The Emmy Awards have a well-deserved reputation for being boring and repetitive and uninterested in new shows. Sunday night brought a very welcome breath of fresh air and some very entertaining awards-show segments.
You know it's going to be an unusually satisfying awards show when even the pretaped opening production number is a genuine pleasure.
The 62nd Annual Primetime Emmys were handed out Sunday night, and it was a startlingly good show, particularly given the Emmys' well-earned reputation for dull, inexplicable repeat winners and very little actual entertainment.
Things got underway with an opening segment in which host Jimmy Fallon met up with the cast of Glee to form a new glee club. It benefited from the participation of terrifically game performers including Tina Fey, Jon Hamm, Joel McHale, Jane Lynch, Betty White, Tim Gunn, and Jorge Garcia -- and even Kate Gosselin (who, to her credit, allowed her unwelcome presence to be played as a punchline). The number cleverly demonstrated exactly what Glee itself has shown: singing and dancing is fun, and when you start with a great song (in this case, "Born To Run") and everyone is having a transparently wonderful time, you're most of the way there already, whether the performance is perfect or not.
(The opening doesn't seem to be online legally -- a rights issue with the song seems like the most likely culprit -- but NBC will undoubtedly be playing whack-a-mole with unauthorized copies on YouTube for quite some time, so for at least a while, you can probably find it there with some clever searching.)
As if song and dance weren't enough, from the outset, the awards largely avoided the Emmy trap of rewarding the same people over and over. Eric Stonestreet (Modern Family) and Jane Lynch (Glee) won the supporting categories in comedy, while Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory) and Edie Falco (Nurse Jackie) won in the leading categories; none of those four had ever won for these roles, and all but Parsons are from new shows.
On the drama side, the supporting awards went to Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad) and Archie Panjabi (The Good Wife), while the leading awards went to Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) and Kyra Sedgwick (The Closer). Cranston is on his third straight victory, but Panjabi and Paul are first-time winners, as is Sedgwick, who had previously been nominated for The Closer every year since 2006 without winning. (She beat out the night's most widely agreed-upon shoo-in other than Lynch, Julianna Margulies for The Good Wife, which goes to show you how seriously you should take Emmy predictions.)
There was just a lot to like about seeing that crop of actors win; it wasn't just "Who's the most familiar person in this category?" In fact, several of these actors aren't particularly well-known at all, or they weren't until they took these roles. It also reaffirmed that while cable is still dominant in drama, taking three out of four of those awards, the broadcast networks are still strong in comedy, taking three out of four on that side.
That broadcast-cable pattern continued when it came time to give out the awards for the best series. Mad Men won its third straight trophy for Outstanding Drama Series, while Modern Family beat out Glee in the closely watched new-show battle for Outstanding Comedy Series. Overall, as between the two, Modern Family came out on top with the big win and the wins for Stonestreet and for the writing of the pilot. But Glee, in addition to Lynch's win, also took the comedy directing prize, and between that and wins last weekend at the Creative Arts ceremony for Neil Patrick Harris' guest role and for casting the show, it did just fine for itself.
Other winners included The Daily Show winning its eighth consecutive award for Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series -- beating out Conan O'Brien's Tonight Show, and thus denying us all what might have been quite an acceptance speech. The Daily Show victory was otherwise tarnished only by what appeared to be an off-the-cuff acceptance speech from producer Rory Albanese, who stumbled into mostly just praising his own show and perhaps would have benefited from some preparation.
Also, in an event that was both inevitable and (for years) oddly elusive, Top Chef finally wrestled the Outstanding Reality-Competition Series Emmy away from The Amazing Race, which had won every year since the category was established in 2003.
For once, there's very little to really take issue with as far as winners go. But even aside from that, it was a pretty good night's entertainment -- especially for an awards show. George Clooney was there to grab the Bob Hope Humanitarian Award, but he also participated in a very funny taped segment with the cast of Modern Family.
Temple Grandin, a woman with autism who became a livestock expert and had her life made into an HBO biopic, was in the house to see her life story rewarded with five Emmys -- and to spontaneously hug the producer in a moment at least as affecting as anything in the film. Ricky Gervais not only was very funny, but even had beers delivered to the crowd.
If there was a worst moment, it was probably the defiantly rambling acceptance speech from Al Pacino, for his performance in You Don't Know Jack, the HBO movie about Jack Kevorkian. It's hard to cut off Al Pacino, and he knows it, but taking advantage of that fact in a setting where he's really just a visitor was one of the evening's only acts of ungraciousness, since it inevitably takes away from other winners. Pacino filibustered for an astonishing three minutes (a lifetime in awards-show terms), including a full minute after noting that he was going to ignore the plea that he wrap it up. Producer Matthew Weiner, by comparison, wound up with roughly one minute to accept for Mad Men as the show was dutifully brought in on time.
It was a good night for those who have hoped that the Emmys would find a way to stop handing out the same trophies to the same people and shows every year. A good night for Mad Men and Modern Family, and Temple Grandin, and yes, Al Pacino. A good night for Glee, even though it lost the top prize, as its "let's sing and dance" sensibility set the tone for the whole show. It was a very good night for Jimmy Fallon, who really couldn't have been expected to do any better with the always thankless hosting task -- aside from the gimmick of letting people submit jokes via Twitter, about which the less said, the better.
But more than anything, it was a surprisingly good night for people sitting at home and watching the Emmys. Copyright 2010 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.