Oscars lite? Surprises on Emmy night
Wise-cracking host Neil Patrick Harris’s tap-dancing and arch quips felt familiar, but the roster of winners on the night raised some eyebrows
Even by host Neil Patrick Harris’s standards, the mid-show cabaret tune, The Number in the Middle of the Show, was light on laughs and celebrity cameos. Photograph: Mike Blake/Reuters
Bobby Cannavale accepts the award for outstanding supporting actor in a drama series for his role on Boardwalk Empire. Photograph: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP
Jeff Daniels’s win for best actor for his role in The Newsroom proves that a good actor in an okay role in a terrible TV show can still pick up gongs. Photograph: Kevin Winter/Getty Images
When it comes to television award shows, the Emmys have consistently tried to emulate other awards shows. They think they’re the TV Oscars.
From ceremonies that last as long as an Oireachtas enquiry to competitive red-carpet fashion, it coat-tails on its bigger sibling’s set-up. Wise-cracking host? Check. Celebrities presenting awards and trying to sound natural while reading a teleprompter? Check. Nostalgic eulogies? Check.
The identikit glitter-shtick of the Oscars-Emmys hybrid shows how much the gap between film and television has narrowed. TV, that grassy paddock where dribbly old actors once grazed and thought of their Hollywood heydays, has become a much more interesting arena.
Would Michael Douglas, now in the twilight of his career, have gone near television a decade ago? Doubtful. And yet there he was on Sunday night, making gay sex innuendo jokes as he accepted his award for best lead actor in a miniseries or movie for Behind the Candelabra. Douglas’s award is well deserved for a role where coquettish high camp is no substitute for acting. Television, once a poor man’s movie canvas, is now where the bigger risks are being taken, from content to casting.
If host Neil Patrick Harris tap-dancing through arch quips and the medium of song is familiar, the roster of winners on the night was surprising. Even by Harris’s standards, the mid-show cabaret tune, The Number in the Middle of the Show, was light on laughs and celebrity cameos. On the other hand, the opening segment had a genuinely funny moment, as Harris was joined by past hosts offering reasons why they weren’t asked back: a tap-dancing Jimmy Fallon; a bombastic Conan O’Brien; and Glee’s Jane Lynch pointing out that it was because she is a woman.
The show structure and tone had all the presence and originality of the seat-fillers who deputise for stars on bathroom breaks. The only moments that weren’t painfully choreographed and over-staged were the actual winner announcements.
Sure, there were accumulators from people who won last year – Claire Danes, Julia Louis-Dreyfus – but there were some genuine surprises. Merritt Weaver, who won best supporting actress in a comedy series for her role in Nurse Jackie, was one such. Clearly gobsmacked at her win, Weaver could only manage a pithy, “Thank you so much. Um, I gotta go”.
No gong for Cranston
The Newsroom’s Jeff Daniels’s win for best actor in a drama series proves that a good actor in an okay role in a terrible TV show can still pick up gongs. It smarts all the more that he was chosen over Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston. In Walter White, Cranston has given us an iconic TV character, one whose multiple lives and personas are as contradictory as the morals and motivations that drive him. White the meek chemistry teacher would probably have clapped politely at the result, but Heisenberg the meth lord would have busted out the ricin. Vince Gilligan’s show, which concludes next week, was finally rewarded with its first Emmy for best drama series.