TOSS-UP: Neil Patrick Harris's Opener
As an awards-show host, Neil Patrick Harris is known for starting the night with mindblowing, crowd-pleasing musical numbers. He opted out of that tradition this year, instead relying on a pre-taped cold open where he solicited ”advice” from this year’s TV clips and was ”interrupted” by Emmys hosts from years past (starting with last year’s disappointing Jimmy Kimmel). All in all, this year’s monologue felt over-long and under-funny. (For example, did we really need a Les Moonves cameo appreciated by only the insider-iest of insiders?) Of course, there were a few stand-out moments, including Kevin Spacey’s hilarious House of Cards-style monologue to the camera and Amy Poehler and Tina Fey’s popcorn-chomping, 3-D-glasses-wearing bit where they told NPH, ”[Twerking] might be degrading, but we would be degrateful.” And speaking of…
BEST: Amy & Tina's Scene-Stealing
Every bit the dynamic besties did was Golden — as in PLEASE-PLEASE-PLEASE HOST THE 2014 GOLDEN GLOBES!. From making Claire Danes absolutely guffaw their bit in the opener to how they ”tripped” up the stairs à la Jennifer Lawrence at the Oscars while presenting the Best Supporting Actress in Comedy category to Tina telling her Comedy Writing cowinner Tracey Wigfield, ”No one said you could talk Tracey”…the ladies once again proved they’re the best in the awards-show game. It’s a shame they went completely MIA after the first 20 minutes of the show. This night could have used more Amy & Tina.
BEST: Unexpected Victors With Winsome Speeches
The first winner of the night — also a first-time Emmy winner — Merritt Wever (Nurse Jackie) was as brief as she was brilliant, telling the crowd and the Academy, ”Oh my God, thanks so much. [Pause?] Thanks so much. [Second pause?] I gotta go, bye!” Likewise, Tony Hale was genuinely emotional for his surprise Best Supporting Comedy Actor win for Veep, and Stephen Colbert gave a speech for The Colbert Report‘s dark-horse takeover in the Best Variety Series category, joking, ”It’s kind of a cliché to say that it’s an honor to be nominated, but it’s more than that — it’s also a lie,” before getting serious in yet another tear-inducing tribute to his mom Lorna, whom he thanked ”for not worrying about me and believing in me.”
WORST: Predictable Winners With Discombobulated Speeches
No shade to Jim Parsons, Derek Hough, or Modern Family‘s Gail Mancuso, but their categories were stacked with such talent that it was hard not to groan when their names were read — a seeming triumph of popularity over artistry. It’s hard to believe that two-time winner Jim Parsons could truly be that shocked by his third win. Even more surprising (and disturbing)? Mancuso’s bizarre, unamusing tangent about her son’s awesome playlists: ” And on the way home, I’m telling you we’re not going to be playing any [of Lady Gaga’s] ‘Poker Face,’ only [Robin Thicke’s] ‘Blurred Lines.’ Woo!” Ummmmm…Gail…you know what that song is about, right?
TOSS-UP: Unpredictable Winners & Their Discombobulated Speeches
In a night of upsets, there were few people more surprised by their wins than Boardwalk Empire‘s Bobby Cannavale and The Newsroom‘s Jeff Daniels, who respectively won the Drama category’s Best Supporting and Leading Actor awards. Cannavale is an incredibly talented actor (not to mention a wildly lucky man to have Rose Byrne as his date), but his speech was largely overshadowed by reaction shots from his ”WTF”-ing competition (including Homeland‘s always-a-bridesmaid Mandy Patinkin and ”Did I really not win this?!” Breaking Bad two-timer Aaron Paul). More to the point: Daniels began his speech accepting the headscratching win for The Newsroom with the words, ”Well, crap….” On one hand, well done gents. On the other hand, whaaaaaaa?
BEST: Congrats Selina?errrr?Julia!
While it was incredibly (and I say again incredibly disappointing) that we were robbed of our third Best Actress in a Comedy group shtick this year, back-to-back winner Julia Louis-Dreyfus made good with an expertly planned and executed acceptance speech, wherein Best Supporting Comedy Actor winner Tony Hale assumed the character of his Vice Presidential Aide character Gary Walsh by holding Dreyfys’s (really, Selina Meyer’s) handbag and feeding her soundbites — you know, like how she ”loves her family” — as the cameras cut to Best Supporting Comedy Actress nominee Anna Chlumsky texting in a blasé fashion.
WORST: You Intended for These Bits to Air, Neil Patrick Harris?
This hurts me to say — hurts! — but maybe NPH did take some advice advice from Jimmy Kimmel? Though we can see how the idea of a Ryan Seacrest Center for Excessive Hosting was hilarious in a pitch meeting, the pre-taped sketch never quite clicked. Likewise, the ”The Number in the Middle of the Show,” which was dull, and its most redeeming factor was scoring a few struggling actor-dancers their Equity cards. (Let’s put it this way: Something didn’t work when the best thing you can say about a several-minute song-and-dance number is ”Sarah Silverman looked hot!”) Most bananas of all? The decision to rope this year’s nominated choreographers in to a huge production number that somehow involved Mad Men, Game of Thrones, American Horror Story, and Breaking Bad. Because, when you think of Rubber Man, you think?jazz hands?
TOSS-UP: Anna Gunn Wins Best Supporting Actress, Drama
Completely deserved (and, indeed, predicted by EW’s critics), the only irony is that Gunn finally picked up her first statuette at 9:15 p.m. ET, a time when diehard Breaking Bad fans — at least on the East Coast — wouldn’t see it.
