You don't realize how much fun it is to lampoon an awful awards show until you sit through one they mostly get right.
Which is why Sunday's Emmy awards broadcast was so bittersweet.
On the one hand, Sunday's show sizzled with a game, energetic performance from host Jimmy Fallon, well-deserved awards for newbies Glee and Modern Family and an opening number featuring Betty White teaching Mad Men's Jon Hamm how to shake his naughty bits.
On the other, where's the fun in snarking off about an awards show smart enough to start with a Glee-style Bruce Springsteen number and cool enough to let comic Ricky Gervais have as much time as he wanted to make fun of Mel Gibson. Again.
"I'm saving all the really offensive stuff for the Golden Globes," Gervais cracked just before making fun of eventual Emmy winner, Olympics broadcast director Bucky Gunts. "I didn't even know you could say that on television."
Once again, AMC's Mad Men took the big award as best drama — the show's third win in this category — while ABC's Modern Family won for best comedy, setting up an interesting dynamic for the night. Cable TV mostly ruled the drama side, while resurgent newbies such as Glee and Modern Family kept network TV in the game with big comedy wins.
Early on, the Emmy wins seemed to come straight from critics' preview stories, with supporting actor awards handed to Glee's Jane Lynch and Modern Family's Eric Stonestreet. Big Bang Theory star Jim Parsons, who critics have agitated to see honored for years, took home a best actor award in comedy, while longtime dramatic actress Edie Falco was surprised with an Emmy as best comedy actress for Showtime's Nurse Jackie.
That wasn't the only surprise. The Closer's Kyra Sedgwick snatched the best dramatic actress award from favored star Julianna Margulies (The Good Wife) and Top Chef snapped the Amazing Race's eight-year run as best reality TV series.
George Clooney even took a moment to joke about all the press attention bad behavior can get when accepting the Emmy's humanitarian award named for Bob Hope. "I have offered to go to the South Sudan and have a wardrobe malfunction," Clooney quipped, pretending, for a moment, he was a mere mortal like the rest of us. "But it was pointed out to me that I'm 49 and the consensus was that it would be upsetting."
The biggest disappointment for critics: when former Tonight Show host Conan O'Brien lost the best variety show award to The Daily Show. Sure, Jon Stewart's program actually earned the honor by consistently nailing the absurdity behind America's biggest challenges, but didn't we all want to see O'Brien stroll onto his old network's airwaves for one last appearance after getting fired from NBC?
Fallon started the show strong, playing tribute to shows that left TV by quick-changing between impressions of Elton John, Boyz II Men and Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong. (I'm sensing an Emmy nom in 2011!) Playing guitar to introduce the various award genres, he duetted with Margulies and Stephen Colbert like an impish, ingratiating frat party host.
But some stuff didn't work so well. NBC.com's backstage camera mostly revealed how boring it is watching actors get their hair primped and thank the legions of people they couldn't fit into their on-stage speeches. And the show lagged a bit in the middle, as HBO's The Pacific, You Don't Know Jack and Temple Grandin ruled the made-for-TV categories (though it was way cool to see the real-life Grandin, a brilliant autistic woman who revolutionized the cattle industry, take the stage in her trademark western wear).
But when your biggest criticism is that the part where they gave awards to Pacific producer Tom Hanks and Jack star Al Pacino was a little slow, somebody's doing something very right.