So how did this year's telecast measure up? As awards ceremonies go, this was a pretty good one, though with some big caveats.
Jane Lynch was a perfectly serviceable Emmy host. The years that FOX gets the ceremony are always crapshoots, since they don't have any late night talent or daytime fall backs. They were responsible for the awful "Emmy in the Round" experiment, and made the grave mistake of letting Ryan Seacrest host the last time. I was hoping they might ask Conan O'Brien this year, who was always very good when he hosted for NBC, but Lynch was fine. She sang, she snarked, and losing her category didn't faze her. If anything, she got funnier as the night went on.
I thought the opening sequence was over-produced and got the show off to a pretty tedious start, but the rest of the pre-taped segments were decent. The "Office" sketch was far more tolerable than any other potential tribute to mark the ending of Steve Carell's run on the show. "The Jersey Shore" bit was totally unnecessary, but at least it was executed well, and got better the longer they kept it going. Ricky Gervais was there exactly as long as he needed to be. I wish these segments hadn't been so front-loaded, but since most of them were only relevant to the comedy categories, it was inevitable.
The live bits were even better than the taped ones. The Lonely Island medley was a lot of fun. I initially rolled my eyes at the Emmytones, which consisted of a collection of random stars, Kate Flannery, Taraji P. Henson, Zachari Levi, Cobie Smulders, Wilmer Vaderrama, and Joel McHale, presenting each of the category montages as an a capella group, but then the whole thing paid off when LL Cool J showed up. And of course, the Amy Poehler masterminded beauty pageant is going to go down in Emmy history, and probably boost her chances in next year's race. If you can shake up an interminable awards ceremony, the industry will love you forever for it. I was hoping for another Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert bit, but they weren't on the presenter list this year. Aside from the In Memoriam, there were no other tribute pieces either. Alas, no cheesy Stephen J. Cannell montage to assuage our pain.
As for the actual awards, there was a lot of excitement and drama, but only if you were fairly knowledgeable about the Emmy race. On the surface it looked like business as usual, with "Modern Family" cleaning up in the comedy categories, and "The Daily Show," "The Amazing Race," and "Mad Men" adding more trophies to their existing heaps. However, there were major upsets left and right in categories for less popular programming. HBO's "Mildred Pierce" was heavily favored in the Outstanding Miniseries or Movie categories, but lost all but two acting awards to "Downton Abbey." "Mad Men" may have gone home with the Outstanding Drama Series statuette, but won no other major categories. Instead, the eternal underdog, "Friday Night Lights" nabbed Outstanding Writing and Outstanding Lead Actor for its last eligible year, "Boardwalk Empire" got Outstanding Direction," and "Justified" and "Game of Thrones" picked up an acting trophy apiece.
Even in the otherwise predictable comedy categories, the Lead Actor and Actress races had major surprises. Laura Linney and Amy Poehler were the frontrunners for Best Actress, and Steve Carrell was favored for Best Actor, as he had never won for "The Office," and the expectation was that voters would reward him for his work in aggregate. Instead, Melissa McCarthy of "Mike & Molly" was literally crowned Miss Emmy Lead Comedy Actress 2011, and Jim Parsons of "The Big Bang Theory" is officially having a streak. It wasn't a good year for NBC comedy in general, with previous Emmy darling "30 Rock" going home empty handed, and lots of chatter about how deserving "Parks and Recreation" and "Community" stars were snubbed in favor of the "Modern Family" juggernaut.
There were dull and mock-worthy moments, as always: the awful Canadian Tenors singing Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujiah" during the In Memoriam, Julianna Margulies' attempts to do comedy, and a pandemic of bad microphones all night. Shilling for new shows wasn't too obnoxious this year, but the "Charlie's Angels" apperance was an embarrassment, especially as they were handing out one of the major acting awards and announced the winner's name in incomprehensible squeals. I'm not sure why the announcers were still doing John Hodgman's schtick without John Hodgman. Oh, and Charlie Sheen showed up and behaved himself, which was exactly as exciting as it sounds.
But all in all, this was among the better awards shows that I've seen recently. There was a consistent feeling of effort in the writing and production, and even if all the jokes and ideas didn't work, at least few of them were outright stinkers. The Oscars might want to poach a few of the writers for February. And this was one of the most unpredictable and interesting Emmy races I've seen in a while, once you got past "Modern Family." It's getting my hopes up for next year.
Until then, happy watching.