BEST: Saucy Presenters
Margo Martindale, who’s made a career of stealing the show and taking no guff, set the standard early in the evening by tearing costar Will Arnett a new one for refusing to plug their sitcom, The Millers. Matt Damon followed suit by snarking that Best Miniseries or TV Movie Actress Laura Linney was ”such a great actress, she didn’t even need to show up.” On a lighter note, Jimmy Fallon (ever the goofball) kept his presenting gig giggly with a sight gag in which his mic kept raising and lowering. On the whole, whether silly or surly, this year’s presenters came to play.
WORST: Whatever Shemar Moore Was Doing
”Well, it’s me again!” That’s what Shemar Moore said the third time he appeared onscreen during an awkward series of Audi-sponsored interstitials. Those four words concisely summed up the sad fate of the Criminal Minds star, who was somehow scored the dubious honor of holding court with a series of silent — and begrudging — A(ish)-listers. Don’t let the grin on Bob Newhart’s face fool you. Though the comedian earned his first Emmy last week, he was stuck shilling with Moore in a segment that aired directly after a heartfelt tribute to late actress Jean Stapleton. (Buzzkill!) But back to Moore: Why was he there in the first place? We’re still not entirely sure…and we suspect Moore isn’t either.
ALSO WORST: Whatever Don Cheadle Was Doing
The House of Lies star had the unenviable task of presenting one of the evening’s most perplexing segments (and that says a lot). Flashing back 50 years to a reel showing the power of TV news in the wake of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, Cheadle had to ride it out as the script ham-fistedly segued into a series of clips that seemingly credited the Beatles-led British Invasion with returning America from the abyss. Yeah, it didn’t add up for us, either. Even worse, it seemed all designed to lead into?
WORST: Musical Performances
A bizarrely tuneless rendition of ”Yesterday” by country superstar Carrie Underwood. Don’t get me wrong: Girl can sing. Just not this song. Both Underwood’s performance and Elton John’s plodding ”Liberace tribute” (a.k.a. an album-plugging rendition of a new song that has nothing to do with Liberace or 2013’s Emmy-winning biopic Behind the Candelabra), brought the ceremony to a screeching halt. Nothing about either segment made sense.
TOSS-UP: In Memoriam Tributes
While it’s easy to see the good intentions that went into this year’s new standalone tributes to a handful of late greats (Jonathan Winters, Jean Stapleton, Cory Monteith, Family Ties creator Gary David Goldberg, and James Gandolfini), the segments mostly brought down the mood of the house like clockwork every 20-40 minutes. Awards ceremonies are meant to be a fresh breath of festivity, much like the entertainment they acknowledge, but very little felt celebratory about these moments. Rather than showing clips, presenters were directed to talk about their former colleagues’ work — presumably, it was meant to be personal, but the end result came off as distant. Add to that, the usual ”In Memoriam” montage (a.k.a. this year’s leftovers) was underscored by a cello that should have sounded contemplative but really sounded ominous. The only thing that could have made it worse was if Carrie Underwood had sung along — though, ironically, that probably would have been better than her actual performance.
BEST: A Truly Moving Tribute
Though Homeland screenwriter Henry Bromell — who won a posthumous Emmy for season 2’s ”Q&A” — was featured in the telecast’s ”In Memoriam” reel, he received the most poignant tribute of all from star Claire Danes during her Best Drama Actress acceptance speech, which touched on the day-to-day reality of how much she and everyone involved would miss their colleague.
BEST: They Heart Newhart
How did it take Bob Newhart this long to win his first Emmy? No matter. Victory was his this year (in the Best Guest Actor, Comedy, category), and the crowd treated him with a fitting display of respect as he presented the Variety series categories with Best Comedy Actor Jim Parsons. This year’s ceremony needed some uplifting moments, and Newhart’s standing O was one of them.
BEST: Michael Douglas Gets Cheeky
The Behind the Candelabra star’s win might not have been the most surprising, but he showed his Old-Hollywood stripes (and doffed his hat to Liberace himself) by delivering a deliciously bawdy speech. Setting up an innuendo that caused his costar/fellow nominee/onscreen lover Matt Damon to playfully wag his finger, Douglas quipped, ”You’re only as good as your other hand,” before holding out his statuette and telling Damon, ”You deserve half of this…so do you want the bottom or the top?”
WORST: Modern Family Wins Best Comedy
Listen, we’re not arguing that Modern Family doesn’t still have a solid ensemble and some genuinely funny moments, but can we all agree that its best days are (seemingly) in the rearview? The show’s fourth win in the Comedy category didn’t seem like a victory for the craft. It felt like a result of a split vote between all its indie-darling (and, many would argue, higher-quality) competitors, including Louie, 30 Rock, and Veep. Perhaps creator Steven Levitan didn’t mean it this way, but when he said, ”This may be the saddest Emmys ever,” his words struck a chord.
BEST: Will Ferrell and Breaking Bad Bring It Home
In a night-saving bit, the Saturday Night Live alum showed up, kids in tow, wearing a pair of suburban-dad mandals, and deeply apologetic that he’d been called in at the last minute to present the ceremony’s two biggest awards. Between faux-harshly telling his three sons, ”This is the Emmys, don’t blow it for me!” he presented the night’s top honor to Breaking Bad, which finally grabbed the brass ring on its third try. Best Drama Series, b—-!
WORST: Emmy Poolers' Nights
As NPH himself noted, if we all had a dollar for every time we uncontrollably screamed, ”WHAAAAAAAT?” at the TV, we’d all be very rich tonight. Instead, here we are, hoping to wake and find this whole Jeff Daniels business was all a dream.