Jeff Daniels, Claire Danes win top awards at Emmys; ‘Breaking Bad’ named best drama

“Breaking Bad” and “Modern Family” won the top honors at the 65th Emmy Awards Sunday night. The shows were named best drama and best comedy, respectively. Jeff Daniels of “The Newsroom” and Claire Danes of “Homeland” won in the lead actor and actress categories for drama, while Julia Louis-Dreyfus of “Veep” and Jim Parsons of “The Big Bang Theory” were named the best leading actors in a comedy. Find a complete list of winners here.

For Hank Stuever, the ceremony itself was soporific:

What happened Sunday night during CBS’s anemic and often awkward Emmys telecast, hosted by Neil Patrick Harris? (Or let me put it another way: I had to next-day “Breaking Bad” for this?) . . .

Halfway through the evening, Harris finally brought out the jaunty song-and-dance routines, the main symptom of his EHD, with a number called “The Number in the Middle of the Show.” (Sample lyric: “The Emmy Awards are three hours long / Now there’s three minutes less to go.”) One can’t imagine a flashier way to demonstrate that Hollywood’s awards-show writers desperately need to think of a way to tell jokes that aren’t about telling jokes; to stage a show that’s not only about the show.

The best line of the evening came very early on from Merritt Wever, who seemed so shocked at winning the supporting actress Emmy for a comedy show (“Nurse Jackie”) that she went with her flusteredness and said: “I gotta go, bye.”

The rest of us (well, some of us) gotta stay, alas, in a listless position on the couch while the Emmys poked along as flatly as possible. The banter had no flair for comedy. The tributes — including short monologues from Robin Williams, Rob Reiner, Michael J. Fox and Jane Lynch (honoring the recent deaths of comic actor Jonathan Winters, “All in the Family’s” Jean Stapleton, producer Gary David Goldberg and “Glee’s” Cory Monteith) sometimes seemed stiff and, most curiously, clip-less.

Lynch said that Monteith was “a beautiful soul. He was not perfect, which many of us here can relate to. . . . Tonight we remember Cory for all he was and mourn the loss of what he could have been.”

Hank Stuever

Some viewers felt that the late Jack Klugman of “The Odd Couple” should have received a tribute instead of Monteith:

Monteith was significantly younger than his fellow honorees, who were all Emmy Award winners. Monteith, who died from a mix of heroin and alcohol, had not received an Emmy nomination during his career, though “Glee,” the show that launched Monteith into fame, nabbed a whopping 19 Emmy nods for its first season in 2010.

Klugman , a three-time Emmy winner who also starred in “Quincy M.E.,” was honored during the three-hour show’s traditional group tribute. In a conference call last week with executive producer Ken Ehrlich, reporters questioned the decision to pay special tribute to Monteith, as opposed to the more seasoned Klugman or “Dallas” star Larry Hagman. . . .

“We felt it needed to be represented, that at 31, he passed away under very tragic circumstances,” Ehrlich told reporters. “And that it was important to be responsive to younger viewers, to whom Cory Monteith meant as much as perhaps these other four individuals meant to their own generations.”

Bethonie Butler

Another somber moment during the ceremony came when Michael Douglas addressed the audience after winning an award for his role as Liberace in “Behind the Candelabra”:

After thanking various cast and crew members of the film, Douglas gave a “shout-out” to his son Cameron, who is in prison for drug-related offenses. As the standard musical cut-off played to let him know his time was up, Douglas added that he was “hoping I’ll be able and they’ll allow me to see him soon.”

Cameron Douglas was sentenced in 2010 to five years in prison. His sentence was extended after he was caught with drugs in prison. Earlier this year, he lost an appeal that would have shortened his sentence.

Entertainment Weekly reported that Douglas was less obscure about his son backstage.

“My son is in federal prison. He’s been a drug addict for a large part of his life,” the actor was quoted as saying. “Part of the punishments — if you happen to have a slip, and this is for a prisoner who is nonviolent, as about a half-million of our drug-addicted prisoners are — he’s spent almost two years in solitary confinement. Right now I’ve been told that I can’t see him for two years. It’s been over a year now. And I’m questioning the system.”

