Stephen Colbert was the host of the 69th annual Primetime Emmy Awards on CBS tonight, and The Handmaid’s Tale was a big winner. But it was Donald Trump who was more often in the spotlight in a case of glaring overkill.
“In a way, this is all your fault,” Colbert, the host of CBS’ Late Show, told the well-heeled crowd early on at the Microsoft Theatre of Trump’s rise to the White House — because the ex-Celebrity Apprentice host was denied an Emmy win back in the day. As he has said in the past few weeks and night after viewership-topping late-night, Colbert was quick to reiterate his belief Sunday that Trump is the biggest TV star around. Following that up with a weak gag about last year’s record low ratings, the POTUS attacks went on as former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer made a surprise roll-on to the CBS-broadcast show with a portable podium and a slew of untruths.
There had been rumors dribbling this week that a big political stunt was in the works for tonight’s ceremony, with Hillary Clinton and a Game of Thrones stunt getting the most buzz. The ex-Secretary of State did not show up, but got a shout-out for her “grace” in the first half-hour of the show from Saturday Night Live’s Kate McKinnon during her Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series win. Alec Baldwin’s hit at Trump finally getting an Emmy in his Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series win, and using looking like the President being a form of birth control, just piled it on.
Yes, The Handmaid’s Tale and its lead Elisabeth Moss, This Is Us‘ Sterling K Brown, Nicole Kidman and HBO’s Big Little Lies, and Veep were among the big winners for the shindig. But starting with Colbert hitting the stage Sunday with the Handmaids from that winning Hulu show based on Margaret Atwood’s novel, Trump was the Mocked-in-Chief again and again, from the opening song and on and on.
From his days on The Daily Show to the heights of CBS’ late-night, Colbert is a total pro and has gotten plenty of traction out of the 45th President of the United States, but the 2017 Emmys could have used a lot less Trump and a lot more spontaneity. That deftness would be a requirement if the show wanted to put up a real fight against the Green Bay Packers-Atlanta Falcons game in Week 2 of NBC’s Sunday Night Football — which, by the way, the Falcons were leading 34-10 by the time the more than three-hour Emmys concluded.
Such “lightning in a bottle,” to take Mom star Allison Janney’s clichéd onstage words, was provided by Dave Chappelle. A winner at this year’s Creative Emmys for his cutting SNL hosting stint the weekend after the Presidential election, the almost always languid comic slayed with seemingly tossed off lines from the teleprompter about “skipping rehearsal” and “DC public schools” as he and Melissa McCarthy gave out the Outstanding Variety Sketch Series award to the long-running Lorne Michaels-run SNL.
A winner tonight, HBO’s John Oliver turned Chappelle’s off-script verbiage into a social media power play when he advocated viewers posting #DCPublicSchools to create a Twitter trend, which promptly occurred.
And maybe let fellow CBS late-nighter and Tony host James Corden get the hosting gig the next time the House of Moonves has the Emmys in a few years. His mock praise of time-slot rival Seth Meyers with his line of, “that thing you said abut Trump being bad, so fresh,” was a direction tonight’s show could have gone.
Compared to the sharp and varied Jimmy Kimmel-hosted Emmys of last year, this year felt like it had one note it was determined to play, even when it had become deafening. As was crystal clear when Kimmel showed up to share a drink with Colbert and slap around multiple winner Last Week Tonight With John Oliver.
Also, in contrast, sure they blasted Trump as “a sexist, egotist, lying hypocritical bigot.” Yet, the deafening roar and standing ovation that greeted Grace and Frankie stars Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin when they were reunited onstage with their 9-to-5 co-star Dolly Parton felt like the jolt an award show is supposed to deliver.
That aside, Colbert’s sustained sharpness asn’t the only thing missing from the Emmys this year.
Due to kicking off their penultimate season outside the eligibility period this year, past two-time Best Drama winner Game of Thrones wasn’t an Emmy player tonight, nor was last year’s Best Actress Drama winner Tatiana Maslany of Orphan Black for the same reason. As TV Academy voters love to stick with past winners, their absence opened up the categories for the victories by The Handmaid’s Tale and Moss.
Though the final season of Orphan Black will undoubtedly be in the running, we may see a somewhat similar scenario next year when it comes to GoT. The jury is still out if the final season of the blockbuster series based on George R.R. Martin’s books will be on HBO in time to be eligible for the 2018 Emmys.
The battle for the Iron Throne isn’t the only wrath the Emmys face – and I don’t mean a Trump tweet.
In the end, even as RuPaul makes a great Emmy, we may have seen the limits of Stephen Colbert’s considerable powers tonight. Which, after the lame job Jimmy Fallon did with the Golden Globes in January, now puts NBC in the spotlight for who will front the Emmys next year when it is back on the Comcast-owned network.
Or shall they just call Chappelle now?