In times of political stress, popular culture and the arts are often the first to speak out and shine a light on controversial conversations. When it comes to awards though, it is often debated whether or not those same topics should be outrightly addressed or if the event should be an escape for viewers. Tonight’s EMMY AWARDS happily danced through the three hours but never left a moment without touching on the larger conversations of diversity and the current White House administration. This focus will create divisive reactions, but I think it may be one of the best awards shows in recent memory to balance entertainment and spark conversation.
Host Stephen Colbert started the night off with swipes at HBO, peak TV, and, of course, President Trump. He did this while also making fun of the situation he was in: having to have a fun, glamorous event in the midst of a country in turmoil. It wasn’t just the jokes from Colbert that had Trump on their mind, it was also the winners. Everyone from Veep to the women of 9 to 5 to Riz Ahmed all made reference to the issues around the country.
As an event, the show was a success and Colbert was the face of a solid team that was working hard to make sure there was diversity on stage regardless of what happened with the winners. The only “misstep” (and that is not the right word for it) is that you could argue the larger discussions influenced the winners. Thankfully, there wasn’t a weak nomination in any category (though I’d argue Liev Schreiber was a missed opportunity) so you can’t say that anyone didn’t deserve a win. With so much great television to pick from though, what are the odds that voters watched Veep and all the other Lead Actress in a Comedy nominees? Non-existent. So Julia Louis-Dreyfus wins again. The show also won. Is it because it is the best? Because it won before? Or because it’s political. It’s likely a combination of all three, but it makes for a weaker moment in an otherwise fantastic night of wins.
An interesting trend among winners was that the diversity was primarily amongst male categories while the female categories were still primarily white. However, those same female-driven projects were known for being ensembles. The Handmaid’s Tale and Big Little Lies center around groups of women, and even if you haven’t watched the shows you get that sense from the marketing around them. Other big winners, The Night Of, Master of None, Last Week Tonight, and Atlanta are largely known by the one or two central male roles of John Turturro and Riz Ahmed, Aziz Ansari, and Donald Glover, even if the people on stage make sure to point out the much larger team both on screen and off.
While some wins were expected (Veep), there were some amazing wins. Lena Waithe’s win alongside Aziz Ansari for Master of None was a highlight of the night, along with television junkie and star Sterling K. Brown for This is Us, Donald Glover for Atlanta (directing and acting), and Riz Ahmed for The Night Of. Weirdly, after years of people crying out that television was on equal footing with film, Nicole Kidman and took those thoughts right away with her win. Sure, she was winning a television role, but she was also a primarily film actor who wasn’t getting cut off by the orchestra though for her win, unlike Veep and Sterling K. Brown.
One interesting choice the event made was the addition of Jermaine Fowler, star of Superior Donuts, as an announcer. Fowler was to the side of the stage, adding tidbits as winners made their way to the stage or awards announcers took their place. It brought an unexpected bit of levity to the show as he cracked the occasional joke and was a fun way to bring attention to his CBS sitcom and the CBS All Access app. While many probably didn’t love the addition of Fowler, I thought it was a great way for the Emmy Awards to reach a different demographic than the one they are known for.
If there was one thing the event was not concerned with though, it was Trump supporters. The show’s first mission was clearly to be inclusive. It’s second was taking jabs at the president. The second mission played to people who already watch Colbert and those that were in the audience making programming with messages calling for change. The downside of this is that it alienates those who support the president and wanted an escape from the rest of the news. However, if art drives the conversation and the art of television is truly at its peak, then those looking for an escape should probably look elsewhere because no one at the Emmys is getting ready to stand down from their mission any time soon.
Emily is a writer and television obsessor. If desired, Emily will talk to you at potentially-annoying-length about topics such as why soap operas are underrated, the current amazing state of underground comedy, and how she avoids TV/films about zombies because most of them do not chew with their mouths closed.
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Emily J | Managing Editor