We now know the winners of the 65th Annual Emmys, but who really won? (Who really lost?) Here are six things the big show got right, and five things that it got wrong. But don't necessarily assume they cancel each other out -- because on balance, the 65th got this show mostly right.
1.) The host: Yeah, that dude in the tux scores again. Neil Patrick Harris -- as a facile agile host who is visible when he needs to be, invisible when he needs to be. Of the latter, he seemed MIA for much of the show, although that was for costume change as well as conceding to the reality that hosts of these affairs need to be seen, not always heard from. The job of the presenters has become almost equally important and either works (Tina Fey, Amy Poehler at outset) or doesn't (Will Ferrell; see below).
2.) The opening: Captured essentially what voters, critics, and above all viewers are going through circa 2013, which is the confrontation of a tower of babble, screaming (all at once) for attention, love, devotion and awards. Never has there been so much good TV, and bad TV, and a vast gulf in between. All this attempted to do -- with malice toward none -- was establish the obvious.
3.) The opening, part 2: I know from the tweet stream that some people liked, some did not, but in my mind this worked particularly well -- bringing hosts from Christmas past to the stage in a mock salute to their own moment of glory. It took attention away from NPH, at a critical point, when all sorts of stuff is supposed to come flying offstage at the Nokia -- notably memorable one-liners from the host, which instead were (mostly) supplied by predecessors. This group host turnout was expected, but the results felt mostly fresh and unexpected.
4.) "In Memoriam" tributes. This was tricky terrain insofar as it was fraught with politics -- the insistence that Cory Monteith get special tribute -- but it all turned out to be appropriate, even moving. Monteith -- and certainly no one pretended this -- did not have the stature of those others honored, but Jane Lynch's tribute still felt exactly right: A young man, beloved cast member, whose life ended as the result of a "rapacious" drug that had killed so many others. In a sense, too, her tribute was a "what might have been" -- as in, what this actor might have turned out to be had he lived. Meanwhile, both Rob Reiner and Edie Falco swung for the fences with their respective tributes -- Jean Stapleton and James Gandolfini -- and cleared them.
5.) The winners: Beginning and ending with "Breaking Bad," which deserved best drama honors and until last night never got 'em. This was a very tough category, jam packed with deserving nominees. In fact, when there are this many worthies, Emmy voters head down the path of least resistance: the previous year's winner. But somehow, someway, they avoided the temptation this year, at least here.
6.) Tone: Important, hard to define element that seemed right -- not seedy, or cheap, or tinged with self-loathing, or that sense, so often conveyed in years past by either hosts or presenters that "we'd rather be anywhere but here .?.?." Instead, NPH and the show got it just about right -- the sense that this is an important industry and awards show bestowing honors on honorees who deserve some measure of recognition. There were no apologies for that.
Now, to the five things that fell flat:
1.) Ferrell: Schtick attached to the major awards never works. It diminishes them and bugs the audience, both at home and in the audience. This is a huge moment, and why rob it of drama at the exact moment when drama is expected and totally justified? Instead, he rushed out those words "Breaking Bad," which could have been almost any words. This was a huge moment, never felt like one.
2.) Tribute to black actors and actresses: Why bring attention to the yawning deficiency in the "mainstream" television awards show -- that there are so few nominees of color? Diahann Carroll was in the awkward position of both celebrating the fact that for black actors fifty years ago "the Emmy was unfortunately all too rare" yet essentially confirming that -- at least on this night -- things didn't seem to have changed all that much. Only Don Cheadle and Kerry Washington were in line for major awards, neither won.
3.) The 1963 tribute. This must've seemed like a good idea on paper, but on screen, not so much. Yoking the assassination with the first arrival of the Beatles made no sense -- one or the other, not both, and certainly the latter would make no sense at all considering the anniversary is next year anyway. Instead, this ended up feeling like an excuse to get Carrie Underwood on stage, who covered "Yesterday" in a lackluster performance that dragged the show to a dead halt.
4.) The wrong winners. Imagine not complaining about who did/who did not win after an Emmys telecast? But the predictable nod to "Modern Family," the fourth straight, falls under my theory (see above, No. 5) that voters usually just follow the path of least resistance. "Family" did NOT have a standout year, certainly not compared to the first or second seasons -- fans know that, and you suspect those assembled on stage knew that, too -- but there they were again. And Jon Hamm not winning? Oh come on! Taking nothing away from Jeff Daniels, terrific in "The Newsroom," at some point the Emmys have to honor the actor who has made "Mad Men" one of the great dramas of TV history. Without Hamm, "Mad Men" would simply not have the stature it deserves and has been recognized for. Yet once again, he's passed over.
5.) Elton John's tribute to Liberace. This could go above ("Things that worked") or here; I mean, always good to have John, and the performance was fine, but I'm choosing the "here" due to the reason of the entire ludicrous idea that Liberace in some way instrumental in catalyzing gay rights or gays' advancement in the arts, or whatever. "Candelabra" pretty much established the exact opposite -- that he was aggressively closeted, had no interest in social issues, but a great deal of interest in sequins and sexual conquests. This felt like an excuse to get Elton John onstage at the Emmys.