Seth Meyers exceeds expectations as Emmys host; Gervais, Cranston among best presenters

I’ll admit, I didn’t have high expectations for Seth Meyers‘s performance as host of this year’s Emmys. From what I’ve seen of him on “Saturday Night Live” and “Late Night,” I anticipated a solid, dependable performance – far from the embarrassment of 2008 when the Reality Host nominees presided over the telecast, but also not at the level of the showstoppers delivered by Conan O’Brien and Jimmy Fallon in recent years.

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I don’t think Meyers quite reached those heights, but he did acquit himself admirably.

He opened with a strong, no-frills monologue – no lavish production numbers, just a series of well-written jokes with a savvy insider edge about this year’s Emmy anomalies, like the move to a Monday night in August and the dominance of Netflix and cable over the broadcast networks. His best quip of the night: “There were comedies that made you laugh and comedies that made you cry, because they’re dramas submitted as comedies.”

The rest of the show was similarly no-frills. Meyers kept it moving along, interrupting only occasionally for comedy bits, most of which worked. He and Billy Eichner quizzed random pedestrians in a special Emmy edition of “Billy on the Street,” where few seemed to care about Tatiana Maslany‘s notorious snub and one passerby mistook Seth Meyers for that other irreverent awards emcee, Seth MacFarlane.

Even better was Meyers’s Q&A with the audience, where Melissa McCarthy worried about whether she would be towed and Julianna Margulies asked if she could have an absent Maggie Smith‘s Emmy if she won, but Meyers turned down her request – Jon Hamm already called dibs. Erstwhile “SNL” star Meyers seemed most at home when collaborating with the stars on bits.

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But they weren’t all gems. I have nothing but affection for comedy songwriter “Weird” Al Yankovic, but his gifts of parody didn’t extend to writing lyrics for modern TV theme music. His jokes included the familiar observations that the characters on “Mad Men” get drunk and “Game of Thrones” has boobs.

It’s the latest in Emmy’s strange history of musical numbers. Remember Josh Groban‘s odd performance of TV theme songs in 2008? And the interpretive dances by the Best Choreography nominees last year? The TV academy may be better off avoiding song-and-dance in the future, unless they decide to showcase the actual Best Music and Lyrics nominees.

However, one musical moment was right on target: Sara Bareilles‘s beautiful rendition of “Smile” during the In Memoriam tribute, which was followed by Billy Crystal‘s eloquent tribute to Emmy-winner Robin Williams, who died tragically earlier this month.

Of the presenters, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Bryan Cranston were a highlight. He tried to remind her that he guest-starred with her in “Seinfeld,” and when she won Best Comedy Actress for the third year in a row, he planted a big kiss on her, jogging her memory and prompting her to remark, “He was on ‘Seinfeld.'”

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Ricky Gervais was also excellent, presenting Best Variety Special Writing and remarking on his loss of Best Comedy Actor to Jim Parsons. He decided to give his acceptance speech anyway, complimenting the TV academy for never being wrong.

The best acceptance speech was given, perhaps surprisingly, by a director: Gail Mancuso (“Modern Family“), who calmed herself by making eye contact with dreamy Matthew McConaughey.

McConaughey was the butt of several funny jokes during the evening, including Jimmy Kimmel complaining that he was too good-looking for TV – “and take Julia Roberts with you!” Kimmel demanded. Though by the time Roberts herself repeated the refrain of “Alright, alright, alright” while presenting Best Drama Actor, McConaughey might have been ready for the folks on-stage to retire the shtick.

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