Viewers could be forgiven for feeling a bit of whiplash Sunday night while watching the 63rd Primetime Emmy Awards.
That's because, even as the Emmy academy was making some of its most satisfying award choices in recent years — handing honors to ABC's Modern Family, Friday Night Lights Kyle Chandler, newcomer Mike & Molly star Melissa McCarthy and longtime actress Margo Martindale — it also aired one of the most embarrassing Emmy performances in recent memory.
Some of the wins were mightily expected. Mad Men took home its fourth Emmy as best drama series, while Modern Family won a second time as TV's best comedy and The Daily Show won its ninth Emmy as best variety show.
"A gay couple came up to us and said 'You're not just making people laugh, you're making them more tolerant,' " said executive producer Steven Levitan of Modern Family, which features three related couples, including two gay men.
"They're right … we are showing the world there is absolutely nothing wrong with a loving, committed relationship between an old man and hot young woman," Levitan cracked. "And looking around this room tonight, I see many of you agree."
If only the scripted comedy stuff had been that brilliant.
Don't blame host and Glee star Jane Lynch, who tried mightily to elevate a string of lackluster gimmicks, including stars such as Chuck's Zachary Levi and Community's Joel McHale singing harmonized, snarky introductions to awards in a woeful bit called the Emmytones.
Lynch even uncorked one of the night's best lines, introducing a certain team of presenters: "A lot of people are very curious why I'm a lesbian. … Ladies and gentlemen, the cast of Entourage."
But Emmy controversy sparked before the show barely started, as news broke that a pretaped skit featuring Alec Baldwin cracking a joke about the phone hacking scandal facing mogul Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. was cut from the show. No coincidence that the Emmycast aired on the News Corp.-owned Fox network.
"If I were enmeshed in a scandal where I hacked phones of families of innocent crime victims purely 4 profit, I'd want that 2 go away 2," Baldwin posted on Twitter just before the broadcast started. His part was replaced by Star Trek actor Leonard Nimoy.
No matter. The awards handed out Sunday more than made up for the awfulness surrounding them, with the night unfolding as one of those rare showbiz spectacles where the right people won — most of the time.
McCarthy and Martindale topped that list — winning for best comedy actress and best supporting actress in drama, respectively — women of a certain body type who have found their greatest career success by nailing some unforgettable performances.
"Sometimes things just take time," said Martindale, 60, who won for her powerhouse role as backwoods crime boss Mags Bennett on FX's Justified. "But with time comes great appreciation."
Among a string of awkward moments Sunday, the appearance by former Two and Half Men star Charlie Sheen may have been the worst.
Midway through a media apology tour of sorts, which has found him trying to explain the blast of mania which got him bounced from TV's highest-paying job earlier this year, Sheen could only offer humorless platitudes with an enthusiasm mostly seen in hostage videos.
(My gossipy question: Did he bump into former co-star Jon Cryer and his new co-star Ashton Kutcher, who also presented? Hmmm.)
Even Big Bang Theory star Jim Parsons, handed the best comedy actor Emmy by Sheen, couldn't resist the moment. "This is so odd for so many reasons," he said, laughing loudly. "I was assured by many people in my life that this would not happen."
Smart awards kept rescuing the broadcast, as Modern Family's Julie Bowen and Ty Burrell, who play husband and wife Phil and Claire Dunphy, walked away with supporting actor/actress awards in comedy. "I don't know what I'm going to talk about in therapy next week," Bowen cracked.
PBS' Downton Abbey won three awards, nearly ruling the movies and miniseries category in a string broken by actors Kate Winslet and Guy Pearce from HBO's Mildred Pierce.
"I got to have sex with Kate Winslet many, many times," said Pearce, who won as best supporting actor in a movie or miniseries, holding up his trophy. "And this was the result."
But even host Lynch lost out Sunday to Bowen as Fox's Glee went winless in major categories. "If I didn't have to host the show, I'd be home by now by now eating a cup of turkey meatballs in the dark," she cracked.
Given how awfully most of the performances turned out Sunday, that might not have been a bad plan from the start.
The winners See a complete list at links.tampabay.com.
Comedy series: Modern Family, ABC.
Lead actor in a comedy series: Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory, CBS.
Lead actress in a comedy series: Melissa McCarthy, Mike & Molly, CBS
Supporting actress in a comedy series: Julie Bowen, Modern Family, ABC.
Supporting actor in a comedy series: Ty Burrell, Modern Family, ABC.
Variety, music or comedy series: The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, Comedy Central.
Drama series: Mad Men, AMC
Lead actress in a drama series: Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife, CBS.
Lead actor in a drama series: Kyle Chandler, Friday Night Lights, NBC.
Supporting actress in a drama series: Margo Martindale, Justified, FX
Supporting actor in a drama series: Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones, HBO
Reality-Competition Program: The Amazing Race, CBS.
Miniseries or Movie: Downton Abbey (Masterpiece), PBS.
Lead actress in a miniseries or movie: Kate Winslet, Mildred Pierce, HBO.
Lead actor in a miniseries or movie: Barry Pepper, The Kennedys, ReelzChannel
Supporting actress in a miniseries or movie: Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey (Masterpiece), PBS.
Supporting actor in a miniseries or movie: Guy Pearce, Mildred Pierce, HBO.