At least once tonight, the 2015 Emmy Awards demonstrated a relatively lax attitude toward avoiding major spoilers for shows, including a montage that revealed several major twists of series finales airing over the last year. Sure, spoilers can suck, but the most spoiler-y moments had aired months ago. The statute of limitations was over, and so, in that spirit: This year’s Emmy Awards marks the first awards ceremony I’ve ever felt comfortable grading an “A.”
Now that that twist is out of the bag, let’s get to the reasons why. Even if we weren’t judging an awards show based on who actually won, this year’s Emmys felt like a real success in terms of celebrating the great TV currently keeping us all very, very busy, razzing those who needed razzing and finding real moments for surprise (and comedy!) in the midst of the action — while also (gasp!) ending on time.
It helps that no major injustices occurred; at least, if you were playing the extremely pessimistic “Jon Hamm has never won an Emmy, as long as Jon Hamm wins an Emmy I’m okay” game. This was a significantly safer game than “Game of Thrones,” though things were looking dangerous as “Thrones” racked up writing and directing wins. (And also the win for Outstanding Drama, but I’m downplaying that for the sake of my colleague Ben Travers, who would have preferred to see “Mad Men” win a fifth Emmy for its last season.) Tina Fey walking out with the envelope for Outstanding Actor in a Drama, though, added a level of comfort to the one truly stressful moment of my night. Tina wouldn’t do us — or her frequent collaborator — wrong.
It’s worth noting that the nominees this year, overall, feature a lot of critical favorites that are pretty under-viewed. “Veep,” “Transparent” and “American Crime” are well-respected but not exactly popular picks, while HBO miniseries “Olive Kitteridge’s” near-sweep of its categories lead a lot of people to ask “What is ‘Olive Kitteridge’?” (Answer: It’s a miniseries about a pretty depressed woman with a lot of humor and heart, directed by Lisa Cholodenko. You might want to check it out.)
But while the nominees aren’t that well-known — a fact sure to be dissected by pundits tomorrow morning, when the analysis of tonight’s ratings begins — it’s still TV’s biggest night, when it comes to celebrating the medium… And also making jokes at its expense, most especially in an opening number that echoed every TV critic’s favorite complaint: “There’s too much TV!”
Fortunately, the show didn’t fixate on that issue, and it also didn’t get weirdly obsessive over the fact we’ve all come to accept, over the last couple of years, that what we call television now comes from a lot of different places. Of course, there were jokes that played better than others — especially a few undercooked punchlines in Samberg’s opening monologue. But he laughed off the jokes that didn’t land with a steady confidence, and nothing really face-planted. Any awards show that gives us the gift of Tatiana Maslany and Tony Hale fighting over a can of beans deserves entrance through the gates of Valhalla, shiny and chrome.
(Also, let’s note that there were some pretty blunt Bill Cosby jokes in the show, and — unlike this year’s Golden Globes, where the crowd was a bit skittish over chuckling at Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s sharp digs at the comedian/alleged rapist — the reaction tonight was laughter without hesitation. We look to comedy, at times, to tear down false idols who do not deserve our worship, and the shift in those reactions is an important one to observe.)
I remain really charmed by Andy Samberg revealing to the audience what his HBO Now login is; a login which actually worked, if “logging into streaming digital services really really fast” happens to be a job skill of yours. It would have been more interesting if the bit had utilized some sort of callback, but I did enjoy watching other people update his Watchlist with different titles. When I first logged in, he was all set up to binge-view “The Jinx,” but later on people had swapped that out with “Atlantic City Hookers” and “Bikini Superheroes.” (Keep it classy, guys.)
Were the original picks I saw, when I logged in, Samberg’s actual picks? They could have been! The best way to describe this year’s Emmys, weirdly enough, is “personal.” Normally, a host doesn’t have such a deep impact on a show, but Samberg really seemed to shape the progression of events. There were multiple comedy musical numbers (a staple of his, as part of comedy troupe The Lonely Island), several clever intros featuring Samberg throughout the show and a tribute to former boss and “Saturday Night Live” producer Lorne Michaels that might have felt like time-killing… except, again, the show came in exactly on time. Executive producer Don Mischer, take a G.D. bow for a well-paced, entertaining show. You deserve it.
And the fact is, “personal” extended beyond Samberg’s own bits. Did Jimmy Kimmel ask permission to bring a pair of scissors on stage so that he could cut out and literally eat the name of the Best Actor in a Comedy winner? Did James Corden pre-plan, with the Emmys team, what ended up being a pretty delightful celebration of the Ernst & Young LLP accountants? It’s live TV, so anything is possible. But loose moments like that — moments that gave the show an unpredictable air and revealed a real sense of humanity behind the scenes — are what make awards shows worth watching.
This year, beyond beating up on Donald Trump a bit, the most political speeches came when Jeffrey Tambor and Jill Soloway accepted their awards for “Transparent” and highlighted the current state of the trans community’s search for acceptance. Plus, there was Viola Davis, accepting her best actress award for her work in “How to Get Away With Murder,” making a bold statement about intersectionality and the fact that the only way for women and people of color to make strides is for them to have the chance to do so. In a year when diversity is both making real strides and falling back in various categories, it was an important moment, delivered by a lady worthy of commanding that stage.
It was a night full of moments. Jon Stewart made a lovely appearance on stage and focused on how weird it is to no longer be on television (preceded by a video reminder of that time he got the crap kicked out of him by John Cena). “True Detective” Season 2 was razzed most deservedly. Everyone is the new Ed Asner. Richard Jenkins got starstruck by Lady Gaga. A lot of nice and talented people won awards — including Jon Hamm. So, in case you were wondering…