It was a night of upset victories at the 65th Primetime Emmy Awards hosted by Neil Patrick Harris. Sure, Modern Family held onto the title of Outstanding Comedy Series, against Louie and the final season of 30 Rock. But even with that cop-out, the awards managed to offer enough drama and surprise to sate viewers who skipped the penultimate episode of Breaking Bad to watch the show.
In a night that stretched beyond three televised hours but still seemed surprisingly rushed (they played off Claire Danes, for crying out loud), the biggest surprise came when Jeff Daniels took the Emmy for Outstanding Actor in a Drama over the heavily favored Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad. Daniels' portrayal of newsman Will McAvoy on The Newsroom bested Cranston and Kevin Spacey (House of Cards), Damien Lewis (Homeland) and even Jon Hamm, whose portrayal of Don Draper on Mad Men continues to go shockingly unrewarded by the Emmys.
In another surprise, Boardwalk Empire's Bobby Cannavale managed to win out over Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul and Homeland's Mandy Patinkin for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama. While Cannavale delivered a solid performance, it's imaginable that Paul and Patinkin divided the vote.
While Modern Family had two stars in the mix (Julie Bowen and Sophia Vergara) for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series, in a well-deserved upset, Merritt Wever took the prize for her portrayal of Zoey Barkow in Nurse Jackie. While Wever was nominated last year (she lost to Bowen), her work this season was funnier and more mature.
Though Jessica Lange won last year's award for Lead Actress in a Mini-Series/Movie for American Horror Story, many expected her or Elisabeth Moss' career-defining and masterful work for Top of the Lake to repeat the win this year. It was a bit of a surprise, then, when Laura Linney's name was announced as the winner for The Big C: Hereafter. (The win was so unexpected that Linney wasn't even at the ceremony.)
Claire Danes took the title for Best Actress in a Drama for her riveting work on Homeland. While it would have been nice to see Kerry Washington win for Scandal or Peter Travers' pick, Robin Wright in House of Cards, there's no doubt that Danes' portrayal of the unstable CIA agent Carrie Mathison was mesmerizing and unnerving.
Dame Maggie Smith was a supposed shoo-in for the win for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama, so it was a pleasant surprise when Anna Gunn's name was called instead. No offense to the always pitch-perfect Smith, but Gunn has knocked it out of the park as Skyler White, the woman on the edge on Breaking Bad. Her win also flies in the face of Gunn's op-ed, in which she stated that everyone hates Skyler.
Unsurprisingly, Jim Parsons won his third Emmy for his work on The Big Bang Theory, but there was disappointment for fans of Louis CK, who hoped he would be rewarded for his excellent work on Louie and others who speculated that Alec Baldwin would take the win in his final nomination as Jack Donaghey on 30 Rock. But what can you expect from a show that gave Dancing With the Stars choreographer Derek Hough an Emmy, while The Wire never won a single award?
In other upsets, reality singing contest The Voice won Best Reality Television Show over perennial winner The Amazing Race. Similarly, The Colbert Report finally ousted 10-time winner The Daily Show With Jon Stewart for Best Variety Series. Colbert also took the Emmy for Best Writing for a Variety Series.
Breaking Bad won for Outstanding Drama Series, and there's little doubt that the tense drama deserved its win, despite the fact that in his acceptance speech, Vince Gilligan, the show's creator, admitted that he thought the award would go to House of Cards, Homeland or Mad Men. While all of the shows nominated in this category were outstanding, it's hard to challenge Breaking Bad's victory.
Veep's Tony Hale beat out the men of Modern Family (Ty Burrell, Ed O'Neill and Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and Girls' Adam Driver for the win for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series. While it would have been fun to watch Bill Hader take home the prize for his final season on Saturday Night Live, it's hard to argue with Hale's work on Veep (or even see the award as a stand-in for his turns on Arrested Development.)
Following in her co-star's footsteps, Julia Louis-Dreyfus won for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series in a field packed with perennial favorites including Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation), Tina Fey (30 Rock), Lena Dunham (Girls), Laura Dern (Enlightened) and Edie Falco (Nurse Jackie). In a hilarious move, Louis-Dreyfus accepted the award with her Veep co-star Tony Hale standing dutifully behind her, holding her purse and whispering reminders into her ear.
It was also a big night for HBO's Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra. Not only did the film take the Emmy for Outstanding Movie/Miniseries, but film-turned-television director Steven Soderbergh won the Emmy for Outstanding Directing for a Move/Miniseries. The film's star Michael Douglas took the title for Outstanding Actor in a Miniseries/Movie for his portrayal of the famed piano player. Onstage, Douglas thanked his co-star Matt Damon and cheekily asked if Damon wanted "the bottom or the top" of the award. (Damon opted for the top.)
James Cromwell won the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor for his work on American Horror Story: Asylum. While Peter Mullan arguably did a more outstanding job as charmingly evil villain Matt Mitcham on Top of the Lake, it's hard to fault the choice of Cromwell (he was in Babe, after all).
Ellen Burstyn, who was famously nominated in 2006 for Mrs. Harris – a film in which she had 14 seconds of screen time and 38 words of dialogue – took home the award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Movie/Miniseries for her significantly larger role on Political Animals. Burstyn managed to win over Sarah Paulson and her much-lauded turn on American Horror Story: Asylum.
In addition to the annual In Memoriam montage, this year the show's producers opted to single out a few stars for brief on-air eulogies by their friends and co-stars. Among the tributes were Robin Williams on Jonathan Winters, Rob Reiner on All in the Family's Jean Stapleton, Michael J. Fox on Gary David Goldberg and, somewhat controversially, Jane Lynch on her Glee co-star Cory Monteith, who died after a drug overdose and was never nominated for an Emmy. Edie Falco fought back tears as she offered up a touching and sincere ode to her longtime friend and costar on The Sopranos, James Gandolfini, who died of a heart attack earlier this year.