Wednesday, August 27, 2014

2014 Emmys in Review - Hopping in the Time Machine

Seth Meyers helmed an amiable, if disappointing Emmy broadcast.

“Welcome to the 2011 Emmys,” host Seth Meyers did not say Monday night, though it would have been appropriate given how much the 66th Primetime Emmy Awards felt like a flashback to three years ago, when Modern Family was the freshest, funniest comedy on television, Sherlock was mesmerizing audiences on both sides of the Atlantic, and Breaking Bad was still the AMC upstart trying to dethrone the HBO juggernaut.  The only differences between now and then are that in 2011 Breaking Bad was ineligible after moving the show from airing in the spring to the summer to accommodate Mad Men’s delayed start and Sherlock had not yet realized that it could submit individual episodes as television movies.

Those two changes aside, last night’s Emmys looked awfully familiar.  Modern Family and The Amazing Race won their fifth and tenth series Emmys, respectively.  Ty Burrell, Julianna Margulies, and Jim Parsons were all winners again.  In fact, if you take out the miniseries and movie categories (which by their very nature are not meant to be won multiple times) fourteen of last night’s eighteen winners had previously won an Emmy for the exact same show – the only newbies being Moira Walley-Beckett for her “Ozymandias” script, Cary Fukunaga for directing True Detective, Sarah Silverman for writing her stand-up special We Are Miracles, and Allison Janney, who had previously one six other Emmys including one this year for her guest star turn in Masters of Sex.

It’s long been easy to criticize the Emmy voters for their laziness and resistance to change (as much as I loved Monk did Tony Shalhoub really deserve eight nominations and three wins for that role?), but such recalcitrance becomes especially galling given the sheer breadth of amazing television that has hit the screen in the last few years.  Instead, Emmy newcomers were largely ignored last night.  Orange Is the New Black was shut out.  True Detective managed only Fukunaga’s directing award.  Even Silicon Valley, which scored writing and directing nominations, in addition to a series nod, went home empty handed.  For all the talk of the new golden age of television being built around a large quantity of great new shows, the same, familiar names keep getting called. 

Certainly, there is some measure of hypocrisy in these statements.   I may be disappointed that Modern Family continued its dominance or that Sherlock won over what I thought was a vastly superior Fargo, but I obviously predicted the Breaking Bad sweep and made clear that I thought it was deserved.  So how do I reconcile those two viewpoints?  Perhaps my problem with the continued disappointment at the Emmy voters’ unwillingness to recognize new names and shows is because the Emmy telecast continues to show an almost pathological aversion to showing the audience actual television.  It’s a complaint I made last year but, once again, the Emmys went an entire telecast without showing any clips outside of the awards presentations and the In Memoriam segment, and even those were few and far between.   

One of my favorite aspects of both the Oscars and the Tonys are the 90-second to two-minute long clips for nominated films, or the musical productions at the Tonys.  It’s a great way to get me interested, as a person who is not likely to have seen all ten Oscar-nominated films or all sixteen Tony-nominated plays and films.  A similar problem surely exists in television as I’m certain that, based on the ratings, most of the 15+ million people who watched the Emmys Monday night have not seen Silicon Valley, Veep, Mad Men, or even a majority of the twelve nominated series.  Don’t just tell us that these shows are good, show the audience what makes them worthy of our time.

Instead of actual television clips, we got an extended, mostly unfunny bit where Weird Al adds lyrics to TV theme songs, way too much banter from the presenters, and a continuing, strange obsession with the world of film.  How else to explain the numerous cuts to Matthew McConaughey, a Julia Roberts countdown, and Roberts and Halle Berry both presenting awards?  If you’re not going to honor new television with wins and nominations, why not bring them in to present?  In the same way that the Tonys bring out the Lion King cast to present an award or the leads of Once to sing a song to remind us that these shows are still playing on Broadway (even if they’re not eligible for awards), the Emmys should be asking the cast of Orange Is the New Black to present an award, or the acclaimed Tatiana Maslany, or even stars of upcoming shows like Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis (who also fit the “obsessed with film” quotient).  Instead, the presenters were largely comprised of film stars only tangentially connected to television (Roberts, Berry, McConaughey, Woody Harrelson), or late-night hosts.  Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Colbert, and even Jay Leno all showed up to give out awards.  Television is broader and more diverse than it has ever been before, but you would never know it from watching the Emmys.

This is the second year that I’ve written about the Emmys and the second year that has been marked by a bland telecast, numerous repeat winners, and a general resistance to celebrating the actual shows created by the people being honored.  Seth Meyers was fine, his opening monologue held back by the fact that he’s just not that good at standup, but he appeared to loosen up significantly as the night went on.  But there wasn’t anything he really could have done to save a show that could have been ripped from 2011 or 2012 without anybody really knowing any different. 

Perhaps next year things will change.  Breaking Bad is done and Sherlock will not be airing any new episodes until Christmas 2015.  True Detective won’t be airing until the summer of 2015 and Fargo will likely do the same, which would push both out of the eligibility period.  By my count, fully half of the 26 Emmy winners will not be eligible to win next year, opening up the possibility for new talent to be recognized.  Even if it isn’t, though, it would be nice to see the awards production put a little less focus on the movie stars and big numbers and a lot more focus on the shows.

Just for full disclosure, here are the results from Monday night and how they compare to my original predictions:

Writing for a Minseries or Movie: Steven Moffat, Sherlock; (Prediction: Noah Hawley, Fargo)
Writing for a Comedy: Louis CK, Louie; (Liz Friedman & Jenji Kohan, Orange Is the New Black)
Writing for a Drama: Moira Walley-Beckett, Breaking Bad; (Moira Walley-Beckett, Breaking Bad)
Directing for a Miniseries or Movie: Colin Bucksey, Fargo; (Ryan Murphy, The Normal Heart)
Directing for a Comedy: Gail Mancuso, Modern Family; (Gail Mancuso, Modern Family)
Directing for a Drama: Cary Joji Fukunaga, True Detective; (Cary Joji Fukunaga, True Detective)
Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie: Kathy Bates, American Horror Story; (Alison Tolman, Fargo)
Supporting Actress in a Comedy: Allison Janney, Mom; (Anna Chlumsky, Veep)
Supporting Actress in a Drama: Anna Gunn, Breaking Bad; (Anna Gunn, Breaking Bad)
Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Movie: Martin Freeman, Sherlock (Matt Bomer, The Normal Heart)
Supporting Actor in a Comedy: Ty Burrell, Modern Family; (Tony Hale, Veep)
Supporting Actor in a Drama: Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad; (Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad)
Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie: Jessica Lange, American Horror Story; (Cicely Tyson, The Trip to Bountiful)
Lead Actress in a Comedy: Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Veep; (Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Veep)
Lead Actress in a Drama: Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife; (Lizzy Caplan, Masters of Sex)
Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie: Benedict Cumberbatch, Sherlock; (Mark Ruffalo, The Normal Heart)
Lead Actor in a Comedy: Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory; (Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory)
Lead Actor in a Drama: Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad; (Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad)
Outstanding Television Movie: The Normal Heart; (The Normal Heart)
Outstanding Miniseries: Fargo; (Fargo)
Outstanding Comedy Series: Modern Family; (Orange Is the New Black)
Outstanding Drama Series: Breaking Bad; (Breaking Bad)

I went 11-for-22 in my major award picks, which I’m going to consider a success, given that I nailed six of the seven drama categories.  We’ll shoot for better next year.

Tyler Williams is a professional librarian and an amateur television critic.  You can reach him at TyTalksTV AT gmail DOT com or on Twitter @TyTalksTV.

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