So let’s get the actual bit of news out of the way before we go back to the dirge: Don Draper died in a terrorist attack!
“Mad Men,” which won best drama series for the past four years, fell to Showtime’s paranoid CIA thrillfest “Homeland,” in which Claire Danes goes a little bonkers while trying to sort through chatter both in the field and in her head. Danes won best actress in a drama and her co-star, Damian Lewis, extended the winless streak of Draper himself, Jon Hamm. “Homeland,” which also snagged an award for writing and is Showtime’s first best-series award winner, cast a pallid Langleyesque light on a ceremony that has had in recent years the art-deco sheen of Madison Avenue.
Burnishing that capital vibe were two women who won for playing a real potential vice president and a fake actual vice president. Julianne Moore won best lead actress in a miniseries or TV movie for playing Sarah Palin in HBO’s “Game Change,” which also won best miniseries or TV movie. Julia Louis-Dreyfus won best lead actress in a comedy series for playing Vice President Selina Meyer, the bumbling sparkplug a heartbeat from the presidency in HBO’s tart half-hour Beltway parody “Veep.”
Louis-Dreyfus, collecting her third career Emmy, began reading co-nominee Amy Poehler’s acceptance speech. The two women, engaging in a subversive sketch they prepared themselves, provided one of the few amusing, well-timed moments in an otherwise painfully scripted night larded with Kimmel’s wan bits. Exhibit A: After “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” failed to win best variety series, Kimmel asked security to escort his actual parents from the auditorium in order to punish them for lying that he could achieve any dream he wanted. Get it? No? That’s because it’s not really a joke. It was a hollow, staged prank.
The other big winners were tiresomely predictable, and predictability makes for really, really, really bad television. The much-heralded Lena Dunham, the 26-year-old creator and star of HBO’s buzzy “Girls,” lost all three of her solo nominations within the first 45 minutes of the show. ABC’s “Modern Family” won its third consecutive Emmy for comedy series, and its supporting actors, Julie Bowen and Eric Stonestreet, exercised their “Why am I winning this again?” faces. Five of the first six acting awards went to performers who had already won once for their roles. These winners all seemed chagrined or perplexed, and spent a precious portion of their speeches apologizing to their overlooked — and, in all instances, more deserving — co-nominees. Even Jon Cryer’s wife seemed baffled when Cryer won best leading actor in a comedy for “Two and a Half Men.”