Jimmy Kimmel has long proven his worth as ABC’s late-night host, and come January, he will be rewarded with a move to 11:35PM, which puts him in the exact same conversation as timeslot occupants David Letterman and Jay Leno.
Unfortunately, he did not succeed in his outing as host at the 2012 Primetime Emmy Awards.
He was not “James Franco” terrible, and he largely received a warm reaction from the live crowd. But little of his humor translated well to the at-home audience. His jokes were far too obvious and restricted, and that unwillingness to “go for it” with imaginative skits and song-and-dance numbers assured none of his segments would be fondly remembered.
Part of the blame for the bland humor falls on the writing team, which seemed barren of ideas this year, but Kimmel’s unassuming performing nature prevented what little material he was given from transcending.
If there was buzz for a Kimmel segment, it was for the “In Memoriam” parody, which featured adult contemporary star Josh Groban delivering a somber rendition of One Direction hit “What Makes You Beautiful.”
A Josh Groban cover of such a song is sure to entertain, but it is also hard to ignore the offensive nature of the sketch. A parody of the “In Memoriam” segments, which, though sappy, are generally beloved as recognition of those celebrities who have passed, the sketch celebrated the life of the still-living Jimmy Kimmel.
It remains unclear why the “In Memoriam” montages, of all elements of an awards show broadcast, were open for parody beyond a poorly-calculated opportunity to appear edgy.
And if any impact were had, it is in the fact that the actual “In Memoriam” segment, later in the broadcast, felt robbed of its beauty.
— Of course, Kimmel was hardly the only performer whose comedy felt limp Sunday night. Save for some banter with Louis CK and an all-too-true zinger about the lack of interest in Variety Series direction, Ricky Gervais felt completely dulled of his usual edge.
ABC aggressively promoted Steven Colbert’s appearance, only for the “Colbert Report” host to deliver almost nothing once on stage. Tracy Morgan, meanwhile, delivered his patented-brand of channel-changing hackiness with some unfunny sequences built around his propensity for being nuts.
On the heels of a well-reviewed “Saturday Night Live” appearance, Seth MacFarlane bored with an attempt to elicit humor from “mistakenly” walking to the wrong microphone.
— Some bits did work. Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Amy Poehler “switched” acceptance speeches so that if either won (Louis-Dreyfus did), the winner would read the wrong speech. Jim Parsons shined in a “Big Bang Theory” cutaway built around his interest in watching the Emmys to get to see the accountants who certify the results. The Emmys imagined what “Breaking Bad” would be like if it aired before cable existed. And the “Modern Family” cast had a fun bit about the new Lily’s “diva” tendencies.
But the “Modern Family” sketch paled in comparison to previous Emmy gags involving the cast, and it is not as if any of the other comedy attempts was worthy of “water cooler” raving.
All in all, the broadcast felt unimportant and only lightly funny, a travesty given how much the television medium has raised its game as a premiere entertainment source in recent years.
— In terms of the awards, two big stories emerged: Showtime’s newcomer “Homeland” drastically cut into AMC’s presence in the drama category, while “Modern Family” continued to reign over the comedy world.
While few can argue that Claire Danes, who was a sensational television presence nearly 20 years ago on “My So-Called Life,” deserved the award for her tremendous work on the Showtime drama, it is less clear that Damian Lewis and the show itself were worthy of their wins.
Damian Lewis was enthralling throughout the first “Homeland” series, but does anyone really believe his work was better than that of the brilliant Bryan Cranston on “Breaking Bad?” And it would not be a huge stretch to claim “Mad Men” star Jon Hamm also warranted serious consideration for this year’s Outstanding Lead Actor Emmy.
As for Outstanding Drama, while it was nice to see something other than “Mad Men” win, was anything actually better than “Mad Men.” Five seasons old, “Men” barely lost a step this year–though it did not deliver an episode as brilliant as season four’s “The Suitcase”–and was a reliable weekly destination for brilliant drama.
“Breaking Bad,” meanwhile, continued its evolution into one of the all-time great television shows, and it would be difficult to argue that even the best “Homeland” episode was as good as anything from “Hermanos” onward in season four of the AMC meth drama.
Insofar as the Emmys have a track record for monotony, many media outlets and fans will applaud voters for taking a risk on something new this year. But variety and quality are not the same thing, and for television purists, the idea that “Homeland” was the dominant show of 2011-12 will likely be tough to swallow.
— Monotony did not, however, escape the comedy category, which honored “Modern Family” for the third consecutive year. In addition to winning an Emmy for Steven Levitan’s directing, “Family” also swept the Supporting Acting categories, with Eric Stonestreet and Julie Bowen both winning their second Emmy trophies.
Comedy critics are certainly right to question the absence of “Louie” and “Parks & Recreation” in the nominee pool for Outstanding Comedy. They would be wrong not to question how “Two and a Half Men”‘s Jon Cryer beat out the vastly-superior Jim Parsons, Larry David, Alec Baldwin, Don Cheadle and Louis CK for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series.
But given how the nominations broke down, a “Modern Family” win is far from a travesty. Inventive it is not, but it is one of the most consistent, reliable, well-executed shows on television, and when it comes to appealing to as many voters as possible, few are going to be as effective as “Modern Family.”
Like single-camera series without laugh tracks? It has you. Like witty lines? It has you. Like broadly-drawn, but well-portrayed characters? It has you. Like slapstick? It has you.
It really offers every potential comedy hook at an elite level, and it thus consistently does what it needs to remain the most-honored comedy on television.