Sunday marked my first night at the Emmys. The theme of the night, for me as an awards telecast virgin, was a lifting of the veil. I saw things no man should see—unless that man wants his illusions shattered.
It’s no secret that beneath the glitter of Hollywood television lies a dark underworld of cutthroat upward mobility and freak-making plastic surgery. But this was my first time truly witnessing this up close, face-to-disfigured-face. It was surreal and disenchanting and I sort of… loved it?
By the grace of knowing people in places, I had access to everything in the Nokia Theatre. I spent the preliminary hours stargazing on the red carpet. I mean, I was there, and I could, so why not? These vaunting Stepford wives you see, soon-to-be-anointed (or not) with predictable plaudits and gold statuettes, are human. Very human. Too human. Their faces, gone beneath the plastic surgery and the pained smiles, slathered in cakey foundation, lose luster once you’re up close. You really get the sense of a twitchy desperation as they arrive on the red carpet to be assaulted by flash bulbs and fanfare.
The sweetest face of all was that of Lena Dunham, looking overwhelmed and alienated, surrounded by her supportive, if cosseting, family. What a shame that Dunham lost all three of her solo nominations in less an hour. Equally depressing was the instantaneous deflation of the Best Supporting Actress in a Drama category. Maggie Smith, who wasn’t even in attendance, won for playing Maggie Smith, leaving stellar performers like Christina Hendricks (Joan in “Mad Men”) and Anna Gunn (Skyler in “Breaking Bad”) empty-handed.
Some of the same complaints levied upon the annual Oscars telecast apply here. Emmys’ flagrant refusal to acknowledge edgy fare (HBO’s “Girls” and Brit miniseries like “Sherlock” and “Luther”) in favor of the most mediocre programming once again ruled.
Frazzled Aryan princess Julie Bowen snagged Best Supporting Actress yet again for her performance as the frazzled matriarch of “Modern Family.” Co-star Eric Stonestreet won for the second time in the supporting actor because he is a straight man who plays a gay man and that is shocking, isn’t it? “Modern Family” peddles mediocrity with no self-awareness or camp factor, coloring the “virtuous” image of the American family with just enough left-handed subversion, however disingenuous, to seem edgy. The gay couple (played by Eric Stonestreet and Jesse Tyler Ferguson), for instance, is just as baby-motivated and family-oriented as the show’s straight characters. NBC’s latest heartwarming attempt at gay representation, “The New Normal,” doesn’t exhibit anything left of center either.
Maybe I am just a child of my generation who prefers irony and detachment to sincerity and sentimentality, but there was little hope in my heart that “Girls,” in all its sharply realized narcissism, might dethrone “Modern Family”’s reign of terror. This is such a good era for television – there is no denying that – that I wasn’t alone in thinking the Emmys might decide to jump on the zeitgeist wagon instead of pandering in perpetuity. But I’ve had these kinds of hopes for the Oscars year after year, and it never happens, so why would the Emmys be any different?