The Emmys Are Become Death, Destroyer of In Memoriam Tributes
Alex Pappademas: I think if Cory Monteith were still alive, he'd have wanted his mom to find a way to for some reason get into an argument with the heirs of the late Jack Klugman via TMZ. But that's beside the point. I need to talk about this show's treatment not of individual deaths but of death itself. Knowing that there's an In Memoriam montage on deck has always been the thing that gets me through the slough-of-despondiest moments of even the most endless and joyless awards-show telecast. I don't even care who wins or loses. Give every award to Modern Family, even at the BET Awards. Dig up Jonas Salk and give his Presidential Medal of Freedom to Seth MacFarlane during the next Golden Globes — whatever, I don't care. Just bring out the dead. As long as I get to sit on the couch and watch my wife suddenly learn, thanks to this montage, of the often-not-recent deaths of at least five famous actors, and hear her say "[He/she] died?" with a pang of genuine sadness in her voice, I'll sit through travesties of justice and entertainment alike.
But this year's Emmy People Who Died montage reduced everyone to a black-and-white head shot, like a tribute assembled by a very bereaved dry cleaner. No clips? Not even in those very special spotlighted tributes to extra-iconic performers we're meant to feel extra-sad about, the Oneworld Elite Pass Dead People Club treatment that Jack Klugman was controversially denied, thus causing his spirit to roam the wastelands of Burbank in eternal torment forevermore? Emmy telecast people, you are aware that many of the people in these montages are actors who were known for their work in movies and television and the whole thing about movies and television is that people talk and move around, right? And the talking and moving is filmed? And you can show it on TV, which is a visual medium? And that the reason the awards-show death montage is compelling is that we're seeing these people appear before us like flickering candles one more time, alive and impassioned, as beautiful as they ever were, and we get to think about how now these images are all that's left of them? And that the whole experience is like seeing your own life as a moviegoer/TV-watcher flash before your eyes without having to actually die? It's a grieving process, with distinct microstages: We sit there, we watch a dead man turn to the camera and tip a cowboy hat, we watch a dead woman smoke a cigarette and answer the phone, sometimes they're people we've known our whole lives, sometimes they're people we've never seen before. We wonder who they'll show last. Inevitably we've missed someone's death and they die, for us, in that moment.
Of course it was genuinely moving to watch Edie Falco and Rob Reiner fight to keep it together while saying good-bye to James Gandolfini and Jean Stapleton — but if you have an awards show that is on the TV and you're saying good-bye to Gandolfini without showing us at least a Vine-length glimpse of Tony Soprano in his pool watching the ducks fly away, you are doing it wrong. And it's not even that hard. You put some interns on it, you put the clips together, you put a sad song under it. You don't even need to waste time picking a song — just use "I Will Remember You," Sarah McLachlan's most soaring and usefully nondenominational ballad. Use it every time. Sarah should just own this montage forever the way Guy Lombardo owns 12:01 on January 1, until she herself returns to whatever Canadian-pantheist spirit-force she's destined to return to. Imagine your own passing and remembrance, the words under your picture if you fix this issue next year: [Your Name]. Emmy Awards Telecast Producer. Managed To Not Blow The One Part Of The Emmy Telecast That Was Totally Unblowable.
A Modern Travesty
Zach Dionne: There aren't many new gripes to have about Modern Family winning all the Emmys, unless you bore witness to the lightning bolt from the Great Artistic Beyond that was Louie’s third season. Jesus ginger Christ, those 13 episodes were as television-affirming as television gets. This was the season David Lynch acted; the season with Melissa Leo, with Robin Williams, with an onscreen pseudo-hatchet-burial between C.K. and Marc Maron. The one with Parker freaking Posey, alias Tape Recorder! It was the season in which the most impressive living comedian wrote and directed and starred — as usual, and more gracefully than ever — but also the one in which he essentially made a 40-minute short film with the two-part "Daddy's Girlfriend" episode, then the 60-minute medium-size film with the Late Show trilogy. The season in which I wept with joy during the Beijing-filmed finale. (I was tired. Or was it THAT GOOD??)
