Top Emmy awards spread among 12 networks and streaming services
The night featured comedy and celebration mixed with politics
The Emmys celebrated diversity, spread the wealth among a vast assortment of networks and – thanks to the proximity to the presidential election – directed more than a few barbs at Donald Trump.
Host Jimmy Kimmel generally brought a breezy tone to the telecast, from riffing on the acceptance speeches (he quipped that the late O.J. Simpson attorney Johnny Cochran was “smiling up at us”) to a clever opening sequence that incorporated an unexpected cameo by Jeb Bush.
As for the awards themselves, the host joked that anyone without a dragon or a White Bronco in their show might as well leave early, which turned out to be both funny and prescient given the dominance of “Game of Thrones” and “The People v O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.”
Having already won multiple Emmys during earlier ceremonies, those programs were heavy favorites, which likely robbed the evening of some suspense. “Game of Thrones” tallied a record 12 trophies for the second consecutive year.
HBO rallied at the end, claiming the night’s biggest honors – best drama and comedy – for “Thrones” and “Veep,” respectively, both repeat winners. “People v O.J.’s” haul included a trio of acting wins for those who played attorneys in the sensational trial: Courtney B. Vance, Sarah Paulson and Sterling K. Brown.
Nevertheless, the Television Academy recognized a dozen networks and streaming services, illustrating just how much quality television is emanating from a wide variety of sources. That included major honors for channels seldom or never feted on Emmy night, such as actors Rami Malek for USA’s “Mr. Robot” and Tatiana Maslany for BBC America’s “Orphan Black.”
In terms of politics, Kimmel’s monologue included a lighthearted crack in which he suggested deporting “The Apprentice” producer Mark Burnett (who was born in the U.K.) if Trump wins the election. Several other winners and presenters made pointedly clear their sympathies don’t reside with the Republican nominee.
That included Aziz Ansari, honored for writing his Netflix show “Master of None,” who later joked about ejecting all Muslims and Hispanics from the U.S. Perennial winner Julia Louis-Dreyfus delivered a quip about her HBO satire “Veep” having “torn down the wall between comedy and politics” – before seguing to tearfully acknowledge her father, who recently passed away.
“The People v O.J.’s” Vance closed by saying, “Obama out. Hillary in,” while Kate McKinnon’s thank you to Clinton was pragmatic – she won for playing her in part on “Saturday Night Live.”
While the trend isn’t particularly new, conservative watchdogs – ever vigilant for signs of Hollywood’s liberal bent – will surely seize on the anti-Trump tone as further proof.
The nature of the winners injected an additional element of politics. “Transparent” star Jeffrey Tambor and series creator Jill Soloway both delivered pleas on behalf of the transgender community, with the former asking Hollywood to give more transgender talent a chance.
In graceful notes, the producers incorporated tributes to Garry Shandling and Garry Marshall, two titans of TV comedy who passed away. Kimmel’s bit about Maggie Smith not showing up also paid off when she won for “Downton Abbey,” as did having Matt Damon rib the ABC host when he lost to HBO’s John Oliver in the variety series category.
Inevitably, there were clunky moments as well, including a poorly conceived joke about Bill Cosby attending the ceremony. And while it was kind of amusing to have the kids from Netflix’s “Stranger Things” help pass out sandwiches to the crowd, it falls into what has become an almost obligatory “working the audience” portion of these events.
The producers also fell into a predictable trap. Because the networks that televise the Emmys (this year, ABC) don’t like to let the awards run long the way the Oscars regularly do, windy thank-you speeches in the early going force them to tighten the show as the evening wears on, which meant rudely playing off some recipients.
Granted, the show did end on time. And for the most part, the combination of solid choices and playful moments made for a reasonably good, occasionally aggravating evening.