Che and Jost bombed. Gadsby killed. One gorgeous spouse from “The Americans” won, the other didn’t. A non-celebrity winner, the Oscars producer Glenn Weiss, proposed to his girlfriend onstage, a moment that momentarily tottered somewhere between sweet and too much—then landed squarely on sweet, because his fiancée seemed genuinely happy.
That made one of us. The Emmys dragged last night, a bland and choppy evening, and also a disappointing one, particularly if you were not a fan of the Amazon series “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” which swept so hard it could have won the Olympic gold medal for curling, too. Amy Sherman-Palladino’s gorgeously mannered ice-cream headache of a show, on which I seem to be an extreme outlier, won Outstanding Comedy Series, Lead Actress, Supporting Actress, Directing, and Comedy Writing. (Poor Tony Shalhoub was the exception.) There have been plenty of salutes to “Maisel” from fans seeking something female-forward. You could consider the win to be reparations for the cancellation of Sherman-Palladino’s “Bunheads.” For me, however, the silver lining of the era is how there are so many great comedies about women or by women—“Broad City,” “Jane the Virgin,” “Lady Dynamite,” “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” “Search Party,” “Claws,” and I could go on—that it’s not unreasonable to gripe when a weaker one hogs the spotlight. That’s the true liberation, ladies.
And, of course, sweeps mean snubs. Many other shows weren’t recognized at all, particularly the hugely ambitious “Atlanta” (for which it actually was “Robbin’ Season”) and the charming ensemble of “GLOW.” The “Atlanta” episode “Teddy Perkins” didn’t win for Hiro Murai’s direction (although Teddy Perkins himself was in the audience, haunting the haters). Neither did David Lynch, for “Twin Peaks: The Return,” which was not really my cup of tea but worthy of recognition. “Game of Thrones,” as always, got gold, but that felt particularly galling when the show beat the indelible final season of “The Americans” for Outstanding Drama Series. I’d be mad that “The Good Fight,” “BoJack Horseman,” “The Good Place,” “Dear White People,” “Lady Dynamite,” “The Deuce,” and “Search Party” didn’t win anything, either, except that none of these shows was even nominated.
If it seems ridiculous to get hot and bothered about the Emmys, it is. Every year, I remind myself that the Emmys don’t matter. Top Ten lists are terrible, too. It’s all rigged, rigged, I tell you! But what can you do? I have to watch. For a while this year, I tried to pretend that all of the nominees were old friends of mine from high school, so that I could root for everyone to win. It didn’t take.
There were, however, speeches that made me feel that way. The first two may have been the best, from a chipper Henry Winkler, for “Barry,” joking his way off with the classic, “Kids, you can go to bed now. Daddy won!,” even though his kids are in their forties; and the glorious, brassy Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy, Alex Borstein. Borstein, before she walked onstage to discuss bathroom etiquette, first removed her cape and literally shimmied up the aisle, bra-free. (Even this “Maisel” hater could root for Borstein.) Other charismatic, funny, and/or endearingly humble winners included Regina King (winner for Most Genuinely Surprised) and Merritt Wever (whose win reminded me to check out “Godless”). RuPaul was inspiring in neon orange shoes. Darren Criss, winning for his indelible performance in “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story,” thanked his fiancée by telling her, “You roll the windows down and pump the music up in my life.” Matthew Rhys chatterboxed his way through an excited thank-you, noting that his partner, Keri Russell, had said she’d kill him if he proposed from the stage. Her reaction became the night’s top GIF.
The dark, unsettling “Assassination of Gianni Versace” also came through in other categories. Ryan Murphy, in a shimmery peach jacket, gave two speeches in which he shared credit with grace, emphasizing the contribution of the writer Tom Rob Smith during both. In one of the evening’s relatively rare directly political speeches—few people invoked Trump or #MeToo—Murphy talked about a country “that allows hatred to go unfettered and unchecked” and dedicated the award “to the memory of Jeff and David and Gianni, and for all those taken too soon.”
But, other than these few bright spots, the Emmys were, if not the Bad Place, the Blah Place. The evening opened with a zippy number called “We Solved It!,” satirizing both Hollywood’s problem with diversity and harassment and its eagerness simply to wish it away. “We solved it / Banished every creep who broke the law / And now they’re serving hard time at that Arizona spa,” Kristen Bell sang. “We solved it, this room is so diverse / From Democrat to liberal Democrat, shall we sing another verse?” Sterling K. Brown sang. It zigged and zagged but largely scored, with cameos by RuPaul and Ricky Martin. The entrance of the One of Each Dancers was a nice touch, too.
Then Colin Jost and Michael Che arrived and the descent began, as they did an opening routine so low-energy, it made James Franco at the Oscars look like Roberto Benigni at the Oscars. There was a gag about how many Filipino nurses there are at hospitals, a rambling bit about how the best thing for Netflix to do would be to make a version of “The Apprentice” starring the Obamas—fizzle after fizzle. Only one zinger felt worth quoting: a joke about an all-white reboot of “Atlanta,” called “15 Miles Outside of Atlanta,” about white women calling the cops on the cast of “Atlanta.” It wasn’t as if Jost and Che were taking edgy leaps and crashing. It was just smug, drab stuff. Chicken-hearted, too, all easy shots. No one mentioned Les Moonves at all.
The rest of the comedy—except for some slapstick from Will Ferrell—was similarly drab. A repeated bit about Maya Rudolph and Fred Armisen being ill-prepared presenters fell flat. A taped piece about offering
“Reparations Emmys” to African-American actors was much better, charming mainly because it was wonderful to see people like Kadeem Hardison (“A Different World”) and Marla Gibbs (“The Jeffersons”) get their due—with Bryan Cranston doing a nicely self-mocking cameo.
Still, the standout was probably Hannah Gadsby, who slouched in and opened with the words, “This is . . . not normal.” She then performed a witty, destabilizing, hard-to-describe routine about being a nobody who was invited “because I don’t like men.” In its confident charisma, that one minute felt both funny and daring, a combination otherwise nowhere to be seen, a welcome detour from the pre-chewed and inoffensive banter of “Saturday Night Live.” In the modern debate about jokes, the one that Gadsby herself helped ignite with “Nanette,” she got the last laugh.