NEW YORK (AP) — Emmy lost her way Sunday night.
Rarely a model of focus or pacing, this year’s Emmycast seemed downright addled.
For instance, what was Elton John doing there?
Why did the program squander all that time on a pointless dance number to salute, um, choreography?
How could sitcom legend Jack Klugman be edged out for a separate memorial in favor of (with all respect) the creator of “Family Ties”?
How did Neil Patrick Harris, TV’s peerless master of ceremonies, come across as rather ordinary on this, his second turn as Emmys host?
Sure, Harris did fine in a production number at roughly the half-way point of the slightly more than three-hour CBS telecast. Titled, appropriately, “The Number in the Middle of the Show” (with explanatory lyrics that included “Opening numbers are so old hat!”), it briefly livened things up, but didn’t match Harris’ song-and-dance extravaganzas from Broadway as a delightfully habitual Tonys host.
The Emmycast began uncertainly with a pre-taped intro that found Harris attempting to binge-watch the entire past season of TV to prepare for the big night, surrounded by dozens of screens in a mash-up of prime-time programming. It didn’t work as a comic bit.
Then Harris’ so-so monologue was interrupted by a select group of hecklers — previous Emmy hosts Jimmy Kimmel, Jane Lynch, Jimmy Fallon, Conan O’Brien, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.
That probably seemed like a funny idea, rounding up such riotous folks. Instead, it seemed to never end, and mostly stirred memories of unsuccessful bygone hosting displays best left forgotten.
A shout-out to the evening’s most adorable moment: the acceptance speech by Merritt Wever for the comedy supporting actress trophy.
In words that should be entered in the Emmy Winner’s How-to Guide, she urged out, “Thanks so much. Thank you so much. Um, I gotta go. ‘Bye.”
She was fittingly saluted right afterward by Harris: “Best speech ever.”
A decision to highlight the year’s choreography nominees with a dance routine was preceded by clips that showed those nominees creating the number. The whole enterprise, including, of course, the subsequent announcement of the winner, was labored and overlong.
A much-anticipated feature of the evening was a set of tributes to deceased TV notables that itself was notable no more for those it remembered than for the TV legends it neglected (notably Jack Klugman and Larry Hagman, who were included fleetingly in the “In Memoriam” segment).
The five tributes were somber declarations that found Rob Reiner choking up as he recalled his “All in the Family” co-star Jean Stapleton, yet felt hollow when Robin Williams was attempting to describe Jonathan Winters’ indescribable style of comedy without a moment of footage illustrating Winters in action. (This IS television, after all: Show, don’t tell.)
A tribute to a pair of historic events conveyed by television a half-century ago (the assassination of President Kennedy and the Beatles’ bursting on the scene on “The Ed Sullivan Show”) served as little more than a setup for the much-hyped musical appearance by Carrie Underwood. She sang the Beatles’ “Yesterday,” tugging heartstrings but making no connection to TV.
Before that, Elton John, no less glorified than she, sang his song “Home Again” with an even more tenuous excuse for being there: He said the song “reminds” him of Liberace, the great pianist-entertainer portrayed in the HBO film “Behind the Candelabra” this past season by Michael Douglas, who introduced John along with co-star (and fellow nominee) Matt Damon. Connecting Elton John to this film was a reach.
In short, the Emmycast seemed desperate to sparkle, to rock and to make a splash. It wandered and wobbled instead.