If you take comfort in the Emmy Awards' almost shocking predictability in rewarding so many of the same shows and stars year after year, this might have been your favorite Emmy show ever. Otherwise, good luck distinguishing this rather dreary ceremony from any other year's. Instead, maybe it's worth looking ahead to next fall, when Breaking Bad will be out of the running and (lighting a candle to the Academy powers that be) Mad Men's Jon Hamm might finally get his Emmy after losing seven in a row, although at this point I wouldn't count on it. (It would help if Mad Men raises its game for its last stand.)
Not that anyone should begrudge Breaking Bad for its on-air sweep, even though it already cleaned up very nicely a year ago for the first half of its truly brilliant final season. (HBO's overrated, pretentiously murky True Detective had to settle for a well-earned directing award, and while Matthew McConaughey went home empty-handed for his mesmerizing performance, he had to feel all right about all the fawning attention paid to him by various winners and presenters, including a very funny Jimmy Kimmel.) So this year's Oscar winner didn't get the Emmy, but this year's Tony winner (as LBJ in All the Way) did — and what a night for the much-loved Bryan Cranston, who also earned one of the night's biggest laughs when (evoking his long-ago Seinfeld character) he planted a huge kiss on a fellow multiple winner, Veep's Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who like many other returnees (Jim Parsons, Aaron Paul, Ty Burrell) seemed almost embarrassed to be back in the winner's circle yet again.
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The only significant upsets were in the movie/miniseries field, where PBS's wonderful Sherlock: His Last Vow had a surprisingly strong showing (seven in all), with absentees Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman winning the male acting awards and Steven Moffat for writing, almost shutting out The Normal Heart until the Best Movie prize went to Ryan Murphy's HBO AIDS drama. (Similarly, Fargo's terrific cast and writer were passed over, though it ultimately won for Best Miniseries.) The least happy surprises: American Horror Story: Coven's wins for actress (Jessica Lange upsetting Trip to Bountiful's Cicely Tyson) and supporting actress (Kathy Bates shockingly trumping both Fargo's marvelous Allison Tolman and Normal's Julia Roberts.)
And for all the jokes the affable but forgettable host Seth Meyers made about streaming video and cable's supposed superiority to network TV, Julianna Margulies was able to vindicate the Good Wife snub by claiming her second Emmy for the title role in one of TV's very best dramas; Mom's Allison Janney won a supporting trophy for her bravura comedy work (a rare double-winner who took home a guest-actor Emmy a week earlier for the heartbreaking drama of Masters of Sex); and Modern Family defied the odds, the buzz and the Twitter haters by claiming its fifth consecutive Best Comedy win, tying with Frasier. (I thought Orange Is the New Black would be the favorite, though a comedy in only the loosest interpretation of the term, but the night felt like a repudiation of upstart Netflix, or at the very least a backlash against shows like Orange and Detective gaming the system by submitting themselves in improper categories.)
For all of its tiresome, mechanical sameness and lamentable lack of showmanship, including the misfire of Weird Al Yankovic's amusing-only-to-him musical medley, the Emmys produced at least one genuinely memorable moment. As expected, Billy Crystal delivered a genuine, sweet, funny and movingly personal tribute to colleague and friend Robin Williams at the end of a classy "In Memoriam" segment featuring Sara Bareilles singing Smile. "It's very hard to talk about him in the past because he was so present in all of our lives," Crystal said of "the brightest star in the comedy galaxy." Before the delightful clip reel rolled, he added: "Robin Williams: What a concept."
And for a moment, the entire theater sat hushed in its appreciation of lost genius.