News Column

The Emmy Awards: A night of surprises

September 23, 2013

YellowBrix

Sept. 23--Well, that didn't go as expected.

These days, there's no such thing as a sure thing on Emmy night, unless you're betting on host Neil Patrick Harris singing and dancing, or Tina Fey and Amy Poehler stealing the show, or actresses who inexplicably freeze on live TV (looking at you, Deschanel sisters).

It was supposed to be a night of firsts, with a pile of nominations for the online series "House of Cards" shaking up the equation. But most of the "first time ever!" story lines didn't play out.

Kerry Washington, despite the support of her Twitter army, didn't win for "Scandal." Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss got snubbed again. For those keeping score, no African-American actress has ever won an Emmy for acting in a drama, and neither has anyone from "Mad Men." And "House of Cards" won just one trophy, for directing.

The cast of "Modern Family," used to passing around acting honors like potato salad at a picnic, will have to share one trophy until next year, for best comedy series. But "The Colbert Report" finally broke "The Daily Show's" decade-long variety series domination. "I was going to say it's an honor just to be nominated, but it's more than that, it's also a lie," Stephen Colbert said.

"Breaking Bad" finally won best drama. None of that show's fans saw creator Vince Gilligan get his trophy, though: They were all biting their nails watching the AMC series' second-to-last episode ever.

Cherry-picking a handful of actors who died this year for individual tributes seemed like a bad idea destined to hurt feelings, especially after the decision to spotlight "Glee" actor Cory Monteith, who died from an overdose, while shoving small-screen legends Jack Klugman and Larry Hagman into the "In Memoriam" montage. Then Edie Falco's touching tribute to her "Sopranos" costar James Gandolfini made it seem genius.

Drama

"Breaking Bad" -- AMC

"I thought this was going to be 'House of Cards,'" said creator Vince Gilligan, who'd grown used to critics calling his show "the best on TV" while the mantel above his fireplace remained empty.

It might have stayed empty this year, too: "Mad Men" went to Vietnam, "House of Cards" drew us into a dark Washington, D.C., and "Homeland," last year's winner, blew up CIA headquarters. But "Breaking Bad" won for a season in which the prospect of rooting for the once-sympathetic Walter White (Bryan Cranston) became nauseating after the double-digit prison hits he ordered to keep his meth empire a secret, rendered in an unflinching montage.

Last season's ambitious desert train-heist sequence was thrilling. But relief and elation turned to mouth-clapping shock when the show's terrifying apprentice Todd took out a little kid on a motorbike just for being there.

And in a bonus for the show's fans, Anna Gunn, who recently defended herself in The New York Times against frightening levels of Internet vitriol, took home the supporting actress in a drama honor. Deal with that, Skyler-haters.

Actor, drama

Jeff Daniels as Will McAvoy -- "The Newsroom" -- HBO

No one writes a rant like Aaron Sorkin, and Jeff Daniels delivered Sorkin's dense dialogue so well in the first season of HBO's what-if journalism drama that he beat out the favorites: Bryan Cranston, Kevin Spacey and Jon Hamm, among others. Even Daniels seemed shocked. "We'll have to move the golden Barcalounger the AARP gave me."

In the show's pilot, Daniels burst out of the gate by verbally eviscerating a college student who asked him to pontificate on America's greatness, bellowing, "Yeah, you. Sorority girl. Just in case you wander into a voting booth one day, there are some things you should know." McAvoy managed to keep his job after that public relations disaster, but it was hardly an isolated incident, and "Newsroom" fans got treated to gems like "I only seem liberal because I believe that hurricanes are caused by high barometric pressure and not gay marriage."

Actress, drama

Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison -- "Homeland" -- Showtime

After fervent freshman accolades, Showtime's previously restrained spy thriller hurtled its way through a plot-heavy, "24"-esque sophomore year that got silly at times. As in, remote pacemaker assassination silly.

But the episode that clinched the win for Claire Danes was the powerful "Q&A," where Carrie faced her former lover in the show's ultimate cards-on-the-table moment. "Are you sure you're not a monster, Brody?" she asked him. It was Carrie's own raw confessions of lingering emotion that finally prompted Brody (Damian Lewis) to name names, curl up into the fetal position on the floor and cut a deal. Enhanced interrogation techniques, indeed. Eventually Brody went home to his wife and family. Carrie went home to a dark house and a giant glass of wine.

Danes, hefting her second Emmy for the role, thanked her husband for making her "so whole and so happy, so I can be so unhappy in the land of make-believe."

Comedy

'Modern Family' -- ABC

Still reliably amusing, thanks to an ensemble cast that includes KCK's Eric Stonestreet, the show earned its fourth consecutive best comedy statue by turning the "She's Having a Baby!" formula on its head in the "Party Crasher" episode. Instead of Gloria quipping her way through a complicated labor for the whole half-hour, she pushed out little Fulgencio Joseph Pritchett with ease while Jay's voice-over about fatherhood turned into a sweet moment with his newborn.

But "Modern Family" isn't the Emmy powerhouse it once was: The cast was shut out of the acting honors

Actor, comedy

Jim Parsons as Sheldon Cooper -- "The Big Bang Theory" -- CBS

Giving Parsons a third win for this role felt safe and expected, but it's a testament to Parsons' likability that you don't just want to smash his face when his character delivers lines like "My father used to say that a woman is like an egg salad sandwich on a warm Texas day. Full of eggs and only appealing for a short time."

Actress, comedy

Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Selina Meyer -- "Veep" -- HBO

It's Louis-Dreyfus' fourth statue and her second for "Veep," where she plays Selina Meyer as a vice president who runs into glass doors and wanders around covered in blood when the painkillers kick in. "I fully intend to run," she tells reporters, not realizing they were asking about the presidential race, not the charity 10K on her schedule.

Tony Hale, who'd just won the supporting-actor category for his role as her magnificently awkward assistant, appeared at Louis-Dreyfus' side onstage in character to hold her purse and whisper in her ear, just as Gary does for Selina.

Miniseries or movie

'Behind the Candelabra'

In the most predictable and questionable decision of the night, HBO's unintended homage to "Showgirls" beat out Sundance's "Top of the Lake" and FX's "American Horror Story: Asylum." Emmy voters just couldn't say no to Steven Soderbergh in rebellion from the movie industry, Michael Douglas in a feathered cape and Matt Damon in a sparkly G-string. But we have to admit, Douglas made us laugh when he offered to share his acting statue with Damon: "You want the bottom or the top?"

To reach Sara Smith, call 816-234-4375 or send email to ssmith@kcstar.com. Follow her at Twitter.com/sarawatchesKC.

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