So let’s tally up some of the highs and lows of tonight’s Emmy awards (here are all your winners):
Jon Hamm finally won an Emmy for playing Don Draper.
Amy Poehler never won an Emmy for playing Leslie Knope.
Viola Davis made history by becoming the first African-American actress to win a drama lead actress Emmy, and gave a scorching, beautiful speech about it.
“Game of Thrones” made history by winning the most Emmys in a single year for anyone series, but for its weakest season to date.
Andy Samberg bombed in the room as host, though seemed to be doing much better with a certain brand of comedy fan at home.
HBO absolutely dominated, walking away with the winners for best comedy (“Veep”), best drama (“Game of Thrones”), best made-for-television movie (“Bessie”), and best limited series (“Olive Kitteridge”). And it’ll almost certainly win the variety talk show award next year now that “The Daily Show” is out of the picture.
In its first real turn at the rodeo, Amazon came away with two wins for “Transparent,” and both creator/director Jill Soloway and star Jeffrey Tambor (finally winning his first Emmy at age 70, after losing multiple times for all-time great roles on “The Larry Sanders Show” and “Arrested Development”) gave stirring speeches of their own about transgender rights.
Netflix, which did very well at least week’s Creative Arts Emmys, only got one trophy tonight, as Uzo Aduba from “Orange Is the New Black” became (to borrow Samberg’s analogy) the new Ed Asner, winning the drama supporting actress trophy a year after she won comedy guest actress for the same role.
All told, this added up to an interesting night, and one made possible both by the changes to the Emmy rules – which opened up the voting to a much larger portion of the Academy membership, albeit without controls in place to ensure all these new voters watched the submitted episodes – and by the fact that there was a fair amount of turnover from recent years.
The absence of “Breaking Bad” alone left the drama field wide open, and “Game of Thrones” swooped in to win nearly every award for which it was eligible, in the process breaking the old “West Wing” record for wins in a single year. That it won for its most uneven season isn’t great optics(*), but it’s far from the first show to win its first series Emmy for a year that was less than its best; all awards shows, including this one, have a history of make-up awards, and you can look at this as that. Or else you can look at it as the new rules overwhelmingly tilting the game in favor of HBO, which has the largest bloc of voters around.
(*) Peter Dinklage seemed particularly sheepish about his second drama supporting actor win, for a season that was less than his best possible showcase. As he began his unwritten remarks, he began listing all of the other great nominees in the category, mentioned Jonathan Banks – who had a better year (and a better showcase episode in “Five-O”) – and then gave up, relegating the others to “the rest.”
Whether Hamm won out of pity – a rare farewell Emmy to someone who hadn’t won before in that role, to go along with Kyle Chandler’s for “Friday Night Lights,” Sarah Jessica Parker’s for “Sex and the City,” and Andre Braugher’s for “Homicide” – or because the bulk of the voters saw something in the “Mad Men” finale that they somehow didn’t see in “The Suitcase” or “In Care Of,” it at least means he doesn’t have to be added to the list of great actors to never win for playing an iconic TV role, like Poehler for Leslie, Hugh Laurie for Dr. House, Martin Sheen for President Bartlet, Jason Alexander for George Costanza, Jackie Gleason for Ralph Kramden, etc.
“Modern Family” likely would have failed to six-peat under any set of rules – no show had ever won a best comedy or drama trophy six years in a row – and “Veep” had been building momentum for the last several years, but it probably didn’t hurt that there was a larger body of voters ready for some fresh blood, and particularly with “Veep” coming off its best season to date.
And Viola Davis’s speech – really, all of the pageantry associated with her win, including the fierce hug fellow nominee Taraji P. Henson wrapped her up in after Davis’s win was announced, and the cut to a crying Kerry Washington in the audience – was the sort of powerful, eloquent moment that justifies a lot of the filler, repetition and stupid banter that comes with most awards shows, even one like this that somehow managed to finish a minute or so ahead of schedule.
(So, for that matter, was the decision to have Tracy Morgan make an emotional return to the stage, after recovering from a near-fatal car wreck, to present the evening’s final award. Great television.)
These weren’t the exact winners I would have picked (though, in spite of my historically terrible prognostication, I predicted 8 of 12 of the big winners correctly), but in the age of Peak TV in America – which was the subject of Samberg’s opening musical number – it’s all but impossible to see, or honor, everything deserving. I wish Poehler and/or “Parks” had an Emmy, but Julia Louis-Dreyfus is spectacular on “Veep” and hard to argue with year after year.
The last time there was a big Emmy rules change was in 2000, when the Academy ended the practice of holding in-person blue-ribbon panels to vote on each category, and instead allowed people to watch and vote from home. It was done in the hope that a different, and younger, section of the membership might finally get to make their taste known and lead to fewer repeats. That year, there were a number of brand-new winners, but then it turned out this new demographic simply had their own favorites, who would win year after year.
Some of tonight’s winners, like Davis and Tambor and Amy Schumer, were first-timers, while others like Louis-Drefyus, Dinklage, and “The Daily Show” had won before. We won’t know for another few years whether the rules changes have really made the awards more unpredictable, or simply made them predictable in a different way from before.
Still – and not just because I had resolved to be happy so long as Hamm ended his losing streak – this was the most fun I had watching the Emmys in quite some time.
What did everybody else think? Did the winners thrill you, or annoy you? Did you laugh at Samberg’s material (the “Mad Men” finale parody was his best bit, I thought) or find it all sweaty?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org