Bryan Cranston and Vince Gilligan of 'Breaking Bad' at the 2013 TCA Awards.
Bryan Cranston and Vince Gilligan of 'Breaking Bad' at the 2013 TCA Awards.

Held in a modest room at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles, the TCA Awards are a daffy, breezy, untelevised alternative to the overexposed Emmy season. Absent here are the PR micromanagers, the ersatz smiling-for-the-camera and the soul-sucking red carpets. Amy Poehler wore a leather jacket and Louis C.K. showed up in a polo, for god's sakes. It's a totally laid-back affair and typically only the winners show up (they're informed ahead of time) if at all. This year's festivities took place Saturday night, August 4, with one notable difference: the bar was shut down promptly as the awards began -- 8 pm -- and didn't open again until 9, after prizes were quickly doled out. Alas, no drunken meltdowns. (The list of winners is below the jump.)

After plucking bite-sized samples from an excessive buffet of food that had probably been sitting under a lamp for two hours, I stole to the bar for last call and took my seat. Hosting the event was the talented comedic duo of Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Keye. In their nutty and hilarious opener, the Comedy Central pair took on TV paradigm threatener Netflix.

Approaching its final eight episodes, AMC's "Breaking Bad" picked up the program of the year award. The series has won best drama twice before, and a 2009 drama achievement award for star Bryan Cranston. There was love for the series in the room. Critics, after all, galvanized this "little show that should never have been made" (series creator Vince Gilligan's onstage words) from the very beginning. Before the ceremony, I spoke with RJ Mitte, the dashing young actor who plays Walt Jr (or Flynn if you like) on "Breaking Bad." Right now, he's in the middle of shooting a film in Paris, but took time off production to show his gratitude along with the rest of the cast for the critics who lauded this show from season one. 

Louis CK

I've seen the first episode of season 5, part 2 -- which airs August 11 on AMC --  and it's a doozy. The anxiety-addled, sweat-inducing 45-minute premiere entitled "Blood Money" moves quicker than whole seasons of this show. With eight episodes left, "Bad" has much business to take care of and ends to tie, and the writers aren't wasting any time hurtling violently to the finish line. Fans, take note: based on this first episode, the show is indeed as good as ever.

TCA often honors the canonical series of the moment, such as "Breaking Bad, "Mad Men" -- absent this year -- and "Game of Thrones," recipient of this year's best drama award. But the critics also make way for newcomers. FX's Cold War-set paranoid thriller "The Americans," for one, snagged outstanding new program. And given this year's critical groundswell around Tatiana Maslany, it was no surprise that the Canadian star of BBC America's "Orphan Black" won for individual achievement in drama. She's a tough-as-nails young actress who plays at least 10 clones of herself by the end of the first season. Unfortunately, Maslany was a no-show.

When Louis C.K., casually unflappable per usual, ascended the stage, he thanked TCA for giving him this "shitty piece of plastic" -- a joke that later winners would echo throughout the night -- before receding back into the audience like another regular joe. This is his second consecutive win at TCA for individual achievement in comedy. In a perfect world, Louis C.K. will sweep the Emmys in September for his inventive, strange and wondrous FX comedy "Louie." But awards are not his bag and he's not faking it to get one.