As so often happens with award shows, the Emmys couldn't stand prosperity. After a promising opening with a fair amount of energy, the second hour proved listless, bogged down by staged moments, while creating little opportunity for spontaneous ones.
OK, so it's kind of funny to do a taped bit about Ryan Seacrest's excessive hosting with host Neil Patrick Harris and his "How I Met Your Mother" castmates. But throw in a mid-show musical number, a canned memorial of big events 50 years earlier -- complete with Carrie Underwood performance -- and a tribute to Cory Monteith, and the result was a show that rushed through even major categories, undermining the reason most people, presumably, watch in the first place.
Does it really make sense to rush off Bobby Cannavale ("Boardwalk Empire"), Anna Gunn ("Breaking Bad") and Jeff Daniels (a surprise winner for "The Newsroom")? Isn't their reaction -- joyful, tearful, self-indulgent, giddy, whatever -- one of the reasons people tune in, to see stars in unscripted moments?
Granted, while including Monteith in their company was questionable, the memorial tributes to Jean Stapleton and Jonathan Winters from appropriate parties ("All in the Family" co-star Rob Reiner and Robin Williams, respectively) were classy, and the awards spread the wealth -- honoring a variety of networks, alternating from little-seen pay cable fare to big broad hits like "Modern Family" and "The Big Bang Theory."
The scripted presenter banter is a bit of a train wreck, but when isn't it at award shows? (Although it's actually hard to make Mindy Kaling look that awkward and uncomfortable.)
At the outset, there were actually a couple of moderately inspired moments, like Julia Louis-Dreyfus having fellow "Veep" winner Tony Hale standing in back feeding her lines, just as his character does on the show; Elton John's tribute to Liberace; and Merritt Wever's blink-and-you-missed-it acceptance speech for Showtime's "Nurse Jackie," which no doubt has award-show producers everywhere green with envy.
As for the opening, the producers got the obligatory cameo by CBS CEO Leslie Moonves out of the way sooner than expected. Actually, the introductory bit -- delayed a few minutes, as CBS made money off NFL football -- was a decidedly odd duck, old-fashioned and quirky all it once.
Harris riffed with a parade of former hosts -- Conan O'Brien, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Jane Lynch -- before Kevin Spacey addressed the camera, a la "House of Cards," suggesting the mess playing out on stage was all part of his nefarious plan.
Never mind that most of the at-home audience probably had no idea what Spacey was doing, since we have no idea how many people have watched "Cards" on Netflix. It was one of those peculiar strokes that nearly saved a bit that felt pretty tired, beginning with Harris watching an array of clips from popular shows.
On the plus side, they got the "Duck Dynasty" joke out of the way early, too, before segueing to supporting actress in a comedy and the night's first huge surprise, with Wever winning for "Nurse Jackie." That was followed by a second surprise -- Hale for HBO's "Veep" -- suggesting, helpfully, the night might not go according to anyone's best-laid plans and predictions, which is always kind of nice.
"Best speech ever," Harris said, coming out of the commercial break, regarding Wever's non-speech, which lasted all of about six seconds. That seemed especially true after Hale had to be politely played off.
Unfortunately, playing Hale off was a harbinger of things to come.
Related storiesEmmys: Bobby Cannavale Loves the 'Hustle'In Memoriam: How the Emmys Tributes WentEmmy Awards: 'The Voice's' Mark Burnett Takes on 'American Idol,' 'Amazing Race' © 2013 Variety Media, LLC, a subsidiary of Penske Business Media; Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLCCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun