It feels so refreshing and perhaps a bit odd to be writing a review of the Emmys that is, all things considered, quite positive. So let’s just take a second and start right there: Good job, Emmys.
It was a fun night — mostly tight — with lots of wildly diverse picks, joy in many places and tinges of frustration in others, and notable for the fact that television relearned how to properly celebrate itself.
For the first time in what seems like ever (though there have been intermittent good years), there wasn’t a lot of bloated nonsense and boring sections that dragged down the night and fueled Twitter hate.
Instead, it was a night full of weird and unexpected moments, and it moved at a brisk pace — except for that big bulk of Olive Kitteridge wins where most of America looked left and right to other couch occupants and said, “Hmm, we missed that.”
Of course, host Andy Samberg handed out an HBO Now password that actually worked, so maybe millions of people, with HBO’s blessing, will sample the miniseries. (And yes, they will shut down that password soon enough — book it).
For Samberg, almost everything went right after his funny, nutty opening song heralding the Too Much TV era and lamenting of how much time it takes to keep up on everything out there. Almost everything, that is, except the comedy monologue that followed it. Not his strong suit — and made the next two hours and 45 minutes at least temporarily worrisome.
But Samberg, who is superb in Fox’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine (yet another show you should be watching), rallied after the standard monologue thing fell flat. He’s best when being goofy and irreverent and did that numerous times —from feting Lorne Michaels for being almost the world’s best boss and wishing a happy birthday to George R.R. Martin, whose books are the source material for Game of Thrones, which semi-shockingly upset AMC’s outgoing Mad Men for best drama.
It’s easy to forget that the Emmys host disappears for great stretches of time, so Samberg’s moments of opportunity were not plentiful, but he kept things light and fun and moving along, which matched the (welcome) tone of the evening.
It was one of those nights where the strange and the surprising mixed together to make it all work — from Veep dominating on one end to Game of Thrones on the other, knocking off presumptive favorites Transparent and Mad Men.
Jon Hamm finally got his best actor award, and the crowd gave him a warm standing ovation, as if everyone were wondering when the hell it was going to happen right along with critics, since it had been so overdue.
Viola Davis won lead actress in a drama and spoke passionately, eloquently and fiercely about women of color getting a chance to even be in consideration for Emmy awards by getting cast in great roles in the first place.
Read more Emmy Awards: The Complete Winners List
“The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity,” she said, rattling off a lengthy list of African-American actresses who got close but didn’t win. She took them all over the line.
The night featured Tracy Morgan being both heartfelt and funny in his return to the stage after his car accident last year. (Tina Fey and the 30 Rock alums both crying and laughing as he talked was something to witness.)
Hell, the night even had a commercial — the Apple Music ad with nominees Kerry Washington and Taraji P. Henson, along with Mary J. Blige, dancing to a funky playlist — that was flat-out great (an Audi ad featuring a kid playing with a helicopter and car in a chase scene and a sweet one about gluten-free Cheerios also scored).
Little moments shot all through the telecast clicked: Amy Poehler, Ricky Gervais, bits with Tatiana Maslany and Tony Hale; Jimmy Kimmel eating the cardboard name from the lead actor in a comedy card; Jeffrey Tambor (the winner) giving a lovely acceptance speech and being shot in profile for what seemed like an Emmys (or any awards show) first; Jon Stewart‘s funny notes about being off of television (enough to make you miss him all over again); Regina King‘s tearful acceptance speech; the yearly creative highlight of the writers being announced for the late night/variety shows. So much worked and, even if it wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t boring or pointless or something that made you look distractedly at the clock.
Read more Emmy Surprise: Tracy Morgan Gets Emotional About His Big Hollywood Return (Exclusive Q&A)
And that’s really the measure of the moment. You hope that the most essential television awards show can do entertaining justice to the great work of its industry. So many years it does not.
Samberg’s best work was woven into small bits of the show, like when he said, “Happy Birthday, George [R.R. Martin], and thanks for telling me at the commercial break that Jon Snow is alive.” Or this, after seemingly everyone in the building was overjoyed at Hamm winning: “I was pulling for [Kyle] Chandler.” (Camera cuts to a bemused Chandler). “I just dig that dude.”
There was even less complaining than normal about who was left off the “In Memoriam” segment.
What didn’t work was a shocker of sorts — a tribute to shows no longer on the air that featured series finale spoilers for, among others, Boardwalk Empire, Sons of Anarchy and Mad Men. Bad form, Emmys, bad form. The Twitter-verse groaned with outrage.
For the actual awards themselves, the Emmys were all over the map. It was one of those years where if you won your office pool you probably picked the darker horses. Olive Kitteridge was certainly expected to win, but not win everything. And while Game of Thrones is always a lock to be nominated, the writing win was a shocker (Mad Men was the presumptive favorite) that immediately opened the door for a drama series upset — and it happened.
Read more Emmys: Viola Davis Becomes First Black Lead Actress Winner
Veep winning over Transparent can’t be considered an upset at all since the HBO series is one of the best-written and -acted comedies on television. But pre-Emmys, it certainly felt like momentum was on Transparent‘s side. Wins for Tambor and creator Jill Soloway (for directing) did nothing to dampen that momentum. It would have been the first streaming service win for a series, but Amazon can take solace in the fact that it has made big noises in the industry. The Veep train began rolling and couldn’t be stopped.
Ultimately, on the drama side, it’s not like Game of Thrones was undeserving; if Downton Abbey or Homeland had won, there would have been a greater uproar. But this was hardly the best season of Thrones, and Mad Men was the more deserving series — and not because it was leaving the landscape. Mad Men is arguably one of the greatest dramas of all time — praise Game of Thrones has not yet earned. Considering that, we may look back on this fact years later and think, “Wow, how did Mad Men lose as it was leaving so triumphantly?”
But then again, this is the Emmys, and in the end — just like the song Samberg sang at the top of the ceremony about the glut of wonderful shows on television — we’re living in pretty amazing times, so why get worked up over degrees of greatness and a gold statue? Salute the shows in three hours and entertain us along the way. That’s the mandate. We can argue snubs another day.
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