The Best Emmys Ever?

Say what you will about NBC and the year they’ve had, but surely they deserve some credit tonight for bringing off what might have been the least excruciating televised awards show since the 2009 Oscars. From the delightful Glee-powered opening number, to Jimmy Fallon’s musical goodbyes to 24 and Lost, to Bucky Gunts’s triumphant victory for outstanding variety-show directing, tonight’s Emmy Awards were an entertaining, (mostly) fast-moving ceremony that lagged only, predictably, during the boring miniseries awards and Jewel’s cancer song.

The Highlights:

• Jon Hamm’s dancing (plus the awesome opening number in general, we suppose). Looking forward to his inevitable guest appearance on Glee.

• He’s no Hugh Jackman or Neil Patrick Harris, but Jimmy Fallon made a pretty great Emmys host. His interstitial banter — both sung (“Break the news to Spielberg, he’s running out of wars”) and spoken (“Sending an NBC late-show host to Los Angeles to host a different show — what could possibly go wrong?”) — was all solid, as was his Lost-saluting Billie Joe Armstrong impersonation. Even NBC’s silly Twitter intro thing was sort of funny (props to the Bruce Vilanch of Twitter, MrHollywoodMD).

• Who do we thank for the injection of actual suspense into this year’s awards-giving? Top Chef finally toppled The Amazing Race, seven-time winner for Best Reality Competition Show; Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul beat Locke and Ben from Lost; Modern Family took the best comedy series award from usual winner 30 Rock; and long-overdue Jim Parsons won the Emmy for outstanding lead comedy acting over Alec Baldwin (who’s won for the past two years, and didn’t even bother showing up tonight), giving the entire evening an anything-can-happen vibe. So even total inevitabilities (Bryan Cranston for best drama actor again, The Daily Show for best variety show again, and Mad Men for best drama series again) felt like a surprise.

• Lest anyone feared that NBC would forbid jokes at its own expense, tonight’s ceremony came though with plenty of Coco humor. Fallon poked fun early (see above) and the network even let Conan include video of a collapsing building and a test pattern during the montage announcing his nomination for best variety show.

• As always, the great Ricky Gervais: “I’m not gonna have a go at [Mel Gibson]. He’s been through a lot… [pause] Not as much as the Jews.” Also, he made “#buckygunts” a trending topic on Twitter.

• Betty White’s 900-plus appearances during the show’s first hour. Still not sick of her.

The Lowlights:

• Sure, Lost had an iffy final season, but its total shutout tonight still felt a little harsh. Poor Damon Lindelof’s dejected tweets were just heartbreaking.

• What was up with all the weird gay jokes during the first hour? Lauren Graham (So, [Matthew Perry, you’ll be playing] another gay guy [on Mr. Sunshine]?”) and Neil Patrick Harris (“For the second year in a row, the Emmys have been hosted by a gay man”) both made weird, unfunny gay jokes within a couple minutes of each other, then Modern Family’s gays, Cameron and Mitchell, awkwardly straighted it up in that skit after being told by a network exec that “nobody doesn’t like not gay.”

• Who thought it would be a good idea for the orchestra to play Matthew Weiner off before he was finished accepting the award for best writing for a drama series? Don’t be surprised when a John Deere eats that conductor’s foot.

• Also, whose idea was it to give the awards for best guest acting in a comedy series — won by Betty White and Neil Patrick freakin’ Harris — at a separate, untelevised ceremony? Surely they have already been fired.

• Typically we leave the fashion coverage to our sisters at the Cut, who actually know what they’re talking about… But, hot crap — what was January Jones wearing?

• Typically we leave the fashion coverage to our sisters at the Cut, who actually know what they’re talking about… But, hot crap — what was January Jones wearing?

• Also bad: Jewel’s “In Memoriam” tribute, Al Pacino’s acceptance speech, and all that other stuff we slept through before Mad Men won best drama.

Overall: pretty good! Which is certainly better than we can say for last year, and the year before that, and the year before that. Nice work, everybody! (Except for you, Jewel.)

The Best Emmys Ever?