Pop Culture

Emmy tries to be hip but still ends up boring

The opening act at the Emmys couldn’t have been a better metaphor for the award show’s 57th year. Earth, Wind, & Fire performed a rewritten version of “September”, with the modified lyrics making reference to the last year of television. Halfway through, old-timers Earth, Wind & Fire were joined on-stage by relative newcomers the Black Eyed Peas, who rapped a few verses of the song, mentioning such things as Martha Stewart’s time in prison.

We had the old and the new, and an unexpected twist on the familiar, and yet it was still kind of boring.

And that’s what happened during the Emmys, as the awards the followed were too often predictable, the ceremony flatlining even as it tried too hard to prove that it’s hip and with it. After all, not even Ellen DeGeneres’ self-effacing comedy and lighthearted humor can rescue the depressing reality of an awards show that gives Brad Garrett and Doris Roberts yet another statue to add to their collections.

The Emmys tried desperately to be cool and to prove their relevance, though, as Academy of Television Arts and Sciences worked to shake the cliché that it is a bit behind when it awards outstanding television programs and actors. The Academy would still give statues to “Frasier” if it could, and it seems especially fond of awarding shows that were once great but that have slipped away creatively and otherwise.

Throughout the three plus hours, clips of revered performers talking about their “first Emmy” made implicit arguments that the awards do recognize strong talent. But while some new actors (and shows) broke through, too many people made trips up to the stage to yet again receive an award despite better, more deserving competition in their category.

‘Lost’ victory a happy surprise

Perhaps the biggest surprise was that ABC’s complex and frustrating hit “Lost” upset “The West Wing,” which was dethroned from its best drama perch last year by “The Sopranos” and deserved to stay away. NBC’s political drama may have had a resurgence last year, but the series and its stars continued to take home statues long after the show lost its touch. If “Deadwood,” the most literate and profane series on television, couldn’t earn the respect of the voters, then at least “Lost,” the most deserving of the audience-friendly network dramas, was victorious.

“Lost”’s creator also won for directing the show’s pilot, and “Desperate Housewives” was recognized for best comedy directing in a comedy series. Both awards seemed to be given by voters just to make up for slights in other categories.

As it turned out, “Desperate Housewives” needed to take whatever it could get, as “Everybody Loves Raymond,” perhaps the sympathetic favorite because last year was its final year, beat ABC’s other breakthrough hit in the comedy category. At least “Raymond” only won only one other time, in 2003.

For most of the evening, though, repetition was in and innovation was out. For best supporting actor in a comedy, the Academy gave Garrett his third statue, ignoring his co-star Peter Boyle (who’s been nominated but ignored seven times) and “Entourage”’s Jeremy Piven (clearly the crowd favorite). His co-star Doris Roberts picked up her fourth Emmy. Tony Shaloub won his second Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Emmy for “Monk”; James Spader won the same award in the drama category for “Boston Legal,” his second win. William Shatner won for the second time in two years, although for the same character on a different show.

“The Daily Show” won yet again for both writing and for the show; because it’s still at its peak, that’s OK, even though it was up against new deserving blood such as “Da Ali G Show” and “Real Time with Bill Maher.” Another leader in its class, “The Amazing Race,” won its third consecutive Emmy for best reality TV competition series.

For the deserving and not-quite-worthy, it was déjà vu again and again and again.

Even most of the acceptance speeches were tired. If you’re Brad Garrett and you’ve just won an Emmy yet again, do you really decide to thank the same people you thank every time you win, instead of maybe at least pretending that you’re humbled to have been picked yet again? Apparently so.

Yet just when all seemed old and familiar, the Academy surprised us. Felicity Huffman won for best actress in a comedy. (Perhaps she’ll let the other nominated ‘Housewives’ hold the statue during on-set breaks.) David Shore picked up the drama writing statue for writing the smart dialogue of “House.”

As with the awards themselves, the acceptances had their moments.

An exuberant and emotional Patricia Arquette, taking the trophy for best actress in a drama, acknowledged both those helping with Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath and those still fighting in Iraq.

And S. Epatha Merkerson won outstanding actress in a miniseries, but really stole the show when she admitted that her acceptance speech was lost, tucked too far into the front of her dress. “Oh God, it’s down there,” she said.

The Trump-Mullally showThere were a few other stunning moments, such as Donald Trump and Megan Mullally’s rendition of the “Green Acres” theme. That was part of the “Emmy Idol” competition, which Trump and Mullally, performing in character as Karen Walker, easily won. They probably have to give most of the credit to Trump’s hysterical outfit — overalls, a white t-shirt, and a straw hat.

Host Ellen DeGeneres mostly stayed off stage, as if embarrassed about what was often occurring there. She appeared, for example, in the nosebleed seats with shunned “Desperate Housewife” Eva Longoria and backstage with the man responsible for making sure the program didn’t run over its allotted time (it did run long, but nothing compared to some years).

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Tim Goodman recently wrote that “[a]nger at the Emmys is pointless. The Emmys manage to defuse rage by having so many outlandish oversights that one cannot muster up the energy to scream bloody murder.”

But that is the point of the Emmys, endless frustration when a viewer’s favorites lose to other viewers’ favorites, and moments of bliss when your show wins. Watching this year’s ceremony was like rereading a familiar novel, but one that had a handful of pages torn out and replaced with new writing. Next year, the story will probably be mostly the same, but those unexpected pages will keep drawing us back in.

is a writer and teacher who publishes , a daily summary of reality TV news. He is a regular contributor to MSNBC.com.

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