Held in a modest room at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles, the TCA Awards are a daffy, breezy, untelevised alternative to the overexposed Emmy season. Absent here are the PR micromanagers, the ersatz smiling-for-the-camera and the soul-sucking red carpets. Amy Poehler wore a leather jacket and Louis C.K. showed up in a polo, for god’s sakes. It’s a totally laid-back affair and typically only the winners show up (they’re informed ahead of time) if at all. This year’s festivities took place Saturday night, August 4, with one notable difference: the bar was shut down promptly as the awards began — 8 pm — and didn’t open again until 9, after prizes were quickly doled out. Alas, no drunken meltdowns. (The list of winners is below the jump.)
After plucking bite-sized samples from an excessive buffet of food that had probably been sitting under a lamp for two hours, I stole to the bar for last call and took my seat. Hosting the event was the talented comedic duo of Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Keye. In their nutty and hilarious opener, the Comedy Central pair took on TV paradigm threatener Netflix.
Approaching its final eight episodes, AMC’s “Breaking Bad” picked up the program of the year award. The series has won best drama twice before, and a 2009 drama achievement award for star Bryan Cranston. There was love for the series in the room. Critics, after all, galvanized this “little show that should never have been made” (series creator Vince Gilligan’s onstage words) from the very beginning. Before the ceremony, I spoke with RJ Mitte, the dashing young actor who plays Walt Jr (or Flynn if you like) on “Breaking Bad.” Right now, he’s in the middle of shooting a film in Paris, but took time off production to show his gratitude along with the rest of the cast for the critics who lauded this show from season one.
I’ve seen the first episode of season 5, part 2 — which airs August 11 on AMC — and it’s a doozy. The anxiety-addled, sweat-inducing 45-minute premiere entitled “Blood Money” moves quicker than whole seasons of this show. With eight episodes left, “Bad” has much business to take care of and ends to tie, and the writers aren’t wasting any time hurtling violently to the finish line. Fans, take note: based on this first episode, the show is indeed as good as ever.
TCA often honors the canonical series of the moment, such as “Breaking Bad, “Mad Men” — absent this year — and “Game of Thrones,” recipient of this year’s best drama award. But the critics also make way for newcomers. FX’s Cold War-set paranoid thriller “The Americans,” for one, snagged outstanding new program. And given this year’s critical groundswell around Tatiana Maslany, it was no surprise that the Canadian star of BBC America’s “Orphan Black” won for individual achievement in drama. She’s a tough-as-nails young actress who plays at least 10 clones of herself by the end of the first season. Unfortunately, Maslany was a no-show.
When Louis C.K., casually unflappable per usual, ascended the stage, he thanked TCA for giving him this “shitty piece of plastic” — a joke that later winners would echo throughout the night — before receding back into the audience like another regular joe. This is his second consecutive win at TCA for individual achievement in comedy. In a perfect world, Louis C.K. will sweep the Emmys in September for his inventive, strange and wondrous FX comedy “Louie.” But awards are not his bag and he’s not faking it to get one.
The career achievement prize went to Barbara Walters who wasn’t in attendance and literally phoned it in because of a “little show called ‘The View.'” In a video acceptance speech, Walters placidly remarked, “I’m smiling all over” and the audience burst into laughter because her face, frozen in Botoxed emotional limbo, wasn’t moving.
The winners of the heritage award, however, were there to get their dues. Humble “All in the Family” producer Norman Lear and star Rob Reiner a.k.a. “Meathead” offered show-stopping banter upon receiving their shitty piece of plastic. Other standout winners of the night included the cast of NBC’s “Parks and Recreation,” a warm, earnest sitcom that struggles for ratings but is a critical darling. “After the 100th episode of ‘Game of Thrones,’ we’re all going to kill ourselves,” star Amy Poehler cracked before curtsying offstage. After the ceremony, Poehler’s costar Adam Scott remarked, “We finally won something!”
In spite of some yawns like the outstanding comedy win for “The Big Bang Theory,” the TCA Awards remained as classy an act as ever. The brisk under-90-minute show time prevents any lingering feelings of boredom, which is more than I can say for the bloated but ostensibly more “prestigious” Primetime Emmy Awards. It’s the little award shows like the TCAs that make being a member of the press such a pleasure. When the lights went up, I made my way out of the ballroom and through the marauding gang of celebrity sightseers queued up in the Hilton lobby, all along certain that TV really is the best place to be right now — even for a staunch movie lover.
Individual Achievement in Drama: Tatiana Maslany, “Orphan Black” (BBC America)
Individual Achievement in Comedy: Louis C.K., “Louie” (FX)
Outstanding Achievement in News and Information: Ken Burns, “The Central Park Five” (PBS)
Outstanding Achievement in Youth Programming: “Bunheads” (ABC Family)
Outstanding Achievement in Reality Programming: “Shark Tank” (ABC)
Outstanding New Program: “The Americans” (FX)
Outstanding Achievement in Movies, Miniseries and Specials: “Behind the Candelabra” (HBO)
Outstanding Achievement in Drama: “Game of Thrones” (HBO)
Outstanding Achievement in Comedy: “Parks and Recreation” (NBC) tied with “The Big Bang Theory” (CBS)
Career Achievement Award: Barbara Walters
Heritage Award: “All in the Family” (CBS)
Program of the Year: “Breaking Bad” (FX)