Whether you watched last night’s Emmys on a dusty television set or on a shady internet stream prone to buffering and choppy playback (21st century chic, wave of the future, etc.), you probably noticed that TV’s landmark three hour salute to TV seemed perkier than years past. And while a number of harsh elements threatened to barrel us to boredom — like the dual monotone of Jennifer Love Hewitt and Patricia Arquette (“LOL! We both play mediums!” cried JLoHew as we eyed that Ambien hungrily) and Jeff Probst’s acceptance speech (seriously — over Padma Lakshmi?), the night was easily redeemed by over a dozen people. And one of them didn’t even need to actually be present for her act of valiance.
1. Neil Patrick Harris. The secret to his success was simple. NPH shelved his ego. Apart from his extracurriculars for the evening, NPH basically played sidekick-to-the-stars, finding ways to pack punchlines into terse introductions for presenters that alluded to their most obscure work, but otherwise keeping things going as breezily as possible.
2 and 3. Blake Lively and Leighton Meester. I was on the fence about these two. On one hand, that third season premiere of Gossip Girl left a sour taste. On the other, these two ambassadors into teenybopper TV–a genre that sometimes unfairly gets overlooked — were fresh air among some of the other smug veteran presenters. And despite the former’s lack of proper enunciation, they sparkled.
4. Shohreh Aghdashloo. The night’s most welcome upset came from the one-time Oscar nominee who was one of few excellent things in HBO’s mediocre mini-series about Saddam Hussein’s private life. And one of the night’s best moments came when she delivered her deliciously raspy acceptance speech.
5. Tina Fey. At this point, the Emmys owe their spike in relevance to Fey more than 30 Rock owes them anything for their heavy trophies. Between her many roles as part of 30 Rock‘s cast and crew and as our coping device for the Republican malarky that was Her Highness Sarah Palin, Fey is always a welcome distraction from the dreary Emmy decorum.
6. Kristin Chenowith. As much as Aghdashloo’s acceptance speech made my skin tingle, Chenowith’s was kind of like the spoken-word equivalent to last week’s Susan Boyle staging of “Wild Horses”–it brought tears to our eyes or at least, momentarily softened our stony hearts. Particularly the part about thanking “the Academy for recognizing a show that’s no longer on the air.” There was also the part about wanting to work on Mad Men, The Office, and 24 since she’s unemployed now. (Although she will be joining Glee soon!)
7-10. All the other Supporting Actress in a Comedy nominees except Vanessa Williams. As demonstrated above, how ingenious was the eyewear sight-gag? And how Debbie Downer was Vanessa Williams’ been there-done that attitude?
11. Sarah Silverman. Sure, she really had no spoken parts in last night’s telecast, but a pair of moments said it all. Of course there was the mustache, but there was also some confused shrugging when Jon Cryer turned out to win the Emmy for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy. Apparently you can win a comedy award without being funny! Huh!
12. Britney Spears. It’s curious. Britney as an overachiever. Her name didn’t even have to be mentioned, but in an Emmy telecast that was pretty shameless in attempts to accept his award, it was hard to tell whether he was channeling Alec Baldwin or 30 Rock alter-ego Jack Donaghy, or if Donaghy is basically Baldwin. But it made his speech and admission of a man-crush on Rob Lowe all the more entertaining.
14 and 15. Amy Poehler & Julia Louis-Dreyfus. It’s obvious that the entire evening belonged to the ladies. Especially when this pair hilariously remarked about the demise of broadcast television.