It’s not easy being the Emmy Awards. We’re living in a golden age for award shows — at this point, even the Grammys have figured out how to turn a sluggish ritual into something festive. Yet there’s always something sad and forlorn about the Emmys — maybe the poignance of a room full of TV stars pretending to be their regular selves? Every year, it seems overshadowed by the others. It’s the Chris Kirkpatrick of award shows. It’s the Zeppo Marx, the Aquaman, the Timothy Dalton, the LaTavia Roberson, the Andy Taylor, the Denny Neagle, the Tim Meadows, the Mick Mars.
Seth Meyers cleverly turned that into a plus on last night’s Emmy Awards, playing up that underdog spirit. He admitted upfront that scheduling the show on a Monday night in August was a desperate move: “If I understand television, this means the Emmys are about to get canceled.” And it was the night after the VMAs, which made the proceedings look even more pitiful. “Television has always been the booty-call friend of entertainment,” Meyers said. “Nobody ever has to ask TV, ‘Are you up?’ TV is always up.”
The stars did their best to turn this humble little industry stroke session into a comedy special. Bryan Cranston looked swell in his new mustache — very Bob Dylan circa Love and Theft — while Jon Hamm rocked his Ulysses S. Grant-drumming-for-Creedence beard. Cranston and Julia Louis-Dreyfus had a great moment reprising their Seinfeld days — nice to see a schtickle of love for Dr. Tim Whatley and Elaine Benes, who placed at Number 12 and Number One on our breakdown of the greatest Seinfeld characters. When Louis-Dreyfus won a well-deserved trophy for Veep, she and Cranston clinched in a priceless make-out moment. Cranston’s TV wife Anna Gunn won later for Breaking Bad — since she had a one-episode girlfriend bit on Seinfeld, she should have made out with Louis-Dreyfus to keep the Breaking Seinfeld loop going. (Too bad Bob Odenkirk wasn’t nominated for anything.)
Meyers kept it moving all night, brilliantly teaming with the unbeatable Amy Poehler. He also did a fast-paced man-on-the-street skit with the great Billy Eichner, running around New York to find that really, seriously, nobody cares about the Emmys. The ever-brilliant Key and Peele did an intricately choreographed talking-at-the-same-time bit that got more laughs in a minute than most sitcoms manage in a season. Gwen Stefani brought new meaning to the words “Don’t Speak.” Julia “I Love My Liiife!” Roberts should be tactfully yet firmly steered away from live microphones at all times. And “Weird Al” reminded us all that the Mad Men theme always did sound kinda like “Amish Paradise.”
As for the actual awards, it goes without saying that nobody cares who wins an Emmy. (Remember who won last year for Best Actor in a Drama? No, not Bryan Cranston or Jon Hamm — it was Jeff Daniels, who’s on a show called The Newsroom. Really happened.) But Jessica Lange is always cool, and so are Jim Parsons, Louis C.K. and Larry Kramer. Sarah Silverman had the night’s killer speech — almost as funny as the red-carpet moment where she showed a horrified E! interviewer the liquid-pot vape pen in her purse. Sarah’s speech revealed even more than her dress did — apparently her main squeeze is Michael Sheen, or as she calls him, “Fancy Pants.” Masters of Sex will always look different now.
Billy Crystal gave a tribute to Robin Williams (“what a concept”) that was touchingly heartfelt and personal — you’re not gonna believe this, but he talked about baseball. And no doubt he wore that shiny green blazer because he knew it would have amused his old friend. Unfortunately, the In Memoriam montage got sabotaged by Sara Bareilles singing “Smile,” which remains terrible advice to give dead people. At least Sara sang it better than Celine Dion did at the 2006 Oscars In Memoriam loop. But seeing those names and faces — from Casey Kasem to Ann B. Davis — showed why Seth Meyers is right. TV is America’s booty-call friend, and stars like these are why we keep calling back.
And it was definitely poignant to see James Garner in there. R.I.P. Rockford. At the tone, leave your name and message. We’ll get back to you.