Proving that he could well succeed as a critic should his current gig not work out, Jeff Probst summed up it nicely.
Neil Patrick Harris ... this is how you host the Emmys, said the Survivor maven as he accepted his award for best reality host.
Jon Stewart later echoed the sentiment, noting that these shows, they usually suck.
Of course, as Probst well knows, the bar wasn't set too high after last year's reality show-star-hosted debacle. But Harris, in his third awards show gig in the past year, demonstrated yet again that he's the perfect man for the gig. The star of How I Met Your Mother did a standout job -- starting with the hilarious opening number, during which he showed his musical talent, and continuing with his mock outrage over losing to Jon Cryer. Harris was affable, charming and simultaneously self-deprecating and comically self-aggrandizing.
But it wasn't just him. Everything about the show seemed sharper, faster, punchier: the amusing introductions of the presenters, who mentioned their most embarrassing credits; John Hodgman's witty, deadpan commentary accompanying the winners on their way to the podium; even the acceptance speeches, which for the most part were amusing, moving and mercifully brief. The speech highlight probably was that of Ken Howard, who won for Grey Gardens.
This is very encouraging, the never-nominated veteran actor noted, before hoping that he wouldn't be interrupted by congressmen or rappers and thanking both his wife (celebrating her birthday) and the woman who donated him a kidney.
The evening was divided into segments according to genre (comedy, reality, movie/miniseries, variety, drama), which lent the normally random proceedings a welcome cohesiveness. Each section was prefaced by well-edited clip montages, though, thankfully unlike last year, there weren't so many as to give the show the air of a DVR on crack. Despite being forced to acknowledge on-air the contributions of such apparently minor aspects of the medium as writers, directors, movies, miniseries and cable networks, the producers still managed to keep the show at a well-paced clip; it ended a mere three minutes late. If they really had wanted to cut the running time, they should have banned all shout-outs to Lorne Michaels. Perhaps as a mea culpa, the nominated writers and directors were spotlighted via taped, generally amusing comments about the process.
Normally painful moments, such as the dreaded appearance of the accountants, were flat-out funny -- in this case thanks to a taped bit in which Harris reprised his Internet character Dr. Horrible.
The writing for the presenters was at best pedestrian. The ad-libbers were much better, among them Ricky Gervais. As he did last year, Gervais again brought down the house, this time with a bit about the comparative beauty of film and television stars. In this room, I'm above average, he noted, taking shots at several of the stars of The Office in the process.
Another comic winner was Bob Newhart, scoring big laughs before awarding the drama series award. Inexplicably, the cameras cut away from Tina Fey fulfilling Newhart's claim of a promised kiss should she win.
Only a few bits fell flat, such as a strained, quickly abandoned recurring gag involving a contest winner repeatedly spotlighted in the worst seats in the house.