Modern Family’s fourth season was the one in which it kept being Modern Family, only a little worse. For that, the horde in charge of the show took home Outstanding Comedy Series (for the fourth year in a row) and Outstanding Directing, Comedy Series (third year straight), right out of lonely Louis’s hands. I'm sure Girls was easily as strong a contender in both categories, regardless of what you think of Girls — 30 Rock and Veep are nice, too. Compared to ModFam’s sanitized, unimaginative shtick and scientifically joke-stuffed algorithm, I'd embrace any worldview-oriented, honest series. Give me a single-camera, smartphone-shot bleak comedy about a guy who sells burned nuts on a corner 363 days a year (Cashew on the Flip Side?) and I'll prefer it win these awards over Modern Family.
Is it fresh to act like something like the Emmys are an insult to art? It is not. Part of me even understands — many critics, Andy Greenwald included, have a hard time pegging Louie as a comedy. They’re right; it’s barely a comedy, hardly a drama. Modern Family, meanwhile, might be the most airtight network sitcom since Arrested Development (might! be!). But when TV has its own Woody Allen and he’s making the equivalent of two and a half daring new movies for each season of TV, that's just not going to be good enough.
"I gotta go."
Amos Barshad: Im'ma be honest: I was not aware Schmidt's ex-girlfriend was even on Nurse Jackie, let alone nominated for an Emmy for her performance. But I do now! Merritt, listen to me: Whatever second thoughts are pinging around your head this morning about your speech, just go ahead and crush them in your mind vise. In 11 words — "Thanks so much. Thank you so much. I gotta go. Bye" — you provided that rarest of gifts: a true human moment. Then, afterward, backstage, you explained it like this: "I wanted to thank everyone at Showtime, and most of all Edie Falco. And people at Showtime. I'm scared, honestly, because it was unexpected. I mean, I have therapy next week." OK, new rule: Let's put Merritt Wever in front of a microphone when she least expects it every chance we get.
Molly Lambert: After sitting through three mind-numbing hours of the usual stream of gowns, thank-yous, and shots of celebrities trying to look like they're thinking about something besides their next piece of nicotine gum, there is only one part of the ceremony I can actually remember: the Breaking Bad dubstep dance. As embarrassed as that Boardwalk Empire remix of "Get Lucky" made me feel (about as embarrassing as most of the music on Boardwalk Empire does), it seemed like every segment of the choreography award–related TV-themed dance number tried to one-up the last for awkward quotient. As soon as the bit started, I said out loud, "Please, let there be a Breaking Bad dance to dubstep." And the gods of television award ceremonies heard my prayers and delivered. Sure, they didn't hear my prayers about the cast of Mad Men winning anything, or my suggestion that somebody cut NPH's caffeine/natural theatrical energy supply, but at least they gave me the Breaking Bad pas de deuxbstep. The real drop came when Bryan Cranston's Walter White lost to Jeff Daniels's Will McAvoy, at which point I shot the TV while screaming "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to watch this anymore."
Will McAvoy Saves Television
Charles P. Pierce: I like Jeff Daniels. You like Jeff Daniels. All of us like Jeff Daniels. Very nice man. Does a lot to keep theater alive. Makes Will McAvoy watchable. But winning that category against Bryan Cranston, Jon Hamm, and, well, Bryan Cranston? You want to explain that to me, you're gonna need more than a couple of guys.
Who Won the Red Carpet?
Emily Yoshida: It's a comforting feeling, as the credits roll on the Emmys and the best and brightest of the small screen stumble out of the Nokia Theatre and into the bright lights of L.A. "What Is That Again?" Live, to know that we can put the question of what the best things on television are to rest for another year. There will be no more blog posts or tweets about our opinions on TV; the winners have been crowned and there's no Internet-based discussion to have at all. Such a relief. But every year, one question remains, one mystery supposedly concealed in a veil of subjectivity that Chris Ryan and I will endeavor to remove right here at the Emmys After-Party. That question: Who won the Red Carpet?
