Another year, another bunch of television shows honored—some for the first time, some for the umpteenth time.
What makes each Emmys telecast unique, however, are the little things, the special moments that have us applauding from our couches and the "wha-huh?!" moments that have us slapping our foreheads so collectively you can hear the thwack from Hollywood to Hoboken.
We combed through the best and the blah from the 63rd Primetime Emmys (which didn't live up to last year's energetic ride despite Jane Lynch's valiant hosting effort), here's what stood out in an eye-popping kind of way.
1. Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Finally Can't Lose: Could it be that Hugh Laurie and Jon Hamm are starting to look visibly pissed? Give us a second…we're just so darn pleased…Friday Night Lights star Kyle Chandler upset Hamm, Laurie and this year's Golden Globe winner, Steve Buscemi, to win the Emmy for Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series, the honor he's deserved from the second he slipped on shorts and looked sternly yet protectively at the Dillon Panthers. (Or, and this is where the win comes in, the East Dillon Lions.) The only shame is that FNL never won State (that's Outstanding Drama Series, in Texas-football speak), but we have a feeling that Chandler has no problem taking one for the team.
2. Has the World Gone Mad?!: Just call him President Don Draper: With its latest Outstanding Drama win, Mad Men ties The West Wing, which dominated the category from 2000 to 2003. We get it, Mad Men is an extremely well-done show. We're big fans. But, has it really been the best hour of drama on TV for four straight years? Better than Dexter at its funny creepiest, The Good Wife on a good night, or Walking Dead and Boardwalk Empire for the duration of their premiere seasons? Yeah, weren't the Golden Globe- and SAG-winning bootleggers from Atlantic City supposed to unseat those suit-wearing stiffs from Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce? We were sure that sipping scotch out in the open was passé and that Prohibition was in. Good gracious, we could use a drink and a Lucky Strike...
3. No Longer a Bridesmaid: Melissa McCarthy, the non-tiger-blood-drinking star of Chuck Lorre's newest hit, Mike & Molly, enjoyed her first Emmy win for Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series. Actually, despite not being able to prevent Charlie Sheen from taking the stage, Lorre had a pretty great night, what with The Big Bang Theory's Jim Parsons repeating for Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Series (and sending Steve Carell off into Movie Land with no Emmys) and Sheen tamely wishing his former Two and Half Men colleagues nothing but success this season. And there's always the satisfaction of knowing that Sheen had no choice but to toe the line if he ever expects to eat lunch in this town (at the big-boy table, anyway) again.
4. Knight of Badassdom: Woot-woot! Tyrion Lanister won an Emmy! Well, not the George R.R. Martin character himself, but the much-desreving Peter Dinklage, for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series. And considering Emmy has pretty much ignored True Blood (and nominated and then ignored The Walking Dead), it's nice to know there's a wee spot of glory reserved for excellent work done in the not-very-realistic realm. And this year, the supporting categories were kind to the conflicted. Margo Martindale was the surprise winner for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for her role as the quietly murderous matriarch of a family of drug dealers on Justified.
5. Mildred Pierced: HBO has found its kryptonite, and it's called PBS. The public station that you don't have to pay for trounced the pay-cable giant—and by trounced, we mean tied—with four wins tonight, including the win for Outstanding Miniseries or TV Movie for its veddy British period epic Downton Abbey. Kate Winslet and Guy Pearce put up a fight for the Ole Home Box Office, winning Outstanding Actress and Supporting Actor for the six-part adaption of James M. Cain's Mildred Pierce. But no best drama, miniseries or TV movie wins this year? Maybe, just maybe, HBO got the memo that it can't expect to win stuff just because it once was the home of The Sopranos and Band of Brothers. Heck, Reelz Channel won four Emmys this year—Showtime only scored two—for The Kennedys, the ugly stepchild of miniseries that the History Channel put up for adoption. Pay cable, consider yourself on notice.
(Originally published on Sept. 19, 2011 at 5:30 a.m. PT)