We don’t ask much of the Primetime Emmy Awards. Nobody ever gets one of these three-hour statuette dispensaries completely right, but the Emmys always seem like they’d be the easiest of all the awards shows to pull off, mostly because the likelihood of culturally disruptive twerking is very, very low, which means the Emmys are the awards show no one ever remembers 18 hours later.
So what happened Sunday night during CBS’s anemic and often awkward Emmys telecast, hosted by Neil Patrick Harris? (Or let me put it another way: I had to next-day “Breaking Bad” for this?)
At press time, most of the high-falutin’ theses about the Netflix-y future of television had fallen apart. Big awards had gone to HBO’s Washington-based comedy “Veep” (Tony Hale for supporting actor and Julia Louis-Dreyfus for lead actress the second year in a row); Jeff Daniels (lead actor, drama) for HBO’s “The Newsroom”; Claire Danes (lead atress, drama) for “Homeland”; Jim Parsons, yet again (lead actor) for CBS’s “The Big Bang Theory”; and Anna Gunn (supporting actress, drama) for AMC’s “Breaking Bad.”
A dreary opening sketch began with Harris locking himself in a multi-screen chamber to binge the entire 2012-13 season of every television show.
Once onstage, Harris was joined by former Emmys hosts (Jimmy Kimmel, Jane Lynch, Jimmy Fallon and Conan O’Brien, who needled him in one of those tiresome meta-routines in which all the comedy is directed at the fact of the show itself. Later, Harris’s “How I Met Your Mother” co-stars confronted him in an intervention for “EHD” (excessive hosting disorder), treatable only at the “Ryan Seacrest Center for Excessive Hosting.”
Later (halfway through the evening, to be precise), Harris finally brought out the jaunty song-and-dance routine that led to his EHD with a number called “The Number in the Middle of the Show.” (Sample lyric: “The Emmy Awards are three hours long / Now there’s three minutes less to go.”) One can’t imagine a flashier way to demonstrate that Hollywood’s awards-show writers desperately need to think of a way to tell jokes that aren’t about telling jokes.
The best of the line of the evening came right away from Merritt Wever, who seemed so shocked at winning the supporting actress Emmy for a comedy show (“Nurse Jackie”) that she went with her flusteredness and said: “I gotta go, bye.”
The rest of us gotta stay, alas, in a listless position on the couch while the Emmys poked along as flatly as possible. The banter had no flair for comedy. The tributes — including short monologues from Robin Williams, Rob Reiner, Jane Lynch (honoring the recent deaths of Jonathan Winters, “All in the Family’s” Jean Stapleton and “Glee’s” Corey Monteith) sometimes seemed stiff and curiously clip-less. Lynch said Monteith was “a beautiful soul. He was not perfect, which many of us here can relate to. … Tonight we remember Corey for all he was and mourn the loss of what he could have been.”
That was supposed to be one of the evening’s most moving moments, and it only sort of was. Edie Falco also encountered a similar struggle in a tribute to “The Sopranos” star James Gandolfini, trying to make what was on the teleprompter sound as authentic as the pain she so clearly, visibly feels at losing a friend.
More strangeness: Elton John performed a song that he said was a tribute to Liberace, which is topical because of all the nominations for HBO’s “Behind the Candelabra,” a film that clearly left everyone who saw it with a warm feeling about the flamboyant pianist. Later, Carrie Underwood performed the Beatles’s song “Yesterday,” as a tribute to all the things that happened during or close to the year 1963 (the March on Washington; the John F. Kennedy assassination), because ….? Because.
“The Emmys are so good this year,” Stephen Colbert deadpanned as he and his crew accepted the award for variety series writing.