Monday, September 19, 2005

Emmys: Revelling in irrelevance

The Emmys are over, and my euphoria of indulging in frivolous stargazing is tempered with my despondence that Hugh Laurie of House, M.D. didn't win his much-deserved award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. I was grudgingly prepared to let him lose to Ian McShane of Deadwood if he must, but that's it. No one else.

Next year. Laurie will win next year. And I have that year for the intense therapy I will need to deal with this bitter loss, which I'm only justifying by thinking the two must have split the intelligent vote.

But this is not a round up of who won (James Spader) and who should have won (Hugh Laurie). The winners this year were often laughably irrelevant, neither critical nor popular favourites. So just what are the Emmys measuring?

As it turns out, the Emmys are much more entertaining when I don't care who wins in most of the categories and I can enjoy them as a television show. There were only two categories where I had an informed opinion, and I was half satisfied. David Shore won for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series for the stunning “Three Stories” episode of House, one of the best hours of television ever, and the entertainment world is as it should be. Almost.

So until the cruel final moments, I was free to relax and enjoy it as a spectacle rather than taking it seriously as an arbiter of the best television has to offer. And taking the results of the voting out of the equation, it was an entertaining evening for us masochists who find three hours of self-congratulations and stilted humour an annual treat.

The theme seemed to be a recognition that the Emmys are about as unimportant as you can get when compared to world events, and to poke fun at the bloated egos of Hollywood. And that's exactly what makes the Emmys a guilty pleasure. If I want the depressing truth of what's going on in the world, I'll watch CNN. If I want to be transported to a world where Donald Trump dons overalls and sings the Green Acres theme song, I'll watch the Emmys. Tonight was a show that winked at us as it embraced all that is cheesy about awards shows and irrelevant about the entertainment industry, and gave us performers who let themselves risk humiliation for the sake of a laugh at their expense.

“Come on, if you don't win tonight, it doesn't mean you're not a good person,” said host Ellen DeGeneres, who was fine but conspicuously absent most of the evening. “It just means you're not a good actor. ... But seriously, I think overall in the scheme of things, winning an Emmy is not important. Let's get our priorities straight. I think we all know what's really important in life: winning an Oscar.”

There were some brilliant little moments where the presentation of the awards beautifully fit the category, such as the surreal Blue Man Group bit to present Outstanding Reality Competition Series, or the comedy bits to introduce best writing in a comedy.

Vindicating the outrage over the Emmys' initial decision (later reversed) to force winning writers and directors to pre-tape their acceptance speeches so they wouldn't take up valuable time getting to the podium, most of the best speeches of the night came from writers. Who would have thought – the people who write all those lauded shows are pretty good at writing speeches, too.

David Shore not only thanked Hugh Laurie for “making me look like a better writer than I am” and his family for helping him be well-adjusted enough to appreciate the award, but also “all the other people who have come into my life and made me miserable, cynical, and angry, because this character wouldn't be the same without them.” Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the writers of The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, gave a lovely, funny speech about the people who helped bring the story to screen, and the Arrested Development writers, Mitchell Hurwitz and Jim Vallely, noted: "We'd be remiss if we didn't point out the fact that the academy has twice rewarded us for something that you people won't watch.”

There were some not-so-brilliant moments, too, of utter boredom or sheer idiocy, most of which I will happily ignore because we expect them from an awards show. Among my most cringe-worthy moments is always the In Memoriam – a touching segment except that audience members should have their hands stapled together for the duration to prevent them from clapping for their favourite dead people and turning it into an afterlife popularity contest.

The Emmys did a good job of keeping an eye on the serious without letting it overwhelm the telecast. New Orleans native DeGeneres and many of the winners recognized the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, and the show encouraged donations to Habitat for Humanity. In one of my personal favourite serious moments, David Letterman gave a beautifully poetic tribute to his hero, the late Johnny Carson, with Jon Stewart then taking the stage to collect an award and remarking that how Dave feels about Johnny, comedians of his generation feel about Letterman.

The speeches were kept mercifully short by brutally enforcing the time limit, and most winners thankfully refrained from pulling out prewritten remarks – most entertainingly, S. Epatha Merkerson, who won for Outstanding Lead Actress in a miniseries or movie for Lackawanna Blues, and who fumbled in vain for the notes she lost down the front of her dress.

So except for the wrong choice in the Best Actor in a Drama category, the Emmys themselves fulfilled my expectations of what I want in an awards show – pomp and circumstance, lame songs and intros, pretty, sparkly outfits, and most of all, unabashed frivolity mixed with the recognition that frivolity need not apologize for taking us out of the troubles of the world for three hours.

(Cross posted to Blogcritics)

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"Very often the real world is a nasty, cruel and unjust place. It's more fun to make up a proper world for oneself."
- James White