Tom Brady’s New England Patriots blew out the Buffalo Bills on Sunday afternoon and Michael Strahan and Terry Bradshaw were on hand to provide a smooth segue for Fox into the 67th Emmy Awards. The three-hour parade, led by host Andy Samberg, scored more often than it fumbled — even if there were even fewer surprises on the show than in the gridiron match preceding it. Samberg, despite the powder-blue tuxedos that would have been perfect for the Rye High School junior prom, was sharp-witted from start to finish: The opener was an SNL-style filmed bit showing his transformation from TV naïf to wild-haired savant proclaiming that a yearlong seclusion had made him conversant in every series — mini, maxi or otherwise, comedy, drama and variety show.
Better, he rolled with events as they unfolded, quipping after a montage of shows that had ended this past season, “Welcome back to the Spoiler Awards” to note the rather obvious fact that several series’ long-developed resolutions had just been blithely given away. There was a funny line in there bidding farewell to HBO’s True Detective even though it’s still on the air. And another filmed bit had him riffing on the “I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing” song, appropriated by Coke and used in AMC’s Mad Men finale, to show his desire to give everyone — why, everyone in the whole world — an Emmy. And took me a long time to stop laughing over Samberg’s near-obscene sight-gag with an oversize Emmy statuette to illustrate the high point (or low, depending on your perspective) of last season’s Girls.
Of course there were a few lulls, not to mention Ricky Gervais’ always-a-bridesmaid-never-a-bride gambit that started out tired and quickly outwore its welcome — that made it seem as if everyone in the whole world actually was going to get an Emmy before the night was over. Admirable restraint was shown, however, in the matter of Donald Trump jokes.
There were several surprises and moments of recognizable human emotion that went beyond the usual thanking of agents and the Deity, and public service announcements for unassailably worthy causes. The near sweep by HBO’s Olive Kitteridge was a triumph for quality, even as it sent the impressive Wolf Hall home empty-handed despite the kind of critical acclaim that producers usually take to the bank. The Olive prize gave winner and the show’s field marshal Frances McDormand a couple of opportunities to show her gift for economy — her entire thank-you upon winning was to say that Olive Kitteridge attested to “the power of a story well told, and sometimes that’s enough. Thank you.” McDormand also shared with Game Of Thrones star Peter Dinklage the Unkempt Hair Award, signifying a properly Bohemian distaste for such frivolous things as awards ceremonies, especially for artistes such as they. Them. Which also reminds me to mention Amy Poehler’s hilarious impression of Orange Is The New Black‘s meth-girl Taryn Manning, peering mock-meanly (or maybe not so mock) out at the cameras from deep inside a hoodie as she lost the award.
A little unkempt was welcome: Except for Samberg, the men could not have been more interchangeable-looking, one ordinary (and several distinctly ill-fitting) boring black tux and bowtie after the next. Usually at least one or two of the male presenters or winners can be counted upon to strut some peacock, but that was not to be. Even the women stayed mostly on the conservative-elegant side of the costume party, which was odd if only because of the competing display of cleavage and tattoos that the designer threads revealed. That was almost as discordant as the commercial break between the run of awards for HBO’s Veep, during which the orchestra serenaded the audience with Frank Zappa’s “Peaches In Regalia.” Who’d have thought the Emmys could be so retro-hip?
On the serious side, How To Get Away With Murder‘s Viola Davis — winning her first Emmy and already the owner of two Tony Awards and a pair of Oscar nominations — almost single-handedly set the bar for speeches, quoting Harriet Tubman and saying: “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.” It took a few moments to register that Davis is the first African-American woman to win an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama (that it’s not a very good drama is sort of beside the point).
Mad Men‘s Jon Hamm, too, was worthily self-effacing in his first win for playing Don Draper on his eighth nomination — and only Emmy for any Mad Men actor or actress — thanking the various families and families-with-families that had supported him over the years. But nothing topped the evening’s emotional climax: the appearance of Tracy Morgan to present the final award, for Outstanding Drama Series, to Game Of Thrones. Fulfilling a promise to return following a catastrophic traffic accident over a year ago, Morgan allowed that he came out of a coma after eight days rejoicing to find out he hadn’t been the one who “messed up.” His elegant speech was followed by an outpouring of affection for the comedian, an espresso shot of reality TV that will be hard to match.
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