PEOPLE's TV Critic: What the Emmys Got Right and Wrong

09/23/2013 at 03:00 PM EDT

PEOPLE's TV Critic: What the Emmys Got Right and Wrong
Jeff Daniels and Kerry Washington
Invision/AP (2)
Late into the 65th annual Emmys ceremony Sunday on CBS, host Neil Patrick Harris announced: "No one in America is winning their Emmy office pool."

If you did happen to win, you should consider a career in statistical forecasting. The awards were all over the place.

Of the night's many surprises, the biggest was in the category of best actor. Academy voters for once decided not to give the prize to Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston – but instead of rewarding Mad Men's Jon Hamm, the perennial also-ran, they chose Jeff Daniels of HBO's The Newsroom. Perhaps they concluded that Hamm is already lousy with nominations, and handsome as the devil, and that should hold him. Daniels is a fine actor, as you'll discover if you catch just about any of his many performances of the past three decades, but The Newsroom's first season was a pounding surf of angry, righteous yammering. Oh well.

Here's what else the Emmys got right and wrong:



Right: Merritt Wever, supporting actress in a comedy. Always delightful on Showtime's Nurse Jackie, she's the sort of performer who seems to breathe the same air as the rest of us. It's easy to overlook such a naturalistic actress. She also gave a great, naturalistic speech, which I have transcribed as: "Thanks so much. Um. Thank you so much. Um. I gotta go. Bye."

Wrong: Scandal's Kerry Washington deserved the trophy for best actress in a drama. She holds together that frantically plotted ABC melodrama through sheer glamour, will power and charisma. But it's easy to overlook such a star turn. Claire Danes, formidable in the disappointing second season of Homeland, won instead.

Right: Anna Gunn, supporting actress in a drama for AMC's Breaking Bad. Much deserved recognition of her anguished yet steely performance as Skyler White, television's answer to Lady Macbeth. She may have won pity points from voters with a recent New York Times op-ed piece lamenting fan hostility to the character. In which case Bryan Cranston should have given an interview to Maureen Dowd.

Wrong: Every single musical performance number. All of them were time-squanderers and conceptually off the mark. Why bring in Elton John to sing a tribute to Liberace? The late performer was the subject of Behind the Candelabra, but his name is not to be found among that HBO movie's many nominees. And while it might seem an act of enlightened common sense to have a flamboyant gay performer salute another flamboyant gay performer, it's also tritely reductive.

Right: Jane Lynch's memorial to Glee costar Cory Monteith. There had been complaints that Monteith, who died in July of an overdose of alcohol and heroin, had not built a sufficiently distinguished career to merit his own separate eulogy (as did The Sopranos star James Gandolfini and comedian Jonathan Winters). But a show like this needs to consider the pulse and depth of public feeling, too, and Monteith's death has cast a long shadow across the year.

Wrong: The band struck up to play off just about every speech that went on too long, regardless of the significance of the category or winner. Why clamp down on the night's moments of exuberance? I wouldn't have given Jeff Daniels that trophy, but his speech was charming, and he deserved to give it without distraction.

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