The 61st Primetime Emmy Awards (2009) Poster

(2009 TV Special)

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Surprisingly decent
Jackal11311 July 2010
Let's face it: most awards shows are terrible--especially the Emmys. Year after year, viewers tune in to see if their favorite performer or show will win, but have to sit through tedious montages, silly musical numbers, and unnecessarily lengthy speeches from the Academy's board of governors before the top prizes are announced. Despite containing the aforementioned faults, the 61st Primetime Emmy Awards was actually not that bad. Some of it was even--dare I say it?--enjoyable. Much of this can be attributed to host and TV star Neil Patrick Harris, whose musical numbers and humor helped us through the otherwise dull filler between the awards announcements, and John Hodgman's (a correspondent for "The Daily Show" who is perhaps best known for playing "PC" alongside Justin Long in the Apple commercials) absurdly funny voiceovers as winners made their way to the stage.

The Emmys experimented with the awards presentations this year, announcing most of the accolades from one genre before moving on to another. For example, the major comedy awards (Lead Actor, Lead Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Directing, and Writing) were handed out before proceeding to other genres such as miniseries/movies, reality, variety, and drama. I have divided my review thusly:

Comedy: Although the top awards were expanded to six categories, the Outstanding Comedy Series category (and its drama counterpart) contained seven nominations. The big news was that the Fox network's "Family Guy" became only the second animated series to garner a nomination for the top prize ("The Flintstones" was the first). There was a justifiable backlash--this was a series that even at its peak (if it had one) was not half as funny as "The Simpsons," which had submitted in the top category during its fourth and fifth seasons and snubbed in favor of inventive trailblazers such as "Home Improvement" and "Mad About You." The expansion of slots allowed previously neglected series such as "How I Met Your Mother" and "The Flight of the Conchords," as well as premium cable series well past their prime, like "Entourage" and "Weeds," to sneak in. The popular but utterly conventional "Two and a Half Men" was finally dropped. The frontrunners for the top award were both NBC shows: "30 Rock," which had a mildly funny third season, and "The Office," which had a terrific and far more consistent fifth season. Ultimately, "30 Rock" prevailed, winning Outstanding Comedy Series, Lead Actor (Alec Baldwin) and Writing (for the excellent episode "Reunion"), though "The Office" took the award for Directing (for the superb post-Super Bowl episode "Stress Relief"). Lead Actress went to Toni Collette for her brilliant performance as a woman with multiple personalities in the Showtime series "United States of Tara." The Academy slapped Neil Patrick Harris in the face and gave Supporting Actor to Jon Cryer for "Two and a Half Men" (a series in which he is undoubtedly the co-lead). Supporting Actress went to Kristin Chenoweth for her performance in the enjoyable, whimsical (and canceled) broadcast series "Pushing Daisies."

Drama: Unlike with comedy, most of the Outstanding Drama Series nominees were deserving, with the two slight exceptions being "Damages," which had an unexceptional second season that wasted two Oscar-winning actors (William Hurt and Marcia Gay Harden) and the third season of "Dexter," which lacked the suspense and excitement of its previous two seasons and had a weak overarching villain. Both shows would return-to-form for their third and fourth seasons, respectively. Category expansion allowed little-seen premium cable dramas like "Big Love" and "Breaking Bad" to trickle in, with the only broadcast shows being ABC's "Lost" and Fox's "House M.D." The expected and deserving winner was AMC's "Mad Men," which also won for Writing (for the season finale "Meditations in an Emergency"). Lead Actor was again awarded to Bryan Cranston for "Breaking Bad." I complain a lot about the Emmys repeating in many categories, but it's difficult to make a case here. Glenn Close unsurprisingly took Lead Actress again, certainly the most boring acting category of the ceremony. The Emmys made up for last year and awarded Supporting Actor to Michael Emerson for playing Dr. Linus on "Lost," a role (and series) that has become iconic. Stage actress Cherry Jones won in Supporting Actress for playing female president Allison Taylor on "24."

Miniseries/Movies: I don't like that they have these categories at the main Primetime ceremony. They're used to bring in a couple of (in many cases, former) movie stars and just feel like an ersatz Oscar ceremony in the middle of a night that I'd like to think is celebrating narrative television. Miniseries have always been part of TV, but when there's only two nominees in the top category (broadcast networks having given up trying to outdo HBO), and you pick the umpteenth BBC Dickens adaptation over the complex and engaging Iraq War drama "Generation Kill," then you're done. The Made for Television Movie winner was "Grey Gardens," which also won Lead Actress for Jessica Lange and Supporting Actor for Ken Howard (which was the Academy making up for snubbing him for his role as the head coach in "The White Shadow"). Lead Actor was given to Brendan Gleeson for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in HBO's "Into the Storm," a sequel of sorts to "The Gathering Storm" starring Albert Finney. Supporting Actress went to Shohreh Aghdashloo for "House of Saddam"--the talented Iranian actress sounded rather wheezy while giving her breathless speech.

Reality: "The Amazing Race" for Outstanding Reality-Competition Series, again? Jeff Probst for Outstanding Host, again? Yawn. Those pundits who were not predicting "TAR" for the top prize thought "American Idol" might take it for what was considered a golden season, but repetition prevailed. And the thought of Ryan Seacrest winning in a category for hosting after his atrocious job at the Emmys makes me happy that the Academy stuck with Probst after all.

Variety: "The Daily Show." Again. Not that that's a bad thing.
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