Bethonie Butler

Those who left the Emmys disappointed included Jon Hamm of “Mad Men,” Kerry Washington of “Scandal” and the cast of “House of Cards”:

Ultimately, the buzziest pre-Emmy stories wound up fizzling out pretty quickly. First and foremost was the idea of Netflix taking over the party with its 14 nominations. Headline-maker “House of Cards” got a couple technical wins at the Creative Arts Emmys last weekend. But big dreams for the show faded fast when stars Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright lost in their leading acting categories, to Jeff Daniels of “The Newsroom” and Claire Danes of “Homeland.”

Things looked more promising when director David Fincher scored a trophy for director in a drama series; but Fincher was a no-show, and “Breaking Bad” ended up taking best drama honors. . . .

Kerry Washington, star of ABC’s addictingly-ridiculous “Scandal,” was a favorite to win lead actress in a drama. If she won, she would have become the first African American in history to win the prize (Cicely Tyson was nominated in 1995). But no such luck; Danes took the category for the second year in a row.

Washington had a huge year, from being in a hit TV show, a box office smash (“Django Unchained,” and honored as World’s Best Dressed Woman. Many thought Washington’s scenery-chewing performance as professional D.C. fixer Olivia Pope (who’s having an affair with the president) would land her the win.

And speaking of actors who have yet to get their due, Jon Hamm remains zero for six in his quest to land a trophy for his portrayal as Don Draper of “Mad Men.” Hamm, in all his bearded glory, lost out to Jeff Daniels — which, granted, was a surprise to everyone, even Daniels. (It was expected to be battle between Hamm, Spacey, Bryan Cranston, last year’s winner Damien Lewis ... well, pretty much everyone except Daniels.)

Emily Yahr

Bryan Cranston did not win an award for his performance in “Breaking Bad,” but his counterpart, Anna Gunn, was named best supporting actress in the drama category. As Skyler White, Gunn plays the heroine to Cranston’s anti-hero:

Gunn . . . has both spoken and written about the way her character is regarded by a certain unsavory segment of the show’s fan base.

These are the “bad” “Breaking Bad” fans. This isn’t to say people that don’t follow the program religiously. (Does that segment exist? Either you’re on the RV or you’re off the RV, as it were.) They’re the fans who think that Bryan Cranston’s Walter White — a depraved, egomaniacal, greedy monster living in the body of mealy-mouthed, cancer-ridden chemistry teacher — is just so awesome. He makes barrels of money. He’s a criminal mastermind, a drug kingpin, a millionaire many times over. He’s got killers on call. (Wonder how he reaches them … 1-877-NEO-NAZI, maybe?) Skyler, viewed through that warped lens, is the opposite. She’s a no-fun, humorless buzzkill, the one always saying “no” when Walt wants to hear “yes,” the person pointing out that Walt’s actions will have consequences, the worst of which will fall upon the people he claims to care about the most: his family. . . .

Last week’s “Ozymandias” brought Gunn to a knife fight and put the stream of misogynistic vitriol that the worst of “Breaking Bad” viewers have been spewing at her for years right in Walt’s mouth: “What the hell is wrong with you? Why can’t you do one thing I say? This is your fault! This is what comes with your disrespect! ... You know, you never believed in me. You were never grateful for anything I did for this family. [in a fake Skyler voice, taunting her] ‘Oh no! Walt! Walt! You have to stop this! ... It’s immoral, it’s illegal! Someone might get hurt!”

With all this in mind, it is deeply satisfying to see that the Emmy voters, for all of their flaws, are “good” “Bad” fans. They get it. Sure, they think Jeff Daniels deserves to run on stage with a mouthful of gum to collect a trophy while Cranston and Jon Hamm blink slowly into space, wondering if they’ve heard correctly. But in the case of Skyler White, Emmy voters see what should have been self-evident all along: Skyler is a hero (a complicated, morally conflicted hero who is finally just as compelling to watch as her husband), portrayed heroically by Anna Gunn.

Jessica Goldstein

See images from the red carpet in the gallery below.

Max Ehrenfreund writes for Wonkblog and compiles Wonkbook, a daily policy newsletter. You can subscribe here. Before joining The Washington Post, Ehrenfreund wrote for the Washington Monthly and The Sacramento Bee.

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