It’s frivolous and pointless to try and impose a theme on a whole night of awards, but everybody does it, and the theme of this year’s Emmys seemed to be “New blood.” (As opposed to True Blood, which didn’t win much. Luckily for HBO, they proved once again that their real domination is in the field of miniseries and TV movies, where they brought home all the Emmys that they lost in the continuing series categories.) There were some old-guard shows and performers that won: Bryan Cranston kept up his basically well-deserved streak, while Edie Falco won best actress in a comedy because her show isn’t a comedy (as she herself pretty much admitted) and the voters can’t resist the chance to vote for Real Acting in that category. Plus the Best Actress in a drama category didn’t have any non-veterans except January Jones, and few people were upset that she didn’t win. And Mad Men won again because, as I said, it hits the Emmy voter sweet spot — but how strange is it that it’s dominated to this extent while never winning an acting award?
But many of the winners were newish. The biggest surprises of the night were in the drama supporting categories, where two relatively unfamiliar performers beat out a number of more familiar competitors. Aaron Paul, who won for Breaking Bad, is the archetypal young Hollywood journeyman who has been acting in TV in small parts since he was 19 years old, and became a fine actor without hardly anybody noticing until it became unavoidable. And Archie Panjabi, the biggest surprise by far (as well as the only hint of ethnic diversity in the acting awards), was not the youngest person in her category but is a relative newcomer to Hollywood. I sometimes wonder if this might be a case of two other young performers — Moss and Hendricks from Mad Men — splitting the vote for their show, allowing Panjabi to get a prize for a show that is much admired in the business, particularly among older voters. But since most of the other winners were for showy parts, it’s good to have one winner who had to make an impact with mostly non-showy material (and made much more out of her character than might have been expected).
Jim Parsons, obviously, is an example of the young guy making good (and, like Jane Lynch winning for Glee, allowed the Academy to recognize a phenomenon without giving it many other prizes). And Modern Family, whatever my reservations about it and its sledgehammer moralizing, is a new show that took lots of awards including the big one, and the narrative before the show was based on the question of whether it would win or if another freshman show would take it.
There was a feeling for much of night, but reaching its peak with those supporting prizes, that there was a reaction against the relative predictability and familiarity of the last couple of years’ winners. And in general, the show — at least those parts of the show not involving Jewel — felt looser and less button-down than usual; the banter between the presenters was mostly bad as usual, but Fallon once again demonstrated that he’s become a pretty decent host by more or less embracing the fact that he’s not all that funny. However, the first part of the show felt much more entertaining and fast-paced than the second, because the awards in the second half (loading all the HBO mini and movie awards into it, for example) caused the pace to sag.