The Stubborn Screwups of the Emmy Awards

So, on Sunday night, I sat down to watch the MTV Video Music Awards. Why? I have no idea. Curiousity, I guess. One pop star sang something about an anaconda. Someone else wore a dress made out of jeans. Taylor Swift and someone named “Ariana Grande” were there and the whole world frightened and confused me. By the time some terrifyingly vapid Australian rapper with a name that sounded like an ingredient in a designer shampoo came on the stage—presumably singing a song about wallabies or Paul Hogan or something—I’d had enough. Away with you, VMAs.

Who’d have thought that would only be the second most embarrassing awards show of the week.

The 2014 Emmy Awards were the televised equivalent of your 80-year-old grandfather who refuses to give up the car keys, even after everyone else in the world realizes that he just shouldn’t ever get behind the wheel. The world of television has changed, for the better (mostly). There’s more quality coming out of more sources with more talent behind and in front of the camera than the medium has ever seen … and yet, the Emmys just don’t seem to care. Two decades after network television’s high-water mark, they still seem to think that we’re living in a world where it is king. The awards stuck in an endless rut of rewarding the same acceptably average programs year after year, at the expense of true recognition for shows that really do deserve the honors. It’s beyond embarrassing at this point. Now it’s just shameful.

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It’s not a new problem. “The Wire,” the greatest television show America’s ever produced, was only nominated for two Emmys (for writing), and won none. “The Larry Sanders Show” only won three, two for writing and one for Supporting Actor. Transcendent performances like Tatiana Maslany’s on “Orphan Black” regularly go unnoticed by the ignoramuses in charge of the nominations. It’s astonishing. How can this institution regularly let such greatness go by so unrecognized? That’s like the NFL throwing an MVP award to Andy Dalton for a completely average year while Peyton Manning put up video game stats.

I mean, the greatness is there, and it’s an annual frustration that it doesn’t get the recognition it should. Honestly, some of the charm of watching the Emmys is for those brief, wonderful moments when they actually do something right—honoring Kyle Chandler for “Friday Night Lights” and Michael Chiklis for “The Shield” come to mind immediately—but those shining moments are few and far between. Look at the Best Comedy category, for example. You had Veep and Louie, two of the more brilliant comedic television series in the history of the medium, as well as the impressive rookie Silicon Valley and the Netflix blockbuster “Orange is the New Black” (not really a comedy, but, hell, it’s there). Two all-timer shows, one great newcomer and the epitome of the new streaming-content, on-demand television revolution … and the Emmys wheeze, cough, hand the award to “Modern Family” (for the fifth season in a row) and trudge off to Old Country Buffet in their Omni. I have no problem with “Modern Family.” Not usually. It’s perfectly great pre-brunch, post-hangover binge watching for Saturday mornings. However, when it beats out other, truly transcendent programs that are on the air right now … well, then, that just grinds my gears.

Sticking with comedy, instead of the brilliance of Louis C.K. or the overwhelmingly, compellingly self-destructive William H. Macy on “Shameless,” the Emmys shrugged and handed Jim Parsons from “The Big Bang Theory” another award. He looked almost embarrassed picking it up. That’s two in a row and four out of five for Parsons. That’s right, the last five Lead Actor in a Comedy awards go Jim Parsons, Jim Parsons, Jon Cryer (for “Two and a Half Men”), Jim Parsons and Jim Parsons. CBS must have incredibly compromising photos of the entire Emmys voting block. That’s a Bengals-like run of mediocrity and poor decision making at the expense of some actual deserving winners (Steve Carrell, most notably, was shut out of two of those awards).

Oh well. You could go on-and-on about the Emmys’ annual head-in-their-sand ostriching—ignoring Robin Wright’s icy brilliance on Netflix’s “House of Cards” to give Julianna Margulies another Emmy for CBS’s steadily competent “The Good Wife” is another head-shaker—but, at a certain point, it all just seems useless. It’s a damn shame. At a point where television has never been more relevant in popular culture, the institution ostensibly dedicated to honoring its greatness has never been more selections that were more irrelevant. To the Emmy voters, the modern television world is as scary to them as the modern VMAs were to me on Sunday night.

At least there weren’t any Australian rappers, though.

Oh, and I guess I should have some wrap-up thoughts about the program. These bullets will help me calm down some:

- The letter grade for the show? It’s a solid C+. This show was good enough to get into the mediocre state school with no scholarship, but just lazy enough to go to community college instead. Seth Myers was his usual average, Applebees-quality self, filling but absolutely unadventurous. Even a few Amy Poehler appearances couldn’t liven things up.

- Once Aaron Paul picked up an Emmy for Breaking Bad, most of the drama in the … well, the drama categories, was just about over. This was Breaking Bad’s victory lap and it cashed in, winning for Drama Series, Supporting Actor (Anna Gunn) and Actor (Bryan Cranston). Hard to be too angry at these awards. This is one of the greatest shows ever, and I guess it deserved one final night in the sun. Game of Thrones better win something next year, though.

- Nice to see “Fargo” pick up a deserving Emmy for Best Miniseries.

- Allison Janney is pretty much the Meryl Streep of the Emmys now—she could star in a Rolaids commercial and she might pick up a trophy. Too bad she had to win one for “Mom,” though.

- Cary Joji Fukunaga, the “True Detective” director / Emmy winner, has the most awesome hair this side of Brock Holt.

- I certainly agree with the thesis of this New Yorker column, which posits that the concept of Weird Al Yankovic is a lot funnier and more satisfying than the actual work he produces. His lyrics-to-show-themes bit kind of reinforced that. Andy Samberg in the Joffrey costume, though (and his subsequent appearance with Lena Headey) might have been the show’s highlight.

- Sarah Silverman is dating Michael Sheen? I really want to just hang out at a dinner with them two. Hell, I’ll pay.

- The one thing the show got right? The tribute to Robin Williams. Billy Crystal’s touching and hilarious remembrance was absolutely pitch-perfect, and the final stand-up bit they showed before fading to black was absolutely chill-inducing. As Crystal said, “Robin Williams, what a concept.”