September 23, 2004

Substance Over Style

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28 minutes and 43 seconds. Nearly half an hour of a three-hour show I want back from the sum of all of Gary Shandling’s appearances on stage during last Sunday’s 2004 Emmy Awards show. Better yet, get rid of Shandling altogether and give the extra time to the winners, instead of trying to bully them off stage in a draconian effort to end the show on time. The whole escapade appeared more like a cafeteria lunch line, where each person was moved along as quickly as possible. Interestingly, the “control booth” was clearly visible above the stage, giving the crowd an ample target at which to throw anything at hand every time they played someone off the stage. Maybe they should have included tomatoes in with their loser sacks (oops, I meant “gift bags”).

But other than the cheesy music and the deluge of left-leaning political jokes, this year’s Emmys was a night unlike last year’s. Although, at first glance, the awards show may have appeared to be an utter HBO love-fest, quality was rewarded in every single major category, while tribute was deservedly given for a season of television that saw the finale of many great shows.

The night started off with a “bang,” or rather more like a “whiz” sound, as David Hyde Pierce wet his pants from the sheer surprise of winning Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy. Frasier continued its success that night for its final season with an Emmy going to Kelsey Grammer, who graciously honored John Ritter (8 Simple Rules), the posthumously nominated sentimental favorite. For the ladies, the comedy acting awards went to Cynthia Nixon and Sarah Jessica Parker of Sex and the City for the show’s swansong, despite the fact that it was not their best season. But for FOX’s Arrested Development to win best comedy, writing, and directing awards, well I damn near creamed my pants. Perhaps every television critic’s golden child, Arrested will receive a much needed boost in ratings come its premiere later this month.

As for the drama awards, my feelings are best summed up by the winners’ own acceptance speeches. James Spader, who won Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama for The Practice, and Allison Janney, who wonher second lead actress Emmy for The West Wing besting angelic newcomer Amber Tamblyn (sigh), were so surprised by their wins that neither had a prepared speech. Spader congratulated the crowd for their couture, while Janney invited loser Mariska Hargitay (Law & Order) on stage with her. Let’s be honest: the real reason for watching awards shows are for these train wrecks. The best directing award went to the much deserving Walter Hill, who must be talented to direct a show where every other line is “cocksucker!” The rest of the drama awards went to The Sopranos, including Michael Imperioli and Drea de Mateo for supporting actor and actress, respectively. “So I’m going to say thank you and go have 10 drinks,” said Mateo accepting her award. I couldn’t have said it any better, Drea. But in the biggest faux pas of the night, James Gandolfini was rudely cut off during his part of the Best Drama acceptance speech, the first for the show. It was later revealed that Gandolfini wanted to praise an infantry unit in Iraq who named their Bradley Fighting Vehicle after Tony Soprano’s boat. Show director, Louis Horvitz, was later found face down in the Hudson River.

Of HBO’s 16 awards, 7 came from Angels in America, Tony Kushner’s miniseries dealing with AIDS in the 1980s, sweeping the entire category. Winners include Meryl Streep, Mary-Louise Parker, Jeffrey Wright, and Al Pacino, whose rambling acceptance speech went uninterrupted in fear that Pacino would have taken a flame-thrower to the Shrine Auditorium. Much like Kerry’s political platform (damn, now I’m doing the political jokes too) ABC seemed to flip-flop between berating and embracing the reality television fad (and yes, it is only a fad). The show used the reality TV theme right away during its opening minutes, referring to the Emmys as the “ultimate reality show” in its spoof of Average Joe. This only led to a flurry of lackluster punch lines and skits from Shandling. So it was hard to tell whether having a couple of unsuspecting civilians give out the award for outstanding competitive reality show to The Amazing Race was meant as a joke, or worse if adding Trista and Ryan’s wedding in a montage of last season’s best TV events was a blatant plug for ABC. Face the facts: The entire category is a joke.

Other highlights on the night include an awards show requisite sketch from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, featuring a fake commercial questioning George Washington’s naval record. The laugh riot produced the line of the night, often heard throughout the halls of Gannett: “My evidence be syphilis.” The show predictably went on to win Emmys for best variety series and writing. Stewart joked, “I just want you guys to know we don’t do it for the awards; we really do it for the money.” But shouldn’t Chapelle’s Show have won, for not necessarily going for the awards, but rather taking the risks that paid off with a funnier show? With all awards shows, I always hope for the best and expect the worst. For once, we finally saw fresh new material and bar-raising shows beat out the “safe” bet shows. We can only hope that the trend continues and more shows are made that make you grab your sides and laugh out loud, or grip the edge of your seat and make you cry like Ruben Studdard. I believe Chris Rock summed up the night when he said in a bathroom stall next to Shandling, “Hey, who the hell is Elaine Stritch?”

Archived article by Ed Kim
Red Leter Daze Contributor