Emmy Awards: “Mad Men” and “Modern Family” remain on top

By Kevin Romani

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The 2011 Primetime Emmy Awards followed several trends that recent presentations of the program have showcased – an awkward opening, Hollywood stars making the transition to the small screen and “Mad Men” taking home the award for Best Drama. Despite these repetitive aspects of the ceremony, there were a few surprises due in part to some noticeable absences from the 63rd Primetime Emmy Awards.

With the completion of “Lost” and the delay of the fourth season of “Breaking Bad,” several slots that were usually secured were now left wide open. High profile newcomers “Boardwalk Empire” and “Game of Thrones” claimed these two vacancies in several of the major categories, including Best Drama.

“Boardwalk” is of the ever-popular gangster genre, and featured high profile names in the production team with director Martin Scorcese and producer Mark Wahlberg. What makes the show stand out from most gangster stories in popular entertainment, however, is its setting during the rarely explored early days of the prohibition era.

Similarly, while “Game of Thrones” perhaps appeared to be just another medieval fantasy tale, in actuality it offers a less romantic version of the medieval days. Its focuses are on sex, backstabbing (literally) and corruption instead of the usual heroism and straightforward good-versus-evil plot that its genre has grown so accustomed to. Both programs posed a threat to “Mad Men,” winner of the Best Drama award the past three seasons.

“Mad Men” went into the night as the favorite as the fourth season was an improvement over the already great third season. The seventh episode, titled “The Suitcase,” is not only the best episode the program has offered to date, but is among the best hours of television history. Jon Hamm and Elizabeth Moss’ performances brought both of their characters to emotional depths audience members never expected to see. One of the surprises of the night was that this widely recognized episode lost in the Best Writing category to “Friday Night Lights,” which just wrapped up its final season. This loss, coupled with losses in all four major acting categories, made it appear that “Mad Men” was finally to be dethroned as Best Drama. But despite all of these early losses, the quality and consistency of the show led to it holding on and winning its unprecedented fourth victory in as many years.

Bryan Cranston (“Breaking Bad”) had claimed the Best Actor, Drama honor for the past three seasons. His outstanding efforts had prevented the likes of Hamm (“Mad Men”), Hugh Laurie (“House M.D.”) and Michael C. Hall (“Dexter”) from winning the award. But with “Breaking Bad” out of contention, it appeared one of these three constantly snubbed performers would finally sneak out a win. Instead, Kyle Chandler took home the prize for “Friday Night Lights,” which did well for itself in its final appearance at the Emmys. Chandler was equally as deserving as the other nominees, and is one of many talented actors who need to find another category to avoid Cranston and his otherworldly talent.

Another wide open category was the Best Supporting Actor, Drama category, where “Lost” cast members Terry O’Quinn and Michael Emerson and Aaron Paul of “Breaking Bad” had won three of the previous four seasons. Beating out many newcomers was Peter Dinklage of “Game of Thrones,” whose portrayal as the “imp” Tyrion Lannister was both humorous and heart-wrenching at the same time.

Longtime Emmy favorite Julianna Margulies took home the Best Actress, Drama award for the first time after five previous nominations (she had won previously for Supporting Actress). Margulies’ “The Good Wife” has become a leading nominated drama at the Emmys in the past two seasons, and looked to be a prominent force in the major acting categories. In a surprise victory, Margo Martindale of the quietly successful “Justified” took home Best Supporting Actress, Drama over favorite Kelly Macdonald of “Boardwalk Empire.”

The comedy section of the Emmy Awards should be renamed the “Modern Family” Awards. The fantastic comedy took home the main prize of Best Comedy for the second straight year. Ty Burrell beat out co-stars Ed O’Neill, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet to win Best Supporting Actor, Comedy, and on-screen wife Julie Bowen also had to best a co-star (Sofia Vergara) to land the Emmy for Best Supporting Actress, Comedy.

The actor and actress may have solidified their victories in the episode “Caught in the Act,” which was singularly honored with the award for Best Writing, Comedy. The episode began when the children of Phil (Burrell) and Claire (Bowen) walk in on them – as the episode’s title suggests – “in the act.” The couple frantically locked themselves in their room and tried to figure out what to tell their children. The discussions were painful to listen to and hilarious all at once, and through the humor the viewer can see the genuine angst that Phil and Claire are feeling as concerned parents. The episode was an instant comedic classic; it’s a situation that many, parents and children alike, have found themselves in (or fear to find themselves in), which therefore makes it easy to connect with what the characters were going through.

Overall, the Emmy Awards seem to be accurate in both its nomination selections and eventual winners. Rarely do they completely miss the boat on what should have represented each and every category. This year, “Mad Men” and “Modern Family” earned their repeat victories and deserved them without question.

The only programs that received major snubs were “The Walking Dead” and “Fringe.” Both programs have brought legitimacy to their respective genres (horror and science-fiction) in the television format, and both were limited to technical nominations only. Actors from both series (most notable “Fringe’s” John Noble) were deserving of recognition. Unfortunately, their typically unsophisticated genres may have hindered their chances, as most voters for award ceremonies like the Emmys tend to frown upon these genres. These were only a few blemishes, however, on a mostly successful night that rewarded the excellence that is current television programming.

Kevin Romani can be reached at [email protected]