LOS ANGELES — In the spirit of Monday’s Emmy telecast let’s give it up for Seth Meyers. Hosting any awards show is a perilous and exhausting task — the shows are long, the live audience increasingly filled with losers, and the critics, who have just spent three hours losing the office pool and eating way too many carbs, are often just plain mean.
But Seth, I am here to tell you, despite the California Pizza Kitchen bloat from which I now suffer, you did great. Your opening monologue was funny, fresh and smart, chock full of good jokes and insight into the wonderful roiling madness that is television today. You, producer Don Mischer and the show’s writers wisely leveraged the formidable talent in the room — Amy Poehler, Jimmy Fallon, Melissa McCarthy, Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson, Andy Samberg — and put together all manner of funny bits that kept things bright and breezy.
McCarthy’s concern about parking during the audience Q and A? Hilarious. Julia Louis-Dreyfus “not remembering” Bryan Cranston’s appearance on “Seinfeld” until Cranston snogged her on the way to accepting her Emmy? Priceless. Okay, having Chris Hardwick present was odd and making Sofia Vergara flaunt it on a revolving pedestal while television academy president Bruce Rosenblum droned on was pretty horrifying, but for the most part, your Emmys telecast was a thing of beauty. Even the Weird Al Yankovic tribute, though wobbly at first, stuck its landing: “Game of Thrones” George R. R. Martin was handed a typewriter and urged to “type faster, George.”
It’s just unfortunate you had to keep interrupting all your hard work to hand out awards to winners so predictable they seemed at a certain point to become an attempt at irony. As in, are we really only going to see winners we have seen in years past or is this some sort of existential joke about how the more things change the more they stay the same?
Unfortunately, no. No joke, existential or otherwise.
Instead, as the telecast wore into its final hour, it seemed clear that, overwhelmed by the infinite variety television now offers, voting academy members tacitly agreed to give awards only to a) those who had received them before and b) every person ever associated with “Breaking Bad.”
Which is a great show! Don’t get me wrong! But frankly, so are a lot of shows on television. Indeed, as viewers and critics we are cursed only with surfeit — virtually every person, and show, nominated was worthy of an Emmy, and many of the worthy weren’t even nominated. So would it have killed academy members to mix it up a bit?
Amid all the talk of television’s age of exploration, of the expanding landscape and anything-goes mentality, things got very real very quickly. Ty Burrell was the first win (and his second Emmy) for “Modern Family,” then Louis C.K. for writing, then Allison Janney for “Mom” (having also won the guest-star award for “Masters of Sex,” the already multiple Emmy winner became the first woman to win two Emmys in a single evening.)
Okay, we love Allison Janney; pile up the trophies on her dresser. But then came Jim Parsons, accepting his fourth award for lead actor in “The Big Bang Theory,” followed by three-peat Louis-Dreyfus and any hope for a game-changing “Orange is the New Black” win went right out the window.
On the plus side, even people who don’t watch Funny or Die videos, or “Parks and Recreation” for that matter, now know who Billy Eichner is. He and Meyers did a fabulous, frantic version of Eichner’s Web show “Billy on the Street,” running around New York screaming and quizzing passersby about their Emmy knowledge. When they collected money for the cast of “The Big Bang Theory,” somewhere an angel got his wings.
Jimmy Kimmel killed early on, targeting Matthew McConaughey and the overly remarked upon presence of so many movie stars at this year’s Emmys. “That’s a movie face,” Kimmel said, “not a TV face. Where’s Ricky?” he asked, referring to Ricky Gervais. “Now that’s a TV face. Not even a TV face,” he added while Gervails mugged, “that’s a Netflix face.”
McConaughey got way too much love on Monday evening, from presenters and winners alike, mainly because everyone on God’s green earth believed that he would win the lead actor award for his role in “True Detective.” Except he didn’t. Bryan Cranston won, again, for “Breaking Bad,” along with Anna Gunn, Aaron Paul, writer Moira Walley-Beckett and creator Vince Gilligan, who accepted the award for drama series, which made the evening a “Breaking Bad” sweep.
Again, a great show, a deserving show, but in this time of such rich and varied splendor, it’s hard to justify a sweep of any sorts.
There were a few surprises, some of them good: the creator and stars of “Sherlock” won for supporting, lead and writing (though calling the season finale “a movie” seemed on the high end of creative categorizing). And some of them bad: Cicely Tyson did not win an Emmy for her astonishing performance in “A Trip to Bountiful,” which still seems impossible (Jessica Lange won, for the second time, for “American Horror Story.”)
“The Normal Heart” lost in its acting and writing categories, but won for television movie, which allowed Larry Kramer to take the stage.
Julianna Marguilies, although yet another repeat winner for lead in a drama, took a stand for “The Good Wife,” which did not make it into the drama category. In her acceptance speech, Margulies first praised Robert and Michelle King and their writing team for producing 22 spectacular episodes each season.
Fortunately, for every winner’s podium re-run, the telecast produced a fine moment of television. Gervais, who also showed up in commercials for Netflix and Audi, brought his signature disgust to the presenter’s podium: “I lost, again. I’ve been nominated 21 times, lost 19,” he grumbled, before “congratulating” Parsons for his fourth win, and then reading his own acceptance speech anyway.
Sara Bareilles’ bittersweet rendition of “Smile” scored a formidable in memoriam list, while Billy Crystal’s paean to Robin Williams was poignant, personal and perfect.
As for McConaughey and Harrelson? They proved to be the best kind of stars, relaxed and friendly, funny and above all, very good sports.
Someone really should give each of them an Emmy.
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Photo: Bryan Cranston backstage at the 66th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards at Nokia Theatre at L.A. Live in Los Angeles on Monday, Aug. 25, 2014. (Ricardo DeAratanha/Los Angeles Times/MCT)