Well that was strange. Tonight's Emmy Awards didn't exactly go as expected. Actors long-considered favorites in all kinds of categories were snubbed or overlooked, while a random assortment of other folks ascended to the stage.
Merritt Wever won for Best Supporting Actress - Comedy, besting Modern Family favorites Julie Bowen (a two-time winner for this show) and Sofia Vergara. Not to mention Jane Krakowski, who had one last chance to win a prize for her vain, insane, and altogether brilliant run as Jenna Maroney on 30 Rock. It was surprising not because Wever isn't a great actress — she is, and has been consistently terrific on Nurse Jackie — it's just that her show flies so low under the radar that it seemed impossible that she would ever win. Did the Modern Family gals split the vote? Did Emmy voters finally start watching screeners? Whatever the reason, this award was the kick-off to what turned out to be pretty strange night.
Jeff Daniels took the prize for The Newsroom. Not for that troubled show's much-improved second season, but for its execrable first season. So the award didn't go to frequent winner Bryan Cranston, nor perennially shut-out Jon Hamm. It went to the blustery guy from the glossy show that no one liked all that much. Well, the Emmy voters liked it, at least.
Daniels's win signified a larger, surprising, possibly dismaying trend: Netflix lost big. Kevin Spacey didn't win for House of Cards. Actually, House of Cards didn't win much of anything. Many prognosticators out there, us included, thought that this would be Netflix's big foray into the grand show, picking up award after award for its sleek, expensive original series. David Fincher won for his sleek, expensive directing (busy with Gone Girl, the award was accepted on his behalf) but otherwise it was a lot of hoopla with no reward. That doesn't mean that Netflix is out of the game, but they'll have to wait at least another year before they're bestowed the Emmy-certified credibility they so clearly were seeking. Maybe Orange Is the New Black will succeed where House of Cards failed.
Elsewhere we got Bobby Cannavale winning for his much-maligned villain turn on Boardwalk Empire (seriously! Everyone hated Gyp Rosetti! And not for the right reasons!) instead of Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul or Game of Thrones's Peter Dinklage. It was as surprising and out-of-nowhere as Laura Linney's Best Actress Miniseries/TV Movie win (also accepted on her behalf) for the final season of The Big C. Between Jessica Lange in American Horror Story and Elisabeth Moss in the terrific, under-awarded Top of the Lake, that was a category ripe for a good, satisfying win. But instead it felt arbitrary and random, like much of tonight's show. The Emmys are often criticized for being too boring and predictable, giving awards to Kelsey Grammer and James Spader and the like year after year after year, but tonight's unpredictability was in many ways more grating than a ho-hum parade of expected winners. Surprises are fine, but slights are another thing.
So we'll mourn our Game of Thrones losses and fret about the future of Netflix, but of course we're already looking toward next year. When another season of House of Cards has grimly unfolded, when OITNB is eligible, and when maybe Emmy voters return to convention and award the people we think are going to get it. For all of their obviousness, the Emmys of old at least proved us right. And when you're sitting on your couch waiting for Neil Patrick Harris to finish his soft-shoe routine, isn't that promise of rightness really all you want?