Clearly this question will need to be answered in a needlessly complicated and arbitrary points-based system that rewards bad but entertaining choices and punishes grace and manners (See: Fantasy League, Grantland Reality TV). Here is our scoring system for this beta version of the Grantland Red Carpet Throwdown.
Bottle-of-champagne-on-an-empty-stomach demeanor: +5
Mentions significant other: +2
DOESN'T mention significant other: +3
Doesn't introduce date, but they're standing right there: +4
Brings parent as date: +4
Lets parental date talk to Seacrest or Giuliana: +4
Brings one's child as date: -2
Talks about impolite bodily functions on the red carpet: +3
Directly/indirectly insults the interviewer: +5
Insults the interviewer's knowledge of one's work: +4
Insults another celebrity: +5
Starts talking to another celebrity instead of the interviewer mid-interview: +6
Mindlessly suggests people ruin platonic relationships to support one's own television show: +6
Wears a hat, gloves, or fascinator, or otherwise accessorizes past the norm: +4
Carries a cane: +5
Men's suit in a color/pattern other than black, blue, or gray: +3
Three-piece suit: +2
Dress slit higher than 2.5 hand spans above knee: +4
Debuts markedly different haircut/facial hair: +4
Unbuttoned men's shirt: +1 per button unbuttoned
Novelty manicure: +2
Novelty makeup (weird lipstick/eye makeup color, feather eyelashes, etc.): +2
Clearly unable to walk in one's shoes: -3
Wears the same dress as someone else: -5
Cleavage legitimately threatens to upstage Christina Hendricks: +5
Has to hold one's own train to walk anywhere: +3
Stunt outfit: +10 to +15, depending on how good it is
Wardrobe malfunction (unintentional transparency): +3
Wardrobe malfunction (should have worn a bra): +3
Wardrobe malfunction (unintentional exposure): +10 to +15 depending on severity
And now, our top contenders.
January Jones (4 points, Yoshida)
Insults Ryan Seacrest's knowledge of her work. (+4) — January Jones was playing a classic game of conversation-blocking "No, but," and had zero reservations about making Seacrest look dumb for not knowing about Mad Men’s shooting schedule and the cast's social lives. (Though I am casting serious side-eye at her claim that she just saw her fellow cast members "last week.") Other than that: a disappointingly tame year for Jones, who would usually score high points on the fashion side by wearing some kind of Versace seashell carapace and not brushing her hair.
Amy Poehler (6 points, Ryan)
Starts talking to Carrie Underwood mid-interview (+6).
Carrie Underwood (9 points, Ryan)
Insults other celebrity (Amy Poehler is not going to fall!) (+5), insults Seacrest's knowledge of Sound of Music ("Yes … but this is the musical) (+4)
Elisabeth Moss (12 points, Ryan)
Insults another celebrity (+4) (that celebrity being Miley Cyrus); brings mom as date (+4), lets mom talk to Giuliana (+4)
Lena Dunham (13 points, Yoshida)
Weird eye makeup (+2) with a toned-down Gaga Artpop thing going on, tells Seacrest "Last year I just felt like I was urinating" (due to the heat, of course!) (+3) starts talking to Claire Danes mid-interview (+6) for so long and so enthusiastically that Seacrest straight up leaves (bonus +2)
Aaron Paul (14 points, Yoshida)
Brings mom as date (+4), lets mom talk to Giuliana (+4), mentions his wife (+3) "We say to each other 'Is this embarrassing, what we do together when we're alone?' Because we're so ridiculously in love. It's on such a different level." When Giuliana asks what it is they do that is so ridiculously next-level: "We make f— " FINISH THAT THOUGHT, PINKMAN! "I can't even explain it to you. It's just an obsession I have." (Bonus points for making your significant other sound like a transcendent state of mind +3)
Taylor Schilling (14.5 points, Ryan)
The champ is here. Novelty makeup (maybe? It just looks like it was put on with a paint roller) (+2), insulting interviewer (+2.5) (actually insults Ben Affleck, but you can tell Giuliana takes it personally), insults Jennifer Garner (!!!) (+6); mild champers-with-no-dinner attitude (+4)
Zooey Deschanel (16 points, Ryan)
We have our winner. Empty-stomach-champagne demeanor (+5), insults Seacrest (with her eyes!) (+5), mindlessly suggests people ruin platonic relationships merely to support her own television show (+6).
