If you stayed with the 2014 Emmy Awards Monday night, you probably thought it was a boring, lackluster production with few surprises. And maybe you were a little miffed that Modern Family won so many awards when there are bolder, funnier comedies on television right now.
But if you tuned in for that first hour, maybe you didn’t think the show was that bad. The two best moments of the broadcast took place during that span, setting a bar that the rest of the show didn’t — and probably couldn’t — live up to.
First up was Jimmy Kimmel, presenting the award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series. The ABC late-night host seemed to seize the opportunity to demonstrate that he should have been the host of this year’s Emmys, rather than NBC’s Seth Meyers.
In one minute of his riffing and roasting of Matthew McConaughey (“No offense, but how many of those speeches of yours are we supposed to sit through?”), Kimmel had far more edge and was much funnier than Meyers, showing that the wrong person was hosting the ceremony.
Though it was all under the pretense of kidding, Kimmel’s point was clear. “You don’t belong here,” he jokingly said to McConaughey. “And take Julia Roberts with you while you’re at it!” But the big movie stars are doing TV now, taking what was previously viewed as a step down for actors, because the material is so much more interesting and compelling. That isn’t likely to change soon.
Maybe Kimmel was better because he only had a minute or so to work with, rather than the entire three-hour telecast. Kimmel has hosted the Emmys before, back in 2012, and knows what the job entails. Ultimately, the host has to keep the show moving. And if the goal was ending the telecast by 11 p.m. ET, Meyers was a success. The show was finished right on time.
Yet the whole thing felt “safe.” I’m a fan of Meyers, but he’s not known for saying something he shouldn’t or making a joke that feels out of bounds. (Some liked Meyers’ taped bit with Billy Eichner. I confess I’ve never seen “Billy on the Street.” And I probably shouldn’t admit that, as the editor of a pop culture site.) Kimmel will go there — and he did.
Perhaps the real folly is in looking for entertainment from an award show. Everyone is there to give and receive a pat on the back. The whole enterprise is self-congratulatory.
However, it’s sure a hell of a lot more fun when there’s some sense of danger, when you’re not entirely sure what might happen or what might be said. Maybe Ricky Gervais took it too far when he hosted the Golden Globes, but people tuned in for his vicious skewers and were certainly talking about them the next day.
The other moment of presumed spontanaeity came from Breaking Bad‘s Bryan Cranston (who later won Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama) and a Seinfeld reunion of sorts with Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Their bit while presenting the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy was good for a chuckle, with Louis-Dreyfus saying Cranston looked like the actor on Seinfeld who played the dentist that Elaine dated, and converted to Judaism for the jokes. (Probably a bit too spot-on, but maybe some haven’t seen those shows or needed to be reminded.)
“Tim Whatley,” Cranston said. “That was me.”
Of course, he sold it by being miffed when Louis-Dreyfus just moved on without acknowledging her oversight. But the whole gag was an acknowledgement of Cranston’s career path. Who would have guessed while watching Seinfeld that the guy playing Tim Whatley would go on to star in one of the best dramas ever put on television, playing one of the most memorable characters ever seen on the small screen?
Cranston got the last laugh, however, when Louis-Dreyfus won the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. As she walked toward the stage, she was intercepted by Cranston, who made sure to get the kiss Tim Whatley never got from Elaine. Maybe the two of them planned it out beforehand, maybe not. Regardless, it was the kind of moment we hope to see when watching award shows.
If only there had been a few more of these during the 2014 Emmys. Thankfully, Kimmel and Cranston gave us something to make us feel like sitting through those three hours on a Monday night in late August was worthwhile.