By Ken Tucker
September 18, 2011 at 12:00 PM EDT

It’s rare that an awards show both rewards the people who really deserve those awards and is itself a rewarding show. But this year’s Emmy Awards was both. Led by spunky, clever host Jane Lynch, the Emmys were delightfully surprising — Margo Martindale! Kyle Chandler! Melissa McCarthy plus all the other Best Comedy Actress nominees onstage together! — and, in most ways, quite satisfactory.

You can’t argue too much with an Emmys that rewarded Friday Night Lights and Justified. Oh, sure Mike and Molly isn’t one-eighth as good a sitcom as Parks and Recreation, but who can really begrudge Melissa McCarthy her happiness, her TV past (Gilmore Girls), and her film future (after Bridesmaids)?

Lynch was excellent, and even better in her quick, throwaway moments than in the funny taped pieces. The way she came out of the montage for reality shows by saying, “I had the smallest aneurism during that clip,” or the way she shimmied her chest at the camera before a commercial break did as much to add amusement to the proceedings as anything else.

As for the awards themselves, the happy surprises were led by Kyle Chandler and Margo Martindale’s wins. I rather cynically did not think Emmy voters would really take in what a great job Martindale did in Justified, and doubted they would ever recognize Chandler’s sustained FNL skills. (If only Connie Britton had been a surprise winner as well.) And if the Modern Family comedy sweep wasn’t exactly a shocker, it was nonetheless terrific that Julie Bowen won.

The single biggest surprise may have been Barry Pepper’s win for his performance in The Kennedys, a much-maligned miniseries. Pepper wasn’t present to accept his award for playing Bobby Kennedy, which was too bad; he probably would have been more animated than his Kennedys co-star, Katie Holmes, was as a presenter.

Trends? Well, it looks as though Boardwalk Empire may not be the Emmy machine HBO might have hoped it would become. And although Mad Men repeated its win for Best Drama, it was shut out in the major acting categories — this, in a year when Breaking Bad wasn’t even in contention.

And by the time the sequel to Downton Abbey reaches these shores, PBS will probably end up with the biggest hit it’s had since Ken Burns’ The Civil War.

Oh, and I did terribly (nine out of 24 categories) in my Emmy winner predictions. I’ll berate myself in another post, here.

Twitter: @kentucker

For more:

Predicting the Emmys: I shoulda gone with my heart…

Emmys 2011: The complete winners list