This deep into awards season, there aren't going to be many surprises, and so it was with the television portion of the 15th annual Screen Actors Guild awards on Sunday, as the now familiar figures from John Adams and 30 Rock prepared to clear off even more space on their mantelpieces.
The fast-paced show, which made do without a host, production numbers, and even (for the most part) silly banter between co-presenters, is bare-boned by Hollywood standards, befitting awards that haven't been on television very long and never got much attention until last year, when it received a waiver from the Writers Guild allowing stars to show up in the middle of the writers' strike.
For the second year in a row, the awards for best male and female actor (SAG doesn't like the word "actress," apparently) in a television comedy were taken home by 30 Rock, with Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin also repeating their wins from the most recent Emmys and Golden Globes. Baldwin, as often seems to happen when he's not working from a script, was puzzling in his acceptance speech, riffing on the relative sexiness of Anthony Hopkins and Diane Lane. Fey, who never seems to run out of entertaining things to say on these occasions, chose this time to single out her daughter Alice as "the funniest person in my family," even crediting her with silly sayings that wind up in 30 Rock scripts.
30 Rock also grabbed the award for best ensemble in a comedy series, dethroning The Office and gaining the clean sweep. The big question was whether Tracy Morgan would provide the same jolt of insanity that he gave to the Golden Globes, but it appeared Morgan wasn't even there. Instead, it fell to Jane Krakowski, who often gets overlooked when it comes to 30 Rock kudos, to speak for the show. However, due to her dress being cut down to somewhere near her ankles, it's unlikely anyone paid attention to what Krakowski had to say.
Unlike the situation with comedy, there was some uncertainty regarding the dramatic awards due to the absence of The Sopranos, which swept the three drama prizes last year. Hugh Laurie took home the prize for best actor in a drama, a little revenge against all those people (raises hand) who have suggested the current season of House leaves something to be desired. "I actually had $100 on [fellow nominee] James Spader -- this is just not my night," Laurie said from the stage. Sally Field, who is arguably not even first among equals in the ensemble Brothers & Sisters cast, won for best dramatic female actor (her first win after six nominations) and used the occasion to pat her colleagues on the back: "We inspire, we provoke, and we entertain, and never before has that been needed in this country as it is right now."
Given that The Wire wasn't nominated, it was an easy choice to give Mad Men the prize for best dramatic ensemble, cementing the program's status as the successor to The Sopranos both tonally and as an award magnet. Jon Hamm, looking a good ten years younger as a civilian than he does as Don Draper, spoke for the cast and made an allusion ("our dozens of viewers") to the show's not-that-great ratings. Hamm also made a point of singling out showrunner Matthew Weiner, who was finally brought on board for the coming season: "Without what you do, what we do would be decidedly terrible."
Both Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney repeated their Emmy and Golden Globe wins for John Adams, which has proved to be among the best awards bait in television history. Giamatti chose not to show up, but Linney was an effusive winner once again, in appreciation of the role that finally got her some awards after a decade of being a disappointed nominee for major honors.
One element that went mostly unaddressed from the stage, probably wisely given the state of the economy, was the ongoing dispute between SAG and Hollywood producers, which has been unresolved since last summer, in large part because union members are divided over what to do next. During her acceptance speech, Fey imagined her daughter one day asking her, "What do you mean you don't get residuals for this?" But SAG president Alan Rosenberg passed up the opportunity to tweak the producers during his speech, offering up only pro-union generalities.
Oh, before I forget: There was one television award that was handed out off-camera, for outstanding work by a stunt ensemble. That prize went to Heroes, which can use all the award show love it can get. Blowing stuff up is one thing they still do well.