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Despite Revolutionary TV, Emmys Are Trapped in a 2011 Rerun

If you believe everything written lately about television by its critics and outspoken fans, the shows have never been better, especially the newer ones. But if you watched Monday night’s 66th Primetime Emmy Awards, you saw that the medium is stuck in a loop where it’s always the late-middle of 2011. TV viewers are moving forward at a voracious pace; this year’s Emmys, not so much.

As True Detective’s cosmically attuned sleuth Rust Cohle put it: “Someone once told me time is a flat circle. Everything we’ve ever done or will do, we’re gonna do over and over and over again.”

To wit, it was still very much the era of Breaking Bad, which ended its run (fabulously, nearly everyone agrees) nearly a year ago and which took home five awards Monday night, including for outstanding drama and for lead actor Bryan Cranston, supporting actress Anna Gunn and supporting actor Aaron Paul. That meant there was very little left for True Detective, which took home an award for director Cary Joji Fukunaga.

All night long, it also was still the era of The Good Wife, Modern Family and The Colbert Report . It was still the era of The Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons, who won his fourth consecutive Emmy for his work on the CBS sitcom that’s now in perpetual reruns. (And at one point in his acceptance speech, he acknowledged that “there’s no accounting for taste,” which you can translate however you like.)

The always-deserving Julia Louis-Dreyfus won yet again for HBO’s Veep, but did she have to? Jessica Lange picked up another Emmy for FX’s American Horror Story miniseries. Even the three awards for PBS’ American broadcast of the British drama Sherlock — including acting prizes for Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman — felt like holdovers from a while back.

It only felt like the 2014 Emmys once “Weird Al” Yankovic (a throwback himself, who has nevertheless happened to release one of the year’s best albums) took the stage to supply lyrics to some of the top nominees’ instrumental theme songs, including the manic jazz riff of Showtime’s Homeland intro and the thrumming anthem of HBO’s Game of Thrones.

“Don’t get too attached to a certain guy/He might drink some poison wine,” Yankovic sang, while a chorus implored novelist George R.R. Martin (who was in the audience) to hurry up and finish the book series on which the show is based.

One thing Emmy night could use a whole lot less of is jokes about platform and delivery — cable vs. streaming, big screens, tiny screens, hashtags, cord-cutting, ratings and all that. (Even if you put Sofia Vergara on a rotating platform to make a point about TV’s future, we get it already: Everything’s changed, and that’s terrifying.)

It is, of course, the very subject that preoccupies not only the people who make television but also those of us who are addicted to it. How will we receive it? Share it? Absorb it into our culture? One way we’ll know we’ve moved on is that we’ll stop making nervous, self-deprecating, even tired references to the uncertain future of TV. We’ll know the future has truly arrived when we shut up about all that and just watch for pure pleasure.