The Oscars get Chris Rock, Ellen DeGeneres and (ulp) Billy Crystal. The Golden Globes score Ricky Gervais or, if they’re in a better mood, give us Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. But when it comes to nabbing a thrilling, funny, entirely of-the-moment host, the Emmys can only muster someone like [drum roll] Jimmy Kimmel? Wait, is it 2005? Does he still host a talk show?
Not that Kimmel can’t be funny, but there’s a dizzying drop-off between royalty like above and a guy whose last truly seismic cultural moment was the “I’m F—ing Matt Damon” bit from 2008. (Damon even made a ball-busting cameo last night, just to rub it in.)
The contrast is all the more galling when you consider this: TV is what movies used to be. It’s where you get the best stories, the funniest comedies, the finest actors. It doesn’t break a sweat showing diversity. TV is what you talk about around the water cooler instead of whatever comic book movie opened at the multiplexes. And yet the Oscars are still treated like the TV equivalent of Christmas — or at least a dreaded family reunion around the holidays. The game is flipped; maybe it’s the Emmys we should all pretend we care about most.
But they aren’t, and so we’re stuck with Kimmel, who was, frankly…not bad! His initial video bit, jumping into all the big shows and making easy jokes, was pure Billy Crystal, and his opening monologue was filled with yuks about the presidential race, O.J. and, you know, Maggie Smith. (For digs at The Donald, Kimmel couldn’t beat Aziz Ansari, who suggested kicking out everyone there who was Muslim or Hispanic: “This would be much easier at the Oscars.”) But Kimmel was charming and peppy, and had a not bad Bill Cosby gag. And this fellow has a late-night show?
The awards themselves mixed obvious wins with surprises and firsts. Yes, Rami Malek won for “Mr. Robot.” Yes, Jeffrey Tambor won for “Transparent.” (“I would not be unhappy if I were the last cisgender male to play a transgender woman on television,” he remarked.) Yes, “O.J. Simpson” took home everything, from Best Limited Series to Courtney B. Vance to Sterling K. Brown, as Johnny Cochran and Chris Darden, respectively. Sarah Paulson — the night’s safest bet — won for making O.J. prosecutor Marcia Clark the most sympathetic person (with a great perm) on the 10-episode series.
Perhaps less obvious was “Game of Thrones” beating a tight competition for Best Drama Series, or Tatiana Maslany triumphing over a mighty field for “Orphan Black.” ’80s icon Louie Anderson (!!) scored Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series for playing a mom on the Zach Galifianakis clown dramedy “Buckets.” Kate McKinnon paused from tearing up to pull a speech from her bra as she won the female equivalent for “Saturday Night Live.” “Key & Peele” beat “Inside Amy Schumer” (and “Documentary Now”) for Variety Sketch Series.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus mixed savage humor with real tears while winning yet another Emmy for ruling over “Veep,” which also grabbed its second Emmy for Comedy Series. First, she acknowledged the elephant in the room. “Our show started out as a political satire, but now it feels like a sobering documentary. So I certainly do promise to rebuild that wall — and make Mexico pay for it,” she cracked. Then she turned the screw, suddenly choking up while pointing out that her dad died only on Friday.
Often as Kimmel himself sent up how diverse the Emmys are compared to everyone else, it was Alan Yang, Aziz Ansari’s cowriter on an Emmy-winning episode of his Netflix show “Master of None,” who got the best zinger. He pointed out Italians have “The Godfather,” “The Sopranos,” etc. “We got Long Duck Dong,” he quipped. If you’re not old enough to know the John Hughes movie “Sixteen Candles,” trust us: That was funny.
No awards show is complete without political howling. But hand it to Jill Soloway, creator of “Transparent,” for which she won a directing award: She managed the unheard-of feat of being both preachy and fun. She pointed that by putting gay and trans people on TV, she got the masses (well, some of them) to not be horrible bigots. “We changed the world, we found out!” she said, before holding up her trophy and repeatedly shouting, “Topple the patriarchy!”
In print, it reads fiery and in-your-face, but it’s impossible to describe how Soloway sounded delivered her speech. She came off playful and inviting and cool, which made her words even more rah-rah. This year’s Emmys, like any awards show, was hardly great television. But this was a moment the Oscars would kill for.