Emmy Picks: What They Got Right and What They Didn't

09/24/2012 at 08:35 AM EDT

Emmys Winners: Jessica Lange, Homeland, Modern Family -- People Critic's Take
Damian Lewis and Julia Louis-Dreyfus
Kirkland/PictureGroup; Jason Merritt/Wireimage
For some reason I started Emmy night worrying that Hugh Bonneville of PBS Masterpiece's Downton Abbey would win best actor in a drama, or that there'd be a Downton sweep. He gives a perfectly lovely performance, but it's essentially like watching Piers Morgan mellowed by a life of having valets brush his evening jacket.

But Damian Lewis won for Homeland, allowing my head to clear and track what I thought the Emmys got right and got wrong.

Got right: Homeland, Showtime.
Mad Men and Breaking Bad both had tremendous seasons, but neither was as brilliantly focused right out of the gate as this new political thriller. It was fitting, too, that the acting awards went to both Lewis and Claire Danes: They're a sort of Janus head – two faces, terrorist and counter-terrorist, each collapsing under the pressure of a duty to protect (hers) and destroy (his).

Wrong: Jon Cryer, best actor, comedy, CBS's Two and a Half Men. He's won it before in the supporting category, and he's certainly a good farcical actor – like a rubber chicken that's all too eager to shake itself – but even he was flabbergasted. "Something has clearly gone terribly wrong," he said. Oh, Mr. Cryer, I'm afraid so.



But it makes sense, too: His win was essentially validation for stepping up and commandeering a massive hit show after Captain Charlie Sheen, deciding it was more fun to play pirate, blew up all the explosives in cargo and sailed off in a lifeboat.

Right: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, best actress, comedy, HBO's Veep. Her performance, as a vice president desperately afraid of losing political ground, has the apoplectic energy of a spin-cycle instructor who's been thrown from her bike.

Right and wrong: FX's American Horror Story. It isn't really a miniseries, let alone a TV movie or special. It's a series hoping everyone will be fooled if it wears a fright wig. But I can't stand on principle when Jessica Lange wins a supporting actress award for a performance that combines Blanche Dubois and Ruth Gordon from Rosemary's Baby.

Right: Tom Bergeron, reality host, ABC's Dancing With the Stars. The most smoothly urbane presence in a genre that doesn't place much value on manners. (He thanked "my family, most of whom know who they are.") If he could play Henry Higgins to Honey Boo Boo's Eliza, the sun would rise on a more harmonious nation.

Wrong: Eric Stonestreet, supporting actor, ABC's Modern Family. This really should have gone to New Girl's Max Greenfield, who plays a guilelessly charming, excessively metrosexual, basically inadequate human named Schmidt. Greenfield was key in building the FOX show from a Zooey Deschanel vehicle into a true ensemble comedy.

He might have won if the category were "supporting actor and then some."

I would also complain about Family beating HBO's Girls, a new series that was as flawless and groundbreaking in its first season as Family was back in 2009, But by the end of the night it was clear Family wasn't weakening. So I consoled myself by eating cake.

Isn't that what Lena Dunham would have wanted?

Host Jimmy Kimmel's performance, despite a dopey opening skit that included Dunham topless in a bathroom stall (and, yes, eating cake), had just the right amount of sarcastic bite: he was predictable but teasingly veered toward the unpredictable.

When he lost the award for best variety show to Jon Stewart's Daily Show, he blamed his parents and ordered security to remove them from the auditorium.

Kimmel has positioned himself well for his forthcoming fight against Jay Leno and David Letterman. It has become clear that, in the evolution of late night, Johnny Carson has many heirs, including Kimmel. Letterman is a prophet in a hair shirt, out in the desert waving his arms.

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