Sep. 22, 2013 at 9:38 PM ET
With Neil Patrick Harris hosting the 65th annual Emmy Awards Sunday night, expectations were running high: The awards-show hosting king would, as he has on so many other shows before, serve up a blowout song and dance number full of witty repartee.
Unfortunately, that didn't happen.
Instead, Harris first made his appearance in a taped piece during which he sat in a reclining chair amid dozens of TV screens and tried to binge-watch the entire last year of television shows at once. (No wonder the characters seemed to be talking to him after a few minutes.)
But then he walked out on stage and the big musical number began.
Actually, it didn't. That was just a hope. Instead, Harris talked for a few minutes about the advances television had made over the past year, and even quipped he could watch it now on his contact lenses. He was finally, awkwardly, interrupted by a string of former Emmy hosts — including Jimmy Kimmel, who offered a "smidge of advice," Jane Lynch, Jimmy Fallon and Conan O'Brien — and non-hosts (Kevin Spacey, channeling his smarmy politician from "House of Cards") alike.
Was it funny? Well, a bit: When Fallon encouraged Harris to do a little "tippy tap" dance (offering a frenetic sample of his own hoofing talents), Harris refused: "I am not going to do anything like that. That's far too gay."
That's funny because Harris is gay. At least, that was the intention.
Fortunately, laughs were finally at hand as Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, who made such a splash while hosting the Golden Globes earlier this year, put in their 10 cents. Chewing on popcorn and hiding behind 3D glasses, the pair called out to Harris from the front row, "Take your pants off! Twerk it!"
Again, Harris refused, saying it would be degrading.
"It might be degrading," said Poehler, "but we would be degrateful."
And then, the big song and dance number happened. Actually, it did ... eventually: Harris and the show made audiences wait until the show was about halfway over, but it turned out that was the point — to revitalize what is often, in an awards show, the soft middle.
"I've been getting a lot of tweets asking why I haven't done a big musical number," said Harris. "I'm more than a song and dance man."
Or ... is he?
Thus began "The Number in the Middle of the Show," which was almost exactly what anyone could have wished for from Harris, as he bounced around singing lyrics that were more meta-funny than specifically relevant to TV shows ("some give you the least, I give you my most, it's the number in the middle of the show," he sang).
He was even joined by "Castle's" Nathan Fillion (who also appeared with Harris in "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog") and Sarah Silverman, each of whom took a chance at the mic, and were then manhandled by "the Emmy Gold Dancers."
"Sorry, dudes. I just couldn't help myself," said Harris.
Luckily for Harris, the bizarre nature of the show — surprise wins and more than a fair share of sadness — did detract from what might be considered a big hosting miss. After all, the show ended on the highest of notes, at least for "Breaking Bad" fans. The series took home the Emmy for best drama, something star Bryan Cranston called "the answer to a wish and a prayer of mine."