Getting Better Every Year

My Reactions to the 2016 Emmys

Last season, I reported that the Emmys did a much better job recognizing talent than they had in nearly five years. As if daring to prove that they really can do better, last nights Emmys did a much better job recognizing talent than they have in awhile, even better than last season.

This may seem hard to fathom to the casual observer, considering that there were a lot of duplicates from last season — Game Of Thrones and Veep repeated as Best Drama and Best Comedy, respectively, Jeffrey Tambor and Julia-Louis Dreyfus won again (Dreyfus for the fifth consecutive year). But there was a genuine sense that the Emmys was making a lot more progress in recognizing certain series and actors.

First of all, despite the fact that HBO won major prizes, this was by far FX’s night. Combined with the technical Emmys, they managed a total of fifteen wins, by far the greatest the network has ever had. I may not have agreed with Louie Anderson’s choice for ‘Baskets’, but it was a step away from Modern Family, which had dominated the Supporting Actor category for the last six years. And while I’m a little disappointed that Fargo got basically ignored, one could hardly argue with the winners — People Vs O.J. Simpson was one of the premiere accomplishments of this seasons, and it was great to see Courtney B. Vance finally win an Emmy after nearly two decades in the medium. Sarah Paulson and Sterling Brown’s triumphs were even more satisfying to the heart and to the head, as these brilliant performers triumph. And it was good to see Ryan Murphy finally get a winner, and a much more subtle series than usual.

Now, on to some of the more endearing choices. Yes, Regina King repeated for her work on American Crime, but considering that her character was completely different than the one she played last year, one could hardly argue the Emmys were being lazy. It was also nice to see someone other than Allison Janney win Supporting Actress, even though Kate McKinnon probably was the last choice on my ballot. And even though I predicted otherwise, it was wonderful to see Tatiana Maslany finally triumph for her incredible performance (s) on Orphan Black, much of which was taken to a higher level this season.

All in all, I had no problem with the majority of the winners last night. Rami Malek’s work on Mr. Robot is among the most stunning performances on TV. (And I was delighted that after the deer-in-the-headlights moment after winning, he quoted his series by saying “You’re all seeing this too, right?) I was sorry that Ben Mendelsohn wasn’t around to pick up his trophy for the criminally underrated Bloodline, a series I have raved about in previous columns. And even though it’s getting to be the tiniest bit tired seeing Jeffrey Tambor and Julia-Louis Dreyfus at the winners table time after time, both gave among the most powerful speeches of the night: Dreyfus near tears, when she revealed that her father had passed away earlier this week, Tambor’s self-effacing attitude among his fellow nominees, and a call to action when he said that he hoped to be the last male to play a transgender role in Hollywood. I just wish Jimmy Kimmel had followed through with his mock threat to take the award away from Maggie Smith, who wasn’t there to pick up her third (and thankfully, final) Emmy for Downton Abbey.

All told, last night was mostly delightful. From the opening sequence, where Kimmel tried to get to the Emmys (and perhaps presciently ran into all three winners of the night) to the final moments (unlike the Oscars, the Emmys actually finished early this year) this was one of the more entertaining award shows this year. I have never been one of Kimmel’s biggest fans, but he did a fine job, handling the awards. He managed to hold up well when he ended up losing ‘Best Variety Talk’ to ‘Last Week Tonight with John Oliver’ (and the sequence with Matt Damon was hysterical as well.)

And there were a lot of moments of poignancy. 2016 has been a year where we lost many of the brighter lights in the film and TV industry, and this seemed more clear in the ‘IN Memoriam’ montage where for once, the applause was saved to the very end. Tambor’s tribute to Garry Shandling, and Henry Winkler’s tribute to Garry Marshall were far more moving than the usual hosannas we seem to get.

Oh, the Emmys weren’t perfect. It still bothers me that ‘House of Cards’ and ‘Better Call Saul’ were shut out, as was ‘black-ish’. But considering that they managed to get the majority of the winners right, and that more and more deserving series keep getting recognized. (I’m still delighted they recognized The Americans), the Emmys keeps getting more and more relevant. Who knows? Maybe next year they’ll recognize the final season of Rectify. And given that they seem to have more and more recognition of nonwhite actors (in addition to the series listed, Key & Peele won Best sketch comedy show and Aziz Ansari triumphed for writing Master of None) , they’re certainly more and more diverse.