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The Small Screen Has a Long Memory: Just Look at This Year’s Emmy Winners If You Doubt That
September 18, 2018  | By Alex Strachan  | 1 comment
Ain’t live television grand? Right now, minutes after Game of Thrones — perhaps improbably — won the big award of the evening over a field that included The Crown (best lead actress in a drama series, Claire Foy; and best directing), The Americans (best lead actor in a drama, Matthew Rhys; and best writing) and Westworld (best supporting actress, Thandie Newton).
I feel slightly disoriented, as though I had just ridden Walt Disney World’s Big Thunder Mountain ride for three straight hours — a good way, and this is true, according to a recent research study by Michigan State University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, to pass kidney stones.
Mixed emotions can do that for one, especially given the roller-coaster nature of the 70th Primetime Emmy Awards.
First-time hosts Colin Jost and Michael Che (both left), familiar to anyone who watches Saturday Night Live — or visited TVWW in the days leading up to the Emmys — proved a mixed bag, with an issues-driven monologue that walked the fine line between funny (one day, in the not-too-distant future, Atlanta will be remade with all-white cast and renamed 15 Miles Outside Atlanta, about white women who call the police on the cast of Atlanta) and not-so-funny (Che’s, “Congratulations to Laurie Metcalf. . . . That’s incredible. Do you know how great you have to be to get nominated for Roseanne now? That’s like nominating a cop for a BET Award.”)
The moment that stole the evening, though, is the one that came without warning, and that everyone — well, everyone who watched the broadcast live, anyway — had an opinion about. Industry veteran Glenn Weiss, who had just won an Emmy for arguably the most pointless award of the evening — Outstanding Directing for a Variety Special, if you must know, for directing this past year’s Oscars telecast — proposed to his longtime girlfriend during his acceptance speech, this after informing a hushed audience in the auditorium that his mother had passed away just two weeks earlier, and that she was the one person in his life who would have been most proud to see him this night. “Mom always believed in finding the sunshine in things, and that’s why she adored my girlfriend, Jan . . . Mom was right: Don’t ever let go of my sunshine. (Jan), you wonder why I don’t like to call you my girlfriend? Because I want to call you my wife.”
It was the kind of unrehearsed moment that makes live television what it is. There is really no way to do it justice in words— one had to witness the emotion in real time to know that the moment was genuine and heartfelt, and not a rehearsed stunt — and nearly every live shot took in startled, joyous, tearful expressions from anyone and everyone in attendance: Javier Bardem, Leslie Jones, a sea of expressions that read, What just happened here? Co-host Jost, co-anchor of SNL’s Weekend Update faux-news newscast, showed his deft timing and quickness of feet by quipping, moments later, “There’s so many guys who didn’t win with engagement rings in their pockets right now.”
Later in the evening, John Oliver — who won the Emmy for Outstanding Variety Talk Series for HBO’s Last Week Tonight, over fellow nominees Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee, Jimmy Kimmel and others — quipped, “On behalf of everyone in this room, I’d like to thank Glenn Weiss’ fiancé for saying ‘Yes.’ This could have been a very different evening. You really came through.”
And how.
Most social media posts up to that point had judged the show itself to be slow, stilted and not particularly funny, not unlike an off-week outing of Saturday Night Live.
That was true, to a point, but TV celebrities at the Emmys always seem more natural, less nervous and more in tune with slacker comedy than the movie crowd at the Oscars. Perhaps Oscar nominees realize this is their one and only shot at glory for the film in question; TV, as the evening would show with emotional appearances by Betty White — she’s 96! — and Henry Winkler (top), who quipped that he had saved his acceptance speech for 43 years before finally getting to use it, has a longer memory, and a keener sense of its own history.
Winkler’s win, for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy, was one of those meta moments that make the small screen seem so slyly wry and topical: In Bill Hader’s witty, self-referential HBO comedy Barry (left), Winkler plays a cranky acting coach who ekes out a living in Hollywood trying to teach the craft to hopeless causes and dead-enders, like Hader’s hitman looking for a career change after a midlife crisis.
From an industry point-of-view, the awards themselves reflected the changing face of TV today. Anyone hoping for a comeback by the traditional broadcast networks would have been sorely disappointed. Saturday Night Live aside (Outstanding Variety Sketch Series), the top awards went to cable (FX, with strong showings by The Americans and The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story), premium cable (HBO, with the aforementioned Game of Thrones, Westworld and Barry) and streaming services Netflix (for The Crown, Black Mirror and Seven Seconds) and Amazon, which landed an evening-topping five Emmys for the Amy Sherman-Palladino (below) comedy The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
“Lose” is a harsh word to apply here, but if any production team were disappointed, it would be the people behind Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale. No one closely associated with Handmaid’s Tale is likely to be too disappointed, as it practically ran the table last year, in its debut season, and it’s likely to remain in the mix of nominations for as long as Hulu decides to keep making it. (Elisabeth Moss seemed both resplendent and gracious, even as it became clear this would not be her evening.)
In Memoriam segments are always tricky; invariably someone is left out, for whatever reason. This year’s edition was quite lovely, played to Aretha Franklin’s 1972 live gospel church recording of Amazing Grace, with the Queen of Soul bracketing the segment on either side. I do wish, however, that writer Harlan Ellison had made the honors roll. That seemed like an egregious omission to me.
Awards are always a matter of personal taste, and my highlight moments are unlikely to be yours.
I must confess being pleasantly surprised more often than not at the TV academy voters’ decisions, which is unusual for me — the first I can remember with the Emmys in a long, long while.
Certainly, I hoped — prayed, even — that The Americans might go out with an outstanding drama series Emmy to its name, and I felt bad for Keri Russell (she looked fine with it, by the way). But it would be churlish of me to deny The Crown’s Claire Foy her moment in the Emmy spotlight — she seemed genuinely stunned and appreciative — and it was enough for me to see her castmate of six seasons Matthew Rhys recognized as outstanding lead actor, together with writing Emmys for show-creators Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields.
I was thrilled — tickled pink — to see Merritt Wever (left) win for the underappreciated Netflix western Godless, together with her Godless castmate Jeff Daniels, who can seemingly do no wrong. For my taste, he was remarkable here, even by his own standards.
And I was elated to see Westworld ’s Thandie Newton recognized, though it’s always hard for me to see Handmaid’s Tale’s Ann Dowd and Stranger Things’ irrepressible Millie Bobby Brown overlooked. 
Brown is young, though. She will be around a long time.
That’s the thing about TV — and, for all the complaints, the one thing the Emmys has over the Oscars: A long memory, and many second chances.
Just look at Winkler.  By his own admission, he had to wait 43 years. But he got there in the end.
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Mark Isenberg
I don't know how Merritt Wever and Jeff Daniels win for Godless but not Michelle Dockery,too.This is part of the problem of Emmy voters who do not all watch the programs in the mix. Let's hope new Emmy producers go less for comedy hosts and more for appreciating this golden age of better writers even on Chuck Lorre's Mom and or Young Sheldon.Big Bang? Thankfully,last season.
Sep 18, 2018   |  Reply
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