsese's direction of the pilot), Game of Thrones (for Peter Dinklage's impish scene-stealing), The Good Wife (Julianna Margulies rectifying her loss from last year). No complaints from this corner. Ditto for PBS' splendid Downton Abbey dominating in the movie-minis segment, trumping HBO's bloated Mildred Pierce (which did earn honors for stars Kate Winslet and Guy Pearce).

And while things were much more predictable on the comedy side, with a sweep by ABC's Modern Family in every category it was eligible in — lead actors were spared, because the entire Family cast submits itself in the supporting field — the night's most endearing and enduring moment occurred during the reading of the lead comedy actress category. As the nominees were announced, first Amy Poehler leapt onto the stage, followed by Melissa McCarthy, then all of the others in a seemingly spontaneously and joyous celebration, holding hands like a nervous prom-queen court until the surprise winner — Mike & Molly's McCarthy (that Bridesmaids exposure probably didn't hurt) — was declared, and a tiara and spray of roses were presented along with the Emmy. "It's my first and best pageant ever!" she memorably gushed. I laughed delightedly through this entire bit — which apparently was Poehler's inspiration, and that alone should earn her a special Emmy.

Regarding all the wins for Modern Family, TV's finest and warmest comedy in years, how appropriate for the brilliant Ty Burrell and the underrated Julie Bowen, who play husband and wife Phil and Claire Dunphy, to both be honored. They're quite the team, part of an incredible ensemble, and hopefully by the time it's all over, all will have had their moment in the spotlight. Burrell's sweet and funny speech in honor of his late dad was the best of the night.

And although my admiration for The Big Bang Theory's Jim Parsons is boundless, his second straight win, this time at the expense of The Office's Steve Carell (who walks away from that role empty-handed), felt less than satisfying. Still, his and McCarthy's Emmys represent a triumph for the old school of multi-camera, studio-audience laugh-out-loud sitcom production, so long out of favor in prime time.

"This is so odd for so many reasons," Parsons said, rather adorably. He wasn't just talking about the surprise win, but about accepting the award from (of all people) Charlie Sheen, whose mea culpa gesture of goodwill toward the new season of Two and a Half Men (produced by Big Bang's Chuck Lorre) rang so hollow — was it meant to be contrite, or ironic? — it was easily the night's most awkward moment.

Not that there wasn't plenty awkwardness to go around. Like any time the chirpy "EmmyTones" troupe (the worst idea since the year the reality hosts hosted the show) popped up to sing an intro to the next montage. Such a cheesy waste of talent like Joel McHale, Zachary Levi and Cobie Smulders. Or any time the voice-over announcer tried to vamp with lame jokes during a winner's walk to the podium, prompting virtual vomiting from the appalled Twitter-verse. The presenter banter was classically awful, and the musical numbers depressingly banal — or annoying, in the case of the Lonely Planet segment, trying to force some scattershot SNL anarchy on the proceedings. (Granted, Michael Bolton as Jack Sparrow is always funny, and "Freak Bill Macy" was a moment to savor.)

The only sustained comedy segment that truly worked was the mockumentary mash-up salute to The Office, with Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul delivering meth to Creed, Nathan Fillion griping, "All the black guys I work with call me White Castle," Cee Lo Green in a spinning-out-of-control Voice chair, a Game of Thrones Dothraki warrior growling, "I hate how no one ever rinses the horse heart bowl," and Ashton Kutcher realizing he's on the wrong set: "I was wondering where the half-man was."

Lynch did get off at least one good joke: "A lot of people are curious why I'm a lesbian. ... Ladies and gentlemen, the cast of Entourage."

Score one for her. But watching the Entourage cast take the stage, members of a faded and now defunct series presenting awards to (of all things) Downton Abbey, was just another sign of how tone-deaf this year's Emmys often were. Thankfully, this year's voters were a little more on the ball.

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