‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ sweeps The Emmys
‘Big Little Lies’ was the other big winner on a night that saw Riz Ahmed snag an acting Emmy and Lena Waithe and Aziz Ansari a writing one
Stephen Colbert is smarter than you. That’s his brand. The Late Show host is smarter, cheekier, more aware and more in on the joke than the people making up the joke — which is what makes him such a superb choice as awards show host. If you aren’t laughing at Colbert, he’s laughing at you. So began the 69th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards with Colbert mocking the premise itself — “TVs highest honour: Us celebrating us. Tonight, we binge ourselves” — while television stars from Stranger Things and Modern Family wiped away tears of laughter.
Colbert stayed crisp, current, and characteristically kept things political — like when he spoke of the plethora of original programming being created every year that no one person can keep up with “other than the President, who seems to have time for that sort of thing”. The Donald Trump digs were less savage then hoped for, but — in a controversial comic moment — Colbert wheeled out Trump’s former White House Communications director Sean Spicer to tell him how popular the Emmy broadcast was going to be and thus assuage his fragile ego. He then thanked Spicer by referring to him as Melissa McCarthy, who unforgettably played Spicer on Saturday Night Live this season.
Also read: Emmy Awards 2017 was pitch-perfect
When the Emmy nominations came out in July, there was significant heartbreak: The Leftovers, BoJack Horseman, Insecure, Ted Danson from The Good Place, and Michael McKean from Better Call Saul were all nowhere to be seen. Yet, this is the year Emmy voters will be remembered for showing us that they were unafraid — of diversity, of ignoring Westworld, and of watching a television show that made them look like they had read the book. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the year of The Handmaid’s Tale.
Adapted by Bruce Miller and starring a stupendous Elisabeth Moss in the title role, The Handmaid’s Tale won big at the Emmys. Based on the dystopian novel by Margaret Atwood, the show won Best Drama Series, Best Actress for Moss, Best Direction, Best Supporting Actress for Ann Dowd and Best Writing. At the end of the show, the celebrated Canadian novelist took the stage with the cast and crew in a moment that seems to demonstrate how pop culture has shifted, urgently, toward the relevant.
The other major winner of the night was Big Little Lies, a wonderfully acted yet not extraordinary show about domestic violence, which saw actresses Nicole Kidman and Laura Dern deservedly pick up awards for their sterling performances. Of the actresses left out in the cold this year, the most rankling omission is that of the two ladies from Feud: Bette And Joan, with Susan Sarandon’s brassy Bette Davis and Jessica Lange’s exceptional Joan Crawford losing out — ironically, given the theme of that show, this appears almost egregious enough to label the Emmys ageist.
Riz Ahmed was rewarded for his work in The Night Of, though the scratchy procedural miniseries did not win any other categories. The other limited series awards — best episode, best writing, best TV movie — went to Charlie Brooker for the “San Junipero” episode of his increasingly plausible science-fiction show, Black Mirror.
Master Of None won the Emmy for best writing in a comedy series last year with its superlative ”Parents” episode, and this year Aziz Ansari’s show repeated the win for its deeply sensitive episode about a young black girl coming out, “Thanksgiving”. The episode was written by Ansari and Lena Waithe, who became the first black woman to win an Emmy for writing comedy.
The big disappointment for me at the Emmys this year was Outstanding Comedy Series going to Veep, which really faltered this year. The political satire still has an astounding ratio of gags-per-minute, but its desperation to turn its protagonist mean-spirited — while possibly inevitable considering the current political climate — is not consistent to her character. Selina Meyer has now crossed the line from character to caricature, and while Julia Louis-Dreyfus is a goddess and deserves her Best Actress trophy (especially for the “Mother” episode this year), the show is not true to itself and seems only to indulge in one note. We do not root for the character any more, like we did in the superb fifth season, but now merely laugh at the lines. It is a fine show, but a lesser one.
Then again, Veep winning the highest comedy accolade of the night might not be a triumph of the show at all. Perhaps it is America trying to reassure itself that it knows how to vote for a woman.