The 2011 Emmy Awards Show

[Note to readers:  My mother, Cyma Dolan, died on August 19th, which I share only to explain the radio silence on The Feminist Spectator.  I’ve been surprised how grief has seemed to steal my words, making it hard to write here and elsewhere.  My mom loved awards shows; writing about the Emmys seems a good way to find my way back to the blog.  In her memory then, now and always.—jd]

Thank goodness for Jane Lynch, the lovely lanky lesbian otherwise known as Glee’s misanthropic Sue Sylvester, who proved last Sunday to be one of the few awards show hosts in recent memory to be able to get the tone exactly right.  Lynch kept her happy, wide-eyed energy up and her gently sarcastic deadpan humor focused, dispatching her duties with just the right mix of irreverence and, well, glee.

The opening number—happily filmed instead of sung, danced, or acted live, which always seems to trip up performers more accustomed to tape—showed Lynch acting with Mr. President of TV (Leonard Nimoy), revealing the (fabricated) secrets of the interconnected lives and spaces of those who populate our small screens.  The conceit mostly worked—when Lynch barged into the living room set of The Big Bang Theory singing and dancing, Jim Parsons, in character, sighed something like, “I hate when musical numbers intrude on our space.”  (Parsons went on to win an Emmy for Best Actor in a Comedy later that night.)

Lynch then visited the set of Mad Men to announce to its characters that in the future, women will be able to marry one another (though, she conceded, they’ll still have to sleep with men to advance professionally), and that people will watch television on their phones.  John Slattery, as Roger Sterling, perplexed by her prophecy picked up one of the set’s old-fashioned black telephone receivers to peer into it.

When Lynch ended the number live, in one of the several satiny evening gowns she wore all evening, she danced a few steps backed by chorus boys, then remarked on how difficult it is to move in triple Spanx.  The crowd gave her a warm standing ovation, perhaps just for her game and buoyant honesty, which she managed to maintain throughout the evening.

Otherwise, the show’s best moment came with the announcement of the nominees for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series.  Amy Poehler’s (Parks and Recreation) name was announced first; she left her seat to approach the stage, and actually mounted the apron, as though taking a premature bow.  This was already funny, as she seemed to be brooking awards show traditions. Then each subsequent nominee joined her, twittering together with excitement as though they were finalists in a beauty pageant.

Although it might have been belittling, the little scene instead let these uniformly talented women parody the awards show itself, and work against its sensationalized competition.  Only performers like Poehler, McCarthy, Edie Falco (Nurse Jackie), Laura Linney (The Big C), Martha Plimpton (Raising Hope), and Tina Fey (30 Rock, whose SNL sketches the moment resembled in tone and content) could pull this off with such good-humor and aplomb.

When Melissa McCarthy won the category for her turn in Mike and Molly (after her terrific performance in last summer’s Bridesmaids), she was crowned and given roses as the others applauded.  McCarthy wore her kudos gracefully, admitting that the moment was huge for a woman who grew up in a small town in Illinois.  Hers was a moving performance of the kind of simple humanity too often missing among the glitterati.

Kyle Chandler finally won for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for his beautiful work onFriday Night Lights, one of the best shows ever produced on television.  But in his disappointingly muddled acceptance speech, he neglected to thank his FNL wife, Connie Britton, who lost out to Julianna Margulies for her performance in The Good Wife.

Their Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama category was filled with talented women (including Elizabeth Moss, always wonderful in Mad Men, Mariksa Hargitay for what might have been her penultimate season in Law & Order:  SVU, Mireille Enos for her moody, steely work in The Killing, and Kathy Bates in Harry’s Law, a part originally written for a man).  Too bad Friday Night Lightsdidn’t win Outstanding Drama Series over Mad Men, if only because its run has, sadly, ended.

Modern Family’s happy win for Outstanding Comedy Series was buttressed by wins for Ty Burrell and Julie Bowen as the clueless Dunphy parents.  Burrell competed mostly against his cast-mates, all of whom were nominated and any one of whom would have been an appropriate winner for their wonderful deadpan humor and their willingness to engage the show’s playful but perspicacious Freudian pseudo-traumas.

Glee’s Chris Colfer—the young, out gay actor who plays the show’s young, out gay character, Kurt—was overlooked in a season that gave Kurt a lot of emotional range.  Seeing him crowned prom queen beside his self-hating gay nemesis as prom king was one of the series’ highpoints last year.

But so much of this Emmy broadcast was just dumb.  I know these evenings are meant for the industry, but if that’s the case, why broadcast them at all?  Why ask millions of viewers to sit through stupid palaver meant to appeal to no one but the lowest common viewer denominator?  Why embarrass performers like Kerry Washington with such silly patter?  Why try to pretend the stakes are so low when they’re really so high?

I don’t think anyone’s taste is corrupt enough to find funny the snarky voice-over commentary broadcast this year as winners approached the stage.  And why not ask winners to dig a little deeper, think about the viewer, and say something meaningful when they accept their awards, instead of starring stupidly at the audience and saying only, “Wow,” before thanking lists of people that mean nothing to anyone but their peers?

The schizophrenic evening swung between tediously slow acceptance speeches and clips of nominees edited at such a fast and furious tempo it was hard to distinguish Modern Family fromThe Killing.  The pace of those clips made the actual work seem secondary.  But it’s only honest to say that, in fact, it is.

Like all awards shows, the Emmys are really a showcase for women’s hair and gowns and jewelry, for the secondary market of magazines and tabloids that dine out on the gaffes and the superficial glory.  The Miss America take-off with McCarthy et al spoke the truth.

I only wish Lynch had hosted in a nice tux instead.

Looking forward to this year’s TV season,

The Feminist Spectator

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