2012 Emmys: ‘Homeland’ unseats 'Mad Men’ as telecast drags

September 23, 2012

It is time to give up on the Emmys. Really, truly, once and for all. The media and the nation must stop paying attention. The television industry could show its solidarity by surrendering all the statuettes, heaving them into a yawning crucible and smelting them. The liquid scrap metal could be recast into one Prius-sized Emmy to be shared by Julia-Louis Dreyfus and Jon Stewart, who were the only people to show rebellious verve onstage during an otherwise dismal, predictable show hosted by that deadpan cipher of late night, Jimmy Kimmel.

Stewart, accepting the 10th consecutive Emmy for outstanding variety series for “The Daily Show,” acknowledged the exasperating ridiculousness of the exercise.

“Years from now, when the Earth is just a burning husk and aliens visit, they will find a box of these,” Stewart said, holding his Emmy aloft, “and they will know just how predictable these [expletive shows] are.”

So let’s get the actual bit of news out of the way before we go back to the dirge: Don Draper died in a terrorist attack!

“Mad Men,” which won best drama series for the past four years, fell to Showtime’s paranoid CIA thrillfest “Homeland,” in which Claire Danes goes a little bonkers while trying to sort through chatter both in the field and in her head. Danes won best actress in a drama and her co-star, Damian Lewis, extended the winless streak of Draper himself, Jon Hamm. “Homeland,” which also snagged an award for writing and is Showtime’s first best-series award winner, cast a pallid Langleyesque light on a ceremony that has had in recent years the art-deco sheen of Madison Avenue.

Burnishing that capital vibe were two women who won for playing a real potential vice president and a fake actual vice president. Julianne Moore won best lead actress in a miniseries or TV movie for playing Sarah Palin in HBO’s “Game Change,” which also won best miniseries or TV movie. Julia Louis-Dreyfus won best lead actress in a comedy series for playing Vice President Selina Meyer, the bumbling sparkplug a heartbeat from the presidency in HBO’s tart half-hour Beltway parody “Veep.”

Louis-Dreyfus, collecting her third career Emmy, began reading co-nominee Amy Poehler’s acceptance speech. The two women, engaging in a subversive sketch they prepared themselves, provided one of the few amusing, well-timed moments in an otherwise painfully scripted night larded with Kimmel’s wan bits. Exhibit A: After “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” failed to win best variety series, Kimmel asked security to escort his actual parents from the auditorium in order to punish them for lying that he could achieve any dream he wanted. Get it? No? That’s because it’s not really a joke. It was a hollow, staged prank.

The other big winners were tiresomely predictable, and predictability makes for really, really, really bad television. The much-heralded Lena Dunham, the 26-year-old creator and star of HBO’s buzzy “Girls,” lost all three of her solo nominations within the first 45 minutes of the show. ABC’s “Modern Family” won its third consecutive Emmy for comedy series, and its supporting actors, Julie Bowen and Eric Stonestreet, exercised their “Why am I winning this again?” faces. Five of the first six acting awards went to performers who had already won once for their roles. These winners all seemed chagrined or perplexed, and spent a precious portion of their speeches apologizing to their overlooked — and, in all instances, more deserving — co-nominees. Even Jon Cryer’s wife seemed baffled when Cryer won best leading actor in a comedy for “Two and a Half Men.”

When he was handed his second Emmy, Cryer said, “Something has clearly gone terribly wrong.”

Not “something.”

Everything.

Speaking of Cryer, is there an assemblage of words more depressing than “the season premiere of ‘Two and a Half Men’?”

But back to the pressing question: How can TV people make for such dismal TV? It’s not enough to have one or two nice moments in a three-hour telecast that rewards many of the same faces year after year. The show was front-loaded with comedy awards, then transitioned to drama and saved the miniseries and TV-movie categories — and therefore the bigger and stodgier stars (Kevin Costner won lead actor in a miniseries or movie for “Hatfields and McCoys”) — for the third hour, when viewers had presumably expired from sheer boredom. The director of the Emmy telecast won for directing the Tonys, and his charmless, overly long acceptance speech from inside the director’s truck illustrated everything that’s wrong with these shows: They navel-gaze without the proper volume of irony or rollicking self-awareness.

Comedian Louis C.K. — beloved for his sour wryness, and for being above the glitzy blandness of Hollywood — had two chances to give the show the Heimlich after he won best writing for a comedy series and also for a variety special.

“Well,” he said, “I won an Emmy just now so . . . I’m just gonna thank people.”

See, that’s exactly what we don’t want you to do. Keep that in mind next year, stars — although, ideally, none of us will be watching.

Dan Zak is a feature writer and general assignment reporter based in the Style section. He joined the Post in 2005, after stints as an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a city-desk reporter and obituary writer at The Buffalo News.
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