Ken Tucker
September 23, 2012 AT 12:00 PM EDT

Jimmy Kimmel presided over a mostly very funny, fairly briskly paced, and quite surprising Emmy broadcast on Sunday night. It just goes to show what a great year it was for dramas that Breaking Bad could lose in so many key categories and I’m still happy… because Homeland‘s sweep of best drama, actor, actress, and what seemed like 42 other Emmys was heartily well-deserved. And the cat-nap I took during the back-to-back, too-long acceptance speeches by Jessica Lange and Tom Berenger helped sustain my viewing energy.

At least two of the taped bits were exceedingly amusing. Kimmel’s opening, in which he cowered in a ladies-room stall, was packed with amusing reactions from women including Mindy Kaling, Connie Britton, Christina Hendricks, and Lena Dunham (naked, with cake — atta girl, Lena). And the delightful use of Aubrey Anderson-Emmons, who plays Lily on Modern Family, wreaking havoc upon the rest of the cast was wonderful.

As host, Kimmel was both well-prepared and loose, ready to pick up on and joke about moments such as Jon Stewart racing back to his seat clutching the sustenance of a banana. I can’t say that Kimmel’s hyped “prank” — which ended up being Tracy Morgan pretending to pass out, in a social-media lure — was all that gut-busting, but just about everything else Kimmel did was well-received.

If there was a big surprise of the evening, it was the near shut-out of Downton Abbey, widely regarded as a possible strong spoiler in all the major categories. (Maggie Smith’s supporting actress Emmy was the series’ biggest coup.) I suppose you could say Damian Lewis’ win was a surprise, but only this context: That he was up against a Bryan Cranston working at peak level, and a long-overdue Jon Hamm, once again denied.

Over on the comedy side, I’m tempted to be cynical and say that Jon Cryer won because all the other votes canceled each other out, but why deny this hard-working pro his moment of glory? For the rest of the laugh-Emmys, the Modern Family domination continued, and while I wish Ed O’Neill had won one, I was happy to see Julie Bowen acknowledged once again for her superb combination of slapstick and subtlety. As for the Julia Louis-Dreyfus win, well, that was one of the few I predicted correctly, even if my critic’s sense says that Amy Poehler or Lena Dunham would have been more satisfying. (Oh, man, I feel badly writing that — Louis-Dreyfus is terrific, and she saved a lot of mediocre Veep moments, and that’s what I’m really getting at: Parks and Recreation and Girls were better shows than Veep.)

Jon Stewart spoke the truth when he said how great The Colbert Report has been and continues to be — just seeing Stephen Colbert on the stage as a presenter made my heart swell with an admiration I feel for few satirists. And that same organ swelled a bit when Kimmel made a joke about Cat Deeley (read me carefully, now), but I must say I was cheered to see the clever, underrated Tom Bergeron win as best reality host.

All in all, it was a nicely lurching, damnably unpredictable Emmy Awards show, good for viewing if quite decimating for my predictions. (Honest, I did really well in the Movie/Miniseries categories.) A small price to pay for virtue rewarded in many categories, though.

Twitter: @kentucker

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