By Caryn James | James on Screens September 19, 2011 at 3:32AM
By my count there were about five entertaining minutes out of three hours on last night’s Emmy show. I admit, I’m math challenged so I may be off by a minute or two, but I promise, no more than that.
Amy Poehler tried to save the show. The night before, she cooked up the one really fresh, surprising sketch and completely sold it on the air. When her name was announced as the first nominee for Best Actress in a comedy series, she rushed onto the stage before the other names were called – it took a split second to realize all the actresses were in on it, running to the stage as they were named, then holding hands in a parody of a Miss America moment as the winner was named. That’s why Melissa McCarthy, from Mike and Molly, accepted wearing a tiara and carrying a bouquet of roses. Clever, funny, slightly making fun of the whole awards thing – exactly what the rest of the show was not.
Here it is:
The show started with a lame taped opening in which host Jane Lynch sang her way through the sets of various shows. The one amusing moment: on the Mad Men set she told them that in the future women can marry each other (Peggy was intrigued) and we can watch TV on our phones (Roger held the receiver over his eyes). When she said we can even zap through commercials, Don Draper told her to leave. So now you know all the good moments.
What was missing from that opening suggests what was so deadly dull about the Emmys and most awards shows. At the start, Lynch walked into the office of the fictional President of Television, a role originally played by Alec Baldwin. But when Baldwin learned that Fox was going to cut a reference to the NewsCorp phone-hacking scandal (NewsCorp is Fox’ parent company, of course) he asked to be removed. He was replaced by Leonard Nimoy and no phone-hacking joke. (The casting also became nonsensical; Baldwin made sense, mirroring his 30 Rock character.) That's what they settled for: the timid little Emmys.
Like any awards show, the Emmys are always torn between the need to entertain and the self-important need to celebrate the industry - and what could be more navel-gazingly sincere than TV celebrating TV? But there was no need for it to be this moribund.
Even Charlie Sheen was earnest! As widely reported, he showed up as a so-called “surprise” presenter and gave a straightforward speech wishing his old Two and a Half Men colleagues the very best. He wasn’t presenting so much as kicking off the Charlie Sheen Please Let Me Back On Television Tour. He did seem to have a hard time keeping a straight face. (Twitter was flooded with comments that compared his appearance to a hostage video.)
Lynch looked pained as the night went on, saddled with wince-inducing lines. When the announcer promised “an epic musical performance” after the break, it sounded like a threat and sure enough it was. An all-star cast including Maya Rudolph and Ed Helms recreated Andy Samberg and Lonely Island’s greatest hits from Saturday Night Live (including “Threeway”). Even with Lonely Island there it came off like the elevator music version of something that was once cool, possibly generations ago.
At one point Ricky Gervais showed up in a taped routine that pretended Fox had cut out all his scathing lines. The idea was funnier than the sketch, but it was a reminder that the one really lively awards show was the Golden Globes he hosted, the one that got such flack for its so-called irreverence.
No need to recall all the horrors of last night's pallid attempt at a spectacular. Let’s just leave it at “Nice try, Poehler,” and be grateful that actual good TV (including her Parks and Recreation) will be arriving very soon.