The good news is that the Emmys remain the same as ever, a paradoxical mix of predictability and left-field choices that only the voters themselves seem to understand. The bad news? Well, this year the ceremony seemed to get a little dark.
The show started off with host Neil Patrick Harris in a room full of TVs to binge watch a whole season’s worth of shows, the majority of which seemed to air on CBS and affiliated cable channels (obviously, since this year the Emmys were on CBS). The bit was about as interesting as it sounds, with only one good line (“There’s no eye-stabbing in show business, only back stabbing”), so I was actually grateful when I got to see the Emmy stage itself and heard what was sure to be the usual awards’ show opening monologue patter.
After a quick shot of Al Pacino looking thoroughly unimpressed to be at the Emmys, NPH gets into the monologue and hails “one of the greatest seasons in TV history.” He may have been right about that, but the actual jokes fell flat. After a particularly misplaced jab at former cooking magnate Paula Deen, Harris remarked, “Not soon enough?” It’s pretty bad when the host has to zing his own material in order to get a singular laugh.
From there, we got an extended bit featuring past Emmy hosts like Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Jane Lynch and Conan O’Brian trying to demonstrate their hosting superiority over Harris, which seemed like a excruciating set up for Kevin Spacey to break the fourth wall as his House of Cards character. “Look at that group of blabbering buffoons,” he says, “they couldn’t host a child’s birthday party.” Spacey explains that this was his revenge for being snubbed as Emmy host and “it’s all going according to plan.”
By the time Amy Poehler and Tina Fey hazed Harris from the front row wearing 3D glasses, munching on popcorn and daring Harris to twerk and take his pants off (“It might be degrading, but we would be de-grateful,” winked Poehler), it seemed that the Emmys might be just a regular old, schmaltzy, self-congratulatory Hollywood love-in, but as the hours wore on, many Twitter observers declared that no, this year’s Emmys were all about death and dancing.
The crux of the criticism was the spotlight segments for recently passed celebrities, which usually played out the Emmys into commercials, giving a kind of gloomy, almost morbid air to the ceremony. While Rob Reiner and Edie Falco came across as genuine and emotive in their commemorations of Jean Stapleton and Jams Gandolfini respectively, other segments, like the much controversial tribute to Cory Monteith by Jane Lynch, felt kind of flat. Meanwhile, everyone that didn’t rank their own segment, including such TV luminaries as Annette Funicello, Larry Hagman, and Roger Ebert, got lumped into a slideshow with the old In Memorium standard, Bach’s Cello Suite No 1. as the soundtrack.
Also casting a pall over the proceedings was a tribute to the year 1963, which began with the iconic clip of Walter Kronkite broadcasting the news of John F. Kennedy’s murder in Dallas in November of that year, and ended with Carrie Underwood’s butchering of the Beatles hit “Yesterday.” The connection? Because The Beatles’ first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in February 1964, “made it okay to experience joy again.” Never mind the fact that “Yesterday” was released in 1965 off The Beatles’ album Help!, but, you know, why let facts get in the way of a pointless Emmy tribute. Meanwhile, the night’s award winners were being played off with increasing ferocity as the night wore on.
But when the Emmys weren’t preoccupied with death, they were obsessed with dancing. Harris had a mid-show song and dance number that celebrated the idea of doing a mid-show sing and dance number. A little while later, the Emmys broke with tradition and handed out the Best Choreography Award during the primetime show. For the honour though, the nominees had to perform a bit of quid pro quo, quite literally, by putting together an interpretive dance number paying tribute to a year in TV featuring numbers in gimp suits for American Horror Story, and hazmat suits for Breaking Bad.