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62d Primetime Emmy Awards

No show left behind

Emmys spread the wealth in a night of surprises

Edie Falco takes the award for lead actress in a comedy series for 'Nurse Jackie.' Edie Falco takes the award for lead actress in a comedy series for "Nurse Jackie." (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
By Matthew Gilbert
Globe Staff / August 30, 2010

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It’s the rare Emmy telecast that doesn’t incite groans of outrage and major gripes. But what’s this? Last night’s awards show was an anomaly, that rare occasion when awards justice is mostly served. Sure, we could quibble — no acting prizes for “Mad Men’’?! — but we could just as easily kvell.

Nearly every single series winner last night was new, or from a new show. The predictability and redundancy that have marred decades of Emmy telecasts — Kelsey Grammer again? Tony Shalhoub again? — was at an all-time minimum. “Glee,’’ “Modern Family,’’ “Nurse Jackie,’’ and “The Good Wife’’ all helped usher in a new wave of winners, as the Emmy voters spread series love around almost equally to pay cable, basic cable, and the networks (except NBC, which aired the telecast). Even “The Amazing Race,’’ which has won the award for best reality show competition seven years straight, was dethroned, by “Top Chef.’’

In recent weeks, “Modern Family’’ and “Glee’’ have seemed like close contenders for best comedy, but “Modern Family’’ finished on top for proving that the network family sitcom still has a creative future. Eric Stonestreet was the solution to the mystery of which among the perfect supporting actors of “Modern Family’’ would win the category, while his acting partner Jesse Tyler Ferguson proved to be a profoundly devoted costar as tears streamed down his face during Stonestreet’s acceptance.

Pin-thin Jim Parsons was a surprise winner for lead actor in a comedy series, and a deserving winner, having created the most compelling and emotionally twisted nerd of the decade. Jane Lynch thought her supporting actress win was “outlaaaandish,’’ but she was oh-so-very wrong. Archie Panjabi won supporting actress in a drama series as the ka-fabulous Kalinda in “The Good Wife,’’ and Edie Falco won lead actress in a comedy series for “Nurse Jackie.’’ No problem with either win, although Falco herself noted, “This is the most ridiculous thing to happen at an awards show — I’m not funny!’’ Indeed, “Nurse Jackie’’ is terribly dramatic for a comedy.

Kyra Sedgwick finally took home the gold for lead actress in a drama series for “The Closer’’ (her fifth nomination), quoting her husband, Kevin Bacon, by saying “Let’s all be good to each other.’’ If it wasn’t going to be Julianna Margulies, who was widely expected to win, and if it couldn’t be Connie Britton of the profoundly under-recognized “Friday Night Lights,’’ then let it be Sedgwick.

And at long last, Aaron Paul won supporting actor in a drama series for his committed, morally dazzling work in “Breaking Bad.’’ It was a great stroke of Emmy justice, almost making up for the fact that Bryan Cranston won lead actor in a drama series for “Breaking Bad’’ for the third year in a row when Hugh Laurie, Jon Hamm, or Michael C. Hall might have been a better choice.

And as for the third consecutive win for “Mad Men’’ as best drama? The show’s continued reign is a vote for subtle, deliberately paced, and psychologically arresting drama. I’m so pleased there wasn’t a backlash for this extraordinary piece of work.

I also can’t complain about Jimmy Fallon, who may be just the right man for the nearly impossible job of hosting the Emmys. The guy is genuinely steeped in TV culture, and that adds an energy and authenticity to his presence on the Emmy stage.

He opened the show in a burst of glee — and “Glee.’’ And it was pretty darn cute. A prerecorded segment segued into a live cavalcade, with host Fallon leading “Glee’’ cast members, along with Tina Fey, Jon Hamm, Joel McHale, Randy Jackson, Nina Dobrev, and — yahoo! — Jorge Garcia from “Lost’’ in a campy production of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run.’’ Along the way, Lynch as Sue Sylvester doused Fallon and Fey with a slushie, Betty White coached Hamm in the extreme shaking of booty, and Kate Gosselin made fun of her own complete lack of talent, which she does with an appropriate lack of talent, which is oddly brilliant. It was a crazy mixed-up TV fantasy dream.

Well done, Jimmy Fallon. After a jab at Conan O’Brien over his ordeal with NBC, he wondered, “Too soon?’’ He introduced broader categories of awards in tiny absurdist duets with audience members such as Margulies and Amy Poehler, and his elegies to “24,’’ “Law & Order,’’ and “Lost’’ (mimicking Elton John, Boyz II Men, and Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day) were great.

Although, good as Fallon was, Ricky Gervais may have come up with the best one-liner of the night. About Mel Gibson, he said, “He’s been through a lot.’’ Then he paused. “Not as much as the Jews. . .’’

There were no surprises in the movie and miniseries categories, as HBO swept the floor with “The Pacific,’’ “You Don’t Know Jack,’’ and, most of all, “Temple Grandin.’’ Grandin herself was in the house, clearly basking in some glory. She brought a little bit of emotional heft to the night’s swiftly paced proceedings.

The moment that wasn’t? Conan O’Brien’s “Tonight Show’’ didn’t win for best variety, music, or comedy series. If it had, his acceptance speech would have been news. Instead, the prize went to “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart’’ — for the eighth year in a row.

And what of the red carpet action? “Hopefully someday you guys will win an Emmy,’’ Ryan Seacrest shouted to the “Jersey Shore’’ gang, who visited the E! pre-show via remote from their homeland. (I think he meant it, don’t you?) But he was even more invested in “Glee,’’ whose personnel seemed to own the E! red carpet last night, from the exquisite Dianna Agron to birthday girl Lea Michele, who seemed nice but fierce.

A few red carpet truisms: Jon Hamm can’t not look debonair, Kathy Griffin can’t not be funny (even when she’s telling her 6,000th box-of-wine joke), and Stephen Moyer can’t not seem strange talking in a British accent.

Meanwhile, producer Nigel Lythgoe slithered around the red carpet, inviting everyone and her stylist to be a new “American Idol’’ judge. Claire Danes did not seem tempted.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com.

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