Thoughts, notes, observations on the everyday nonsense of American Pop Culture from one of the most not-hip people on the face of the planet...

Monday, September 20, 2004

Emmys, for once, get it right

I’ve been watching the Emmy Awards since I was old enough to curse, albeit under my breath. Every year, the show somehow managed to find new ways to recognize television that was over-rated and run-of-the-mill, all the while ignoring shows and performers who, albeit under the radar, were actually taking risks with television.

This year looked to be shaping up the same way. The category of “Best Actor in a Comedy Series” sounded like a tribute bill. I’m all about honoring the dead (John Ritter), the departing (Matt LeBlanc) and the veterans (Kelsey Grammar), but not with a performance Emmy. I mean one was dead the whole season and the other two star n roles and series that have been over-lauded and occasionally over-rated. But Grammar won his gajillionth Emmy anyway (beating the caustic Larry David for “Curb Your Enthusiasm”).

(Of course, I thought to myself, “Here we go again, the Emmy awards circa 1995…” It was bad enough that Justin Bateman wasn’t nominated for “Arrested Development,” but did the award HAVE to given to satisfy the judges’ “Cheers” jones?)

Thankfully, that was not the tone of the rest of the program that dared to give major awards outside of network TV, to a movie that was deemed too risky for the major theaters and to recognize- get this - a show that isn’t the best-rated on television.

The nominations alone were shocking this year. Sure, stale stalwarts “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “Will & Grace” were nominated again for Best Comedy Series, but once again, Emmy took a look at HBO’s “Sex in the city” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” The real shock came with the nomination and surprising win by the brilliant, but under-viewed “Arrested Development.”

Despite the fact it was nearly canceled (and gloriously under-hyped) this Ron Howard-produced series is the funniest show on television, hands-down. And it was rewarded as such! One might assume it was nominated simply because of the pedigree of its cast and creators (besides Howard, AD also features Justin Bateman, Portia DeRossi and Jeffrey Tambor), but that a groundbreaking show with dismal ratings could win? That’s amazing. Ten years ago, shows like that were cancelled (see “My So-Called Life”).

Despite the ho-hum win for “Frasier” alum David Hyde Pierce for Best Supporting Actor (Comedy), the rest of the acting awards went to the tremendous talent shop of HBO—and one super freak risk taker. HBO cleaned up Supporting Actress, Supporting Actor and Actress with wins for Drea de Matteo, Brad Dourif, Cynthia Nixon and Sarah Jessica Parker (for “The Sopranos,” “Deadwood” and “Sex and the City”).

And then there’s James Spader. As most readers may know, Pop-rx hearts James Spader, and his turn on “The Practice” was worth Best Actor, if only because of the risk it meant for he and the long-running series. And his acceptance speech was weird enough to warrant an award all its own.

And, in a not-so-stunning but notable point, “The Sopranos” won the first Best Drama award ever for a non-network show. Take that “West Wing.”

The most pleasing part of the night was the sweep completed by the HBO miniseries “Angels in America,” which was easily the best film of the year last year. The movie, adapted from Tony Kushner’s epic play, was too hot a potato for the film studios to give it the room it needed. HBO, in some divine mission, took the risk. The film’s tale of homosexuality, faith and the onslaught of AIDs in Reagan’s 80s couldn’t be watered down or whitewashed enough for an R-rating in theaters, so it became a big-budget risk that paid off in spades.

It seemed practically unfair to put this film up against other TV movies. Instead of the usual turns by Stockard Channing and Tyne Daly, this film had a capitol “F” due to A-list talent like Meryl Streep, Emma Thompson, Al Pacino and Mary-Louise Parker. “Who on TV can beat Pacino for a freaking Emmy”” you may ask. Until you consider that he played the wildly homophobic and secretly bisexual lawyer Roy Cohn. Not exactly Lifetime movie fare.

AiA’s sweep of the acting, directing and Best Miniseries categories isn’t a surprise by production standards, but it was a big step for the Emmys. This was a full-length feature film not made-for-TV on a paid cable channel featuring topics much more controversial than the usual biopics and “she stole my baby” storylines.

The wins will not only stir up interest in a film that got little initially, but it also serves as a wake-up call/kiss off tot he movie industry that kid-gloved it. This film would have owned at the Oscars, but instead it owned at the Emmys. It’s not as glamorous, but it’s a start.

That’s the Emmy in the nutshell really. Though they’ve fallen to the wayside by daring to begin a category for reality TV (an absolute travesty), the TV academy is starting to come around to the best of what’s out there. In an age where people eating bugs is “must see” TV, the Emmy awards are still taking higher ground and rewarding the deserving. Good show.