Unlike her “Glee” alter ego, nasty high school cheerleading squad coach Sue Sylvester, Jane Lynch doesn’t need a bullhorn to command center stage.
The versatile comic actress demonstrated as much Sunday during her largely satisfying debut as host of the Emmys, helping a potentially interminable smarmy three-hour lovefest bounce along at a reasonable clip. The key to her success rested in that the show wasn’t about Lynch as much as it was a celebration of the medium: For one night, she proved herself TV’s biggest cheerleader.
Lynch set the tone in the cameo-stuffed opening number, ably singing, dancing and quipping her way through TV show sets – ranging from “The Big Bang Theory” to “Parks and Recreation” to “Mad Men,” where she told the oppressed 1960s-era gals of Sterling Cooper that women would be able to marry one another someday.
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The filmed sequence ended with Lynch, in a nod to “Glee” (and special effects), giving Sue Sylvester a Slushie bath for dissing television as “a vast wasteland where good ideas go to die.”
“TV is a vast wonderland,” Lynch countered in song. “There’s no place like TV.”
While Sue Sylvester needs to be the center of attention, Lynch showed she’s comfortable – and even seems to enjoy – sharing the spotlight, which added to the appeal of the 63rd annual awards program, broadcast by her home network, Fox.
Ricky Gervais’ taped gag, a self-satirizing bit targeting his irreverent, tart-tongued turn as Golden Globes host in January, offered a comic contrast to Lynch’s gentler approach (“Poor Ricky Gervais – someone didn’t get enough hugs from Mommy and somehow it’s Hollywood’s fault,” she cracked).
She introduced her pal Charlie Sheen for his not-so-surprise appearance as a presenter. And she notably stayed out of sight as the nominees for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series turned their category into a hilarious and strangely touching mock beauty pageant won by Melissa McCarthy of “Mike & Molly.”
Lynch shot off some good lines, displaying fine comic timing (“A lot of people are curious why I’m a lesbian… ladies and gentlemen, the cast of ‘Entourage!’”). A taped segment with Lynch – in a black fright wig – as the real Jersey housewife responsible for “Jersey Shore” earned some laughs, thanks, in part, to appearances by Snooki and some of her castmates. Recurring spots by the Emmytones, Lynch’s singing Greek chorus of sorts (featuring Joel McHale of “Community” and Zachary Levi of “Chuck,” among others), were less successful.
We’d welcome Lynch back to Nokia Theatre stage for future Emmy broadcasts, even if her performance isn’t going to make anyone forget Jimmy Fallon’s breakout hosting stint last year or the fine show put on by Neil Patrick Harris in 2010. But she succeeded in ensuring we’ll remember Sunday's show as the night she upstaged Sue Sylvester.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.