No matter how hard they try to liven it up, and no matter how many winners they rudely play off the stage (Julianne Moore? The nerve!), the Emmy Awards remains a stubborn lumbering elephant of a show, the least likely of its type ever to win an Emmy itself, often just lying there — like Tracy Morgan in the Epic Fail of a stunt from which this year's show never really recovered. Time management was so lousy that in the mad rush to end on time, Modern Family didn't get to finish celebrating its third consecutive Best Comedy win before the lights went out.
"Oh, did you guys want to stay another hour?" host Jimmy Kimmel snarked as he signed off. Well, of course not.
But for a while, especially in the first half of the briskly paced but long night, Kimmel helped make the Emmy show less painful than usual, giving it his best shot as he set an irreverent tone and sensibility. The perverse opening sketch was a hoot, with a grotesquely botoxed Kimmel hiding in the ladies' room and pummeled back into shape by a gaggle of nominees including Kathy Bates, a naked Lena Dunham (first shown eating cake perched on a toilet), Christina Hendricks and Julia Louis-Dreyfus — then borrowing Ellen DeGeneres' pants to go on with the show. (Ellen later showed up alongside the TV Academy president, still pantsless.)
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Even better, though also packing a sour punch, were hilarious parody pieces that imagined The Breaking Bad Show as an homage to The Andy Griffith Show — with Bryan Cranston's Walter White shooting a fake Don Knotts off his rowboat into the lake — "brought to you by Meth," and another showing the Modern Family cast (after it was already clear the show would once again sweep the comedy awards) living in fear of the "monster" of a child actress who plays little Lily.
What really hurts the Emmys many years is its predictability factor. Or as The Daily Show's Jon Stewart put it, putting the censors on alert as he accepted his show's 10th straight win in the late-night/variety category after being wrestled to the ground by Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Fallon, "When aliens visit, they will find a box of these [Emmys] and they will know just how predictable these [bleep]ing things can be."
Comedy was especially overrun with repeat winners, including the expected Modern Family sweep (with two-time victors Eric Stonestreet and Julie Bowen) and the very unexpected win of Two and a Half Men's Jon Cryer as lead actor (he had won once before for supporting). When Cryer babbled during his acceptance speech, "Something has clearly gone terribly wrong," the world nodded its head in a moment of shocked wonder. And while this was Louis-Dreyfus' first win for HBO's Veep, this is her third Emmy for as many shows (Seinfeld and The New Adventures of Old Christine), so it felt awfully familiar. But kudos for the gag in which she pretended to read from eternal-Emmy-bridesmaid Amy Poehler's speech.
As in many years past, HBO once again dominated the movie-miniseries field with multiple wins for Game Change (including for Moore, who crowed, "I feel so validated, because Sarah Palin gave me a big thumbs-down!"), although History made a splash with Hatfields & McCoys, which scored with actor gold for Kevin Costner and Tom Berenger, who gave two of the show's more peculiar speeches.
The toughest Emmy contest, and arguably biggest surprise, was in the drama race, where Showtime's thrilling Homeland swept the top prizes for its first season, with wins for best series, writing and stars Damian Lewis and Claire Danes, whose "Mandy Patinkin — holla!" was one of the more genuine magic moments. (The show's second season premieres Sunday, winning this year's good-timing award.) Not only did Homeland upstage pay-cable rival HBO where it matters most, in the series and buzz department, but it ended Mad Men s four-year winning streak — a show, incidentally and incredibly, that has yet to win a single acting award. But even with all this drama, the supporting categories had a feel of déjà vu: Aaron Paul winning his second Emmy for Breaking Bad (which many felt should have gone to his co-star Giancarlo Esposito) and Downton Abbey's Maggie Smith also repeating (having won last year in the miniseries category).
In one of the night's more audacious spoofs, Kimmel sent up the annual "In Memoriam" segment by staging a mock version dedicated to his own career, while Josh Groban warbled One Direction's cheese-tastic "What Makes You Beautiful." (An actual tribute segment aired later, led by Ron Howard's touching salute to his TV dad Andy Griffith and featuring the late Marvin Hamlisch's "The Way We Were.") Hosting the Emmys may not be career suicide — the show is too easily and quickly forgotten — but Kimmel's own clip reel reminded us how much funnier he can be given the chance. Doing the Emmys? He never really had a chance.