Best PTA Meeting Ever
Zach Dionne: Having Louis C.K. sit behind Bryan Cranston turned this mostly sad and boring show into its own made-for-TV movie, one that should win all the awards. Those two guys sitting in the same frame felt like someone invented the peanut butter and jelly sandwich and just came over and gave it to me as a surprise and didn't even try to make a big deal of it or anything.
Michael Douglas Spits Hot Fire
Juliet Litman: When we look back on the latter epoch of Michael Douglas, we'll think of him as a mad man fighting for the truth. This freedom fighter began his mission in June 2013 when he suggested that he got throat cancer from performing cunnilingus. In retrospect, that interview should have primed us for his August 2013 announcement: He and his wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones, decided to take a break, though no legal documents are filed nor are any legal personnel retained (that we're aware of). Yet, after thanking Steven Soderbergh and Matt Damon during his Behind the Candelabra acceptance speech, MD thanked his "wife, Catherine, for her support." His wife, Catherine! Michael Douglas's true feelings about the state of marriage cannot be ignored. He can and he will use the public platform of the Emmys to remind you that he's not pushing for divorce, even though he has been accused of cheating and his wife is bipolar. In fact, Douglas has contended this whole time that the separation is just temporary. So really he was just testing us with that speech, trying to get our attention, all in the name of honesty.
He wasn't satisfied using his acceptance speech to merely confirm his respect for the sanctity of marriage. No: Michael Douglas also decided to take on the American system of incarceration. When he thanked his oldest son, Cameron, he said "hoping … they'll allow me to see him soon." If you're wondering what that was about, Cameron Douglas is currently serving a nine-year sentence (for possessing heroin and dealing coke and meth), and he has been in solitary confinement for one year with another to go. Michael Douglas does not think that's right. Now we know that he takes issue with how the industrial prison complex punishes its inmates. We all wanted to know where Michael Douglas stood on this issue, right?
Watch out, Paul Pierce. Michael Douglas is coming for the nickname The Truth.
Too Much of a Rhinestone-Covered Thing Is Wonderful
Tess Lynch: When Elton John appeared to commemorate Liberace with a performance of "Home Again," I was as struck as everyone else by his brilliant eveningwear. Because it was such a sad ceremony, I was letting my brain idle but left my eyes on during this portion of the show (though there was certainly something to think about). The jacket, when taken out of context, was a riddle: Initially, it wasn't clear what word was written on the back of the garment, prompting guesses in my living room of "Facebook," or "Aflac" (after some 3/4-spin teases, it was clearly "Fantastic" — maybe this was established earlier when I was getting a cookie, but it doesn't seem fair to rewind now due to the rules of Emmys vérité). I liked how the intense blue played off the lilac lenses and matchy royal-blue frames of Elton's glasses. This wardrobe ensemble was dancing solo in the rain. I also enjoyed the fact that he wore a diamond earring and a sparkly ring because the 5,000 rhinestones (DIAMONDS?) on his jacket were not enough for Liberace (or himself). The jewels were clustered around the shoulders and arms like Elton had been touched by the sparkles of My Super Sweet 16. It was an important jacket, awe-inspiring; an Amazing Technispangled Dreamcoat.