The 2013 Emmy Awards deserve only brief mention here. What a tone-deaf show! What a shame that of several of the evening’s surprising upsets, Kerry Washington didn’t take home an award for Best Actress in a Drama Series for her terrific turn on Scandal. Watching the elegant, graceful, intelligent, self-possessed Washington present with the doyenne Diahann Carroll in one of the evening’s few blissfully shtick-free moments, I could only mourn that Emmy voters couldn’t follow through on Washington’s historic nomination by giving her the award she deserved.
Not that Claire Danes didn’t deserve to win. She’s terrific on Homeland and I’m looking forward to the show’s return this season. But Danes’s win demonstrates one of the problems with the Emmys. The repetition compulsion, which rewards the same actors and shows time and again, makes the whole process dull and predictable.
I’m not a fan of The Newsroom, and Jeff Daniels might have taken his chewing gum out of his mouth before he accepted his award, but at least his upset in the Best Actor in a Drama Series made for an interesting moment. I admire out actor Jim Parsons, who won Best Actor in a Comedy Series for the third time for The Big Bang Theory, but wouldn’t it have been interesting to see Don Cheadle win instead for his wild turn as the Machiavellian management consultant on House of Lies? In which, by the way, the wry direct addresses to the camera were used seasons before Kevin Spacey’s Shakespearean asides on House of Cards wowed viewers.
Likewise, Modern Family is such a safe (and redundant) choice for Best Comedy series. I watch it occasionally; I laugh. But is the best comedy, several years running, really one in which a gay male couple plays out silly stereotypes, or in which the white woman is hapless (and beautiful), and the Latina woman is heavily accented, heavy-breasted, and arch but also hapless? I know that Modern Family‘s comedy comes from how hapless, in fact, most of the characters are meant to be. But on a roster that includes much smarter shows–Veep, Louie, 30 Rock, and Girls, among them–why keep rewarding the same old same old?
At least Merritt Wever won for Nurse Jackie, a well-deserved recognition for her comic chops and empathetic, carefully constructed performance as the irrepressible nurse, Zoe. Wever is a masterful comic but also a terrific actor. Her Emmy acceptance speech was terrifically short, sweet, and appropriate.
Behind the Candelabra won for best mini-series or TV movie. I disagreed with many queer viewers who saw director Soderbergh’s film as only campy and ridiculous. I found the film unsettling in its portrait of Liberace’s excesses, his narcissism, his desire for ever-younger men, and at the same time, his consistent and irresistible showmanship. Douglas deserved his Emmy, as he managed to inhabit and humanize a man who fame had somehow separated from his own humanity. Matt Damon was even better as his young lover, who’s taken in by Lee’s performative love and devotion, and doesn’t recognize until much too late that he’s only part of Liberace’s predictable cycle of lust and loathing. Damon is wrenching as he comes to understand that he’s literally changed his face for a man who’ll discard him as he has every other lover.
I was also a Political Animals fan, and glad to see Ellen Burstyn win for a show that should have had more staying power. Likewise, I admired Laura Linney on The Big C, as she played a woman with terminal cancer with gumption and grace, even when the show’s writing took weirdly trite and inchoate plot turns. But Elisabeth Moss, as a damaged but dignified detective on Jane Campion’s atmospheric and masterful Top of the Lake, should have won as Best Actress in a Mini-Series or TV movie. Stream that show–it’s a beautiful, gripping, feminist drama set in a small, incestuous, mysterious town in New Zealand.
Finally, poor Neil Patrick Harris. He’s wonderful on the Tony Awards show, where his Broadway-style hoofing and charisma has often carried the day. But as the Times commentators noted this morning, his self-referential musical numbers and all the puerile jokes about his over-hosting syndrome were boring and irrelevant to the achievements supposed being honored last night. It’s not his fault, exactly–poorly conceived by the show’s producers, the evening was off from the moment it began. Giving award winners only seconds to give their speeches while letting silly skits and song-and-dance moments go on forever is a very peculiar choice.
Wouldn’t it be nice if the Emmys were all about the speeches, instead of fabricated razzmatazz and flat attempts at humor and lowest-common-denominator entertainment? Wouldn’t it be nice if award-winners had to take a few minutes not just to reel off lists of agents and managers and family members, but were required to share their thoughts on what television means to American culture? I regret Kerry Washington didn’t win not just because she deserved to, but because I know she would have given a gracious, smart, culturally engaged acceptance speech.
Would that were the norm instead of the exception.
The Feminist Spectator