69th Primetime Emmy Awards: TV Review – Hollywood Reporter

 In Entertainment

Landmark winners and memorable speeches upstaged Stephen Colbert’s turn as host, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing for the Emmys.

There were good parts and bad parts to the 69th Primetime Emmy Awards telecast, but before I can address any of them, can we talk about the legends?

When Margaret Atwood took the stage with the creative team behind outstanding drama series winner The Handmaid’s Tale, she brought the last stragglers to their feet and capped off a night in which one legend after another took a moment in the spotlight and the audience rose to salute them.

Granted that the Emmys, like the Oscars and Grammys and every other Hollywood kudofest, are orgies of self-congratulatory banalities and hypocritical indignation. This is a room of outspoken liberals and alleged Trump haters who roared when former White House press secretary Sean Spicer came out on a rolling podium and then stood in line to take pictures with him during bathroom breaks.

But whatever insincerity one might accuse the show and the crowd of having, they stood for Atwood. They stood for Norman Lear and Carol Burnett. They stood for Oprah Winfrey. They stood for Cicely Tyson. The TV Academy found ways to honor some of the biggest, most powerful and most venerable names in the business and the audience was appreciative. 

The crowd also stood for Lena Waithe and Aziz Ansari, in what was a landmark win for writing on a comedy series, making her the first African-American woman to win in the category. And that was just one of many landmark wins on Sunday night.

Donald Glover’s win for comedy directing the magnificent “B.A.N.” episode of Atlanta made him the first black winner in that category. Reed Morano was the first woman to win a drama directing Emmy in 22 years. Sterling K. Brown was the first black actor to win lead acting in a drama in 19 years. Apparently, and this may be the most mind-boggling thing to me, Riz Ahmed’s win for lead actor in a movie or miniseries was the first acting prize for any male actor of Asian descent. Ever.

And guess what? Every single one of them was deserved. Might I have had a different preference here or there? Sure. That’s the way preferences go. But man, that’s a great list of winners showing not just how special this creative moment is in television, but how the inclusion of a vast array of voices is a major part of how great it is. And the Emmys are just beginning to recognize what is just the tip of a creative iceberg. The inclusion of Issa Rae as a presenter, when she wasn’t nominated for any of the things she does so well on Insecure, was a reminder of that. This was not a night that showed how TV has achieved glorious equality, but man, it showed a medium that’s trying hard to let voices have their space, whether it’s on broadcast, premium cable or streaming.

Especially in the homestretch of the show, winners starting calling attention to progressive issues as well, and I’m assuming viewers on one side of the political aisle will probably complain, but Waithe celebrated the power of difference, Ahmed called out xenophobia and praised the Innocence Project and Nicole Kidman and the Big Little Liars team spoke to the importance of visibility for victims of domestic violence and the telling of female stories. If those are partisan political issues, they shouldn’t be.

That’s not to say that the Emmys would have been a safe space for our president. Host Stephen Colbert started by chuckling about Donald Trump’s lack of Emmy wins, a fact that Alec Baldwin also harped on. Julia Louis-Dreyfus, breaking a record for individual acting wins and proving white people could also set landmarks at these Emmys, made an impeachment joke. Reunited 9 to 5 stars Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, speaking of legends whom the crowd stood for, probably delivered the harshest Trump critique, but since they didn’t use his name, I guess we can’t be sure. Wink wink.

Going back to the deserving winners, there were a lot of satisfying victors in the telecast, and it wasn’t just those breaking boundaries and trumpeting illustrious firsts. Personal firsts could be good, too. Elisabeth Moss, front and center in so many TV classics in our Golden Age, finally won an Emmy and was so emotional about her Handmaid’s Tale trophy that she swore twice. Ann Dowd, a consummate character actor who has been telling people not to call her a character actor, can now replace “Character Actor” with “Emmy Winner” in front of her name. The Handmaid’s Tale became the first streaming series to win a comedy or drama series Emmy and that was an important boundary crossed, one that Netflix or Amazon probably were sure they’d get there earlier. Veep remains one of the best comedies on TV, and even if it added yet another comedy series bauble to its mantle, Atlanta still won a couple big ones for Glover, a breakthrough for the freshman FX comedy.

You’d look at Sunday’s Emmys and really feel like TV is in a good place, and that made for a show that was gratifying for this critic to watch.

It was still a flawed telecast. They all are.

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