An award show to award television should be good television, but the 2013 Emmys missed a few of its marks. There were some high points in the three–plus hour program, but much of it dragged. Whether you agree with who took home the big awards ("Modern Family" again? Really?), when it came to how the TV academy distributed them, some of the gags worked, and some of them didn't.
-Merritt Wever's acceptance speech: The first award of the night was a major upset, and its winner appeared to be just as surprised as we were. Accepting the outstanding supporting actress award for her role on "Nurse Jackie," Wever simply said, "Thanks so much. Thank you so much. I gotta go. Bye," and scurried off the stage. Even if those who don't watch "Nurse Jackie" can appreciate Wever's brevity, particularly for an awards show that usually runs overtime.
-Julia Louis-Dreyfus' acceptance speech: On the other side of the preparation spectrum was Julia Louis-Dreyfus' acceptance speech, which she did in full "Veep" character with the help of Tony Hale, who also won for "Veep." Playing Gary, the dutiful bag man, Hale followed Louis-Dreyfus on stage, holding her pretty clutch – a step up from the leviathan — and whispered Louis-Dreyfus' "thank yous" in her ear. Cut to Amy (Anna Chlumsky), on her Blackberry as always. Sure the bit meant the cast had to do some planning and were expecting Louis-Dreyfus to win. But to mark her record-breaking 14th nomination and fourth win, Louis-Dreyfus is allowed to get a little clever with her acceptance speeches.
-The accidental camera-bomb: Whether accidental or an excellently executed piece of Dada performance art, this guy realizing he was in Neil Patrick Harris's frame and trying to sneak out of it was the night's most perfect moment of visual comedy. Brave random camera-bomb guy.
-Edie Falco's James Gandolfini tribute: It felt a little weird that the night's special in memoriam tributes didn't include clips of the deceased actors actually acting. But Falco's tearful remembrance of "Jim" was beautiful and heart-wrenching, and a speech every James Gandolfini fan could appreciate.
-The outstanding choreography dance sequence: Was it strange to see the evening's honored shows re-imagined as interpretive dance? Sure. Was it expected? Most definitely not. I guarantee no one – aside from those involved – woke up Sunday thinking they would see a "Breaking Bad"-themed break dance bit set to EDM. Considering how boring the other performance pieces were, this sequence might have actually worked the best, and it got Neil Patrick Harris singing and dancing again.
-The outstanding writing for variety introduction: How does an awards show get through a category that includes dozens of names without boring the viewers? Well, if it's the category for best variety show writing, let them introduce themselves. From the "Colbert Report" NSA spoof to the Oprah cameo for the "Jimmy Kimmel Live" introductions, the whole sequence was giggle-worthy. Maybe the TV academy should bring these guys on to write the show next year.
What Didn't Work
-The Emmys' opening: We get it, Neil. You don't want to become some one-trick pony. Your Emmy ode to television should be different than your Tony ode to Broadway, one of the most impressive awards show openings in recent history. But sticking you in a weird stack of televisions (Was that a "Girls" joke? We don't get it.) was such a waste of your talent, and we shouldn't have to wait for the middle of the show to watch you sing and dance. Thankfully, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey were there to intervene on what otherwise would have been a truly horrible opening. They may have been joking when heckling you to "twerk it," but it would have been an improvement.
-The Jeff Daniels' win: Putting aside that Bryan Cranston, Jon Hamm and Kevin Spacey were all clearly robbed, Jeff Daniels' speech was a case study in what not to do when you get a fancy award you don't deserve. Spit out your gum. Don't begin with "Well, crap." Don't make an AARP joke when you're just a year or two older than everyone else in the category.
-Carrie Underwood's performance: Considering that nearly every other entertainment outlet is finding a way to exploit the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination, I guess we shouldn't expect the Emmys to resist. But having Carrie Underwood, who was born two decades after the year she was honoring, sing "Yesterday"? Only Paul McCartney should have been allowed on stage to do that.
-Elton John's Liberace tribute: On paper, this seems like an obvious idea. In execution, it was little befuddling. John said the song he performed reminded him of Liberace, but why? "Home Again" felt like a lesser retooling of "Candle In the Wind," and to honor the "consummate entertainer," it was anything but entertaining.
-The in memoriam tributes: While taken alone, each of the five tributes were nice, touching, well deserved, and, in Gandolfini's case, emotionally affective. But spread out across the entire show, they seemed to kill the mood just as the ceremony was gaining momentum. And singling out just five TV legends to honor put a glaring light on who CBS excluded, particularly Larry Hagman, the iconic "Dallas" star, who got only a couple seconds of screen time in the usual montage.