Neil Patrick Harris made good on his promise not to engage in an elaborate song-and-dance number to open “The 65th Primetime Emmy Awards” Sunday night on CBS.
Instead, he tried to absorb all of television in one sitting, and when he was finished with this exercise, he took the stage at L.A.’s Nokia Theatre, only to be accosted by four former Emmy hosts who all tried to offer him advice.
It was a wide-ranging, sprawling opening designed to reflect the mind-boggling variety of shows not only on TV, but also up for Emmys at this year’s awards show.
The bit began with a CBS security guard — played by CBS President Leslie Moonves — escorting Harris to a room where he was supposed to “binge-watch” all of television.
And so, Harris attempted this mass absorption of television while seated in the midst of dozens of monitors of all shapes, sizes and vintages on which clips from a very wide variety of TV shows were shown.
The brief clips were put together in such a way as to make it seem as if the characters on the screens were addressing Harris personally. And if this sounds complicated, or maybe even a tad incomprehensible when described here, that’s because it was complicated and a little incomprehensible when it aired — though it was a nice try.
In the end, Harris couldn’t really absorb all of TV this way, so he made his way to the Nokia stage — rising into view via a trap door. “Welcome to the 65th Primetime Emmy Awards,” he said. “Tonight we celebrate the best of television. For our younger audience, that’s the thing you watch on your phones!”
A few minutes into his introductory remarks, he was heckled from the audience by Jimmy Kimmel, last year’s host, who came on stage to offer him some hosting advice. “Can I just give you a smidge of advice?” Kimmel said. “Just look around and take it all in. Enjoy every second of this because there’s a good chance they won’t ask you back next year!”
Before long, the two were joined by former hosts Jane Lynch, Jimmy Fallon and even Conan O’Brien, who gave a speech about how the world had changed since he last hosted the show in 2002.
The bit came to a close when two more hecklers in the front row made their presences known — Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, who demanded that Harris take off his pants “and twerk it.”
“NPH!” Poehler said, “take those pants off — show America what you’re working with!”
Then it was on to the first award of the many that would be bestowed over the three-hour length of the show. Throughout, Harris was stationed on-stage at a podium where he introduced various presenters. Though he remained on-stage, he mostly receded into the background, until he performed a song-and-dance number at mid-show — a song called “The Song in the Middle of the Show.”
In between the awards were various pre-announced features — most of which played like filler, despite the seriousness and sobriety of the subject matter — including Don Cheadle’s appearance to recite some copy about the importance of the year 1963 — 50 years ago — in TV history. Unfortunately, this feature revolved around the assassination of President Kennedy, so it stuck out like a sore thumb on a telecast that was mostly light-hearted.
The same could be said for the “In Memoriam” tributes to four luminaries who died this year. Of these, the speech Rob Reiner made about Jean Stapleton, his co-star on “All in the Family,” and Edie Falco’s tribute to her “Sopranos” co-star James Gandolfini came across as genuinely heartfelt. And Jane Lynch’s tribute to “Glee” co-star Cory Monteith wisely portrayed his death from addiction as a cautionary tale.
And then, in the telecast’s final hour, came an oddball collection of choreographed dance numbers all meant to reflect various series, including “Mad Men,” “American Horror Story,” “Boardwalk Empire,” “Breaking Bad” and even “The Big Bang Theory.” We have a feeling that many of the reviews of this telecast will single out this sequence as the evening’s most incongruous segment, although the audience in the Nokia Theatre seemed to really love it.
The good news about the dance numbers: They introduced the presentation of the Emmy for Outstanding Choreography, which was being given on the prime-time telecast for the first time. The winner was Derek Hough of “Dancing With the Stars,” the show that started the whole dance craze on TV in the first place.
By the show’s final half-hour, all that remained was a handful of awards and the annual “In Memoriam” segment in which pictures of the legends we lost in the past year were shown, accompanied by a cello soloist — an incredible (and sad) list this year, including Jack Klugman, Larry Hagman, Andy Williams and scores of others.
When it was finally all over at 11, you had the feeling that most, if not all, of prime-time TV had been covered, or at least mentioned somehow — from “House of Cards” on Netflix to “Duck Dynasty” on A&E.
Sure, portions of the telecast were a mess. But that’s TV — would you have it any other way?