October 05, 2018

Best of Times

With mazal for Maisel and a tongue-in-cheek take on diversity, the 70th Emmys were steeped in the spirit of SNL.

Liane Bonin Starr

In the 70th-anniversary year of the Emmys, voters  embraced a simpler time — 1958 — awarding five statuettes to Amazon’s retro charmer, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,  during the September 17 telecast.

The freshman show, about a housewife-turned-comic, was named Outstanding Comedy Series (the first such award for a streaming service), and its star, Rachel Brosnahan, was honored as Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy.

Still, contemporary issues were front and center at L.A.’s Microsoft Theater. Not the #MeToo movement, which was only briefly addressed during the three-hour live show.

Rather, the production tackled diversity from its opening moments with “We Solved It,” a witty song and dance performed by Kate McKinnon, Kenan Thompson, Kristen Bell, Tituss Burgess, Sterling K. Brown, Ricky Martin, RuPaul and John Legend. The stars congratulated themselves — and the audience — for dealing with TV’s diversity problem.

“We solved it!” sang McKinnon and Thompson. “We’ve gotten with the times. There’s room for all our voices, but mostly Shonda Rhimes. Welcome, Asian people! We gave you that one show. And who can forget the amazing Sandra Oh?”  Oh, Thompson explained, “is the first Asian woman to be nominated for a lead actress Emmy ever!”

From her seat, the actress quipped: “Thank you, but it’s an honor just to be Asian.”

When Andy Samberg descended to the stage on a crescent moon, asking, “Is there any room in this song for a straight, white guy like me?” he was  dispatched by McKinnon. She then welcomed “The One of Each Dancers,” who “checked every box” of race and gender.

The NBC show was hosted by Colin Jost and Michael Che of Saturday Night Live and executive-produced by SNL’s Lorne Michaels. Che took the diversity theme one satirical step further with a pre-recorded segment dubbed “The Reparation Emmys.”

The comedian presented awards to seemingly puzzled African-American stars Marla Gibbs (a five-time Emmy nominee for The Jeffersons), Jimmie Walker (Good Times), Kadeem Hardison (A Different World), Jaleel White (Family Matters), Tichina Arnold (Martin) and John Witherspoon (The Wayans Brothers), joking that the statuettes had been stolen from Bill Cosby.

But the 70th Emmys were, of course, the evening’s focus, and the Maisel comedy sweep started early. Alex Borstein, who plays caustic comedy club manager Susie Myerson, accepted the supporting actress award in her 1994 wedding dress.

The Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series went to Maisel creator–executive producer Amy Sherman-Palladino for her pilot script. When she won the Directing for a Comedy Series award minutes later — becoming the first woman to win Emmys for both writing and directing a comedy in the same year — she cracked, “My panic room is gonna be so pretty!”

In her acceptance remarks, Brosnahan acknowledged the growth of her character, Miriam “Midge” Maisel, within the context of current events.

“One thing I love most about this show,” she said, “is that it’s about a woman who is finding her voice anew. And it’s something that’s happening all over the country right now. One of the most important ways that we can find and use our voice is to vote. So, if you haven’t already registered, do it on your cell phone right now.”

Another multi-award winner was the FX limited series The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, which collected three statuettes. HBO juggernaut Game of Thrones took just two awards, though one was the coveted Outstanding Drama Series honor. Netflix’s Godless and The Crown as well as HBO’s Barry also took two apiece.

Netflix scored the most awards during the evening with seven, followed closely by HBO with six. They also tied with 23 Emmys overall, including those given out at the Creative Arts Emmys the previous weekend. FX and Amazon won five each during the telecast, while the highest-scoring broadcast network was NBC, which received one Emmy during the telecast and 15 at the Creative Arts.

One of the Barry wins — Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series — went to Henry Winkler, who plays tragically uncool acting coach Gene Cousineau. A six-time Primetime Emmy nominee but never before a winner, Winkler was first nominated in 1976 for the role of the Fonz on ABC’s Happy Days.

“I wrote this 43 years ago,” he said of his acceptance speech, adding, “[Entertainment lawyer] Skip Brittenham said to me a few years ago, ‘If you stay at the table long enough, the chips come to you.’ Tonight I cleared the table.” Barry star Bill Hader took Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for his role as a frustrated assassin with acting aspirations.

As the show moved along, Che joked, “Six awards, all white winners — nobody’s thanked Jesus yet.” Regina King, who won Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie for her role in Netflix’s Seven Seconds, broke that streak, becoming the first African-American winner of the evening. Despite having won two previous Emmys, she was surprised.

“Really? Say word. Oh, my God. Okay. So, I dropped my lipstick on my dress and I was down there trying to get it out because I knew — wow…,” King trailed off, brushing at her dress. “This is amazing, I want to curse right now.” Before she left the stage, she threw in a callback for Che: “Thank you, Jesus!”

Merritt Wever scored the Emmy for Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie, for Netflix’s Godless. In 2013, overcome by her win for Showtime’s Nurse Jackie, Wever left the stage with a very brief, “Thank you… gotta go. Bye!”

This time, she said, “I really appreciate this. I hope you don’t mistake my fear for a lack of gratitude…. I came prepared, and it’s bombing already. I wanted to be a grownup about this… I just want to say that I’m still shocked that you’ve made a space for me and for Mary Agnes [her character in Godless]. I love her and I miss her. I hope she’s well, and I wish I could tell her about tonight. Thank you from the both of us.”

Her Godless castmate, Jeff Daniels, who won for supporting actor, offered a tip to young colleagues: “When they call and say, ‘Can you ride a horse?’ don’t lie. You will find out on day one, you’re in the Kentucky Derby.” He also thanked his horse, Apollo, who threw him three times before Daniels broke his wrist. “It’s now officially healed,” he declared, as he hoisted his statuette.

Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series went to Ryan Murphy for The Assassination of Gianni Versace, while Darren Criss scored Outstanding Lead Actor for his portrayal of real-life killer Andrew Cunanan. The show also won Outstanding Limited Series. In his remarks,

Murphy, also an executive producer of the series, addressed its larger themes. “It’s about homophobia and a country that allows hatred to grow unchecked…. We dedicate this to awareness and stricter hate-crime laws.”

While HBO’s Westworld scored only one Emmy during the evening, the win was memorable. When Thandie Newton, ethereal in a pink gown, accepted for Supporting Actress in a Drama Series, she said, “I don’t even believe in God, but I’m going to thank her tonight,” then accidentally dropped an f -bomb.

FX’s The Americans, which ended its six-year run this past spring, took two Emmys on the way out. Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg won for Writing for a Drama Series and star Matthew Rhys was named Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for his portrayal of Russian spy Philip Jennings.

Rhys, in his rolling Welsh brogue, had many thanks, including: “Joe Weisberg, parts like these come along so rarely. What you created, wrote and risked, I will be forever in your debt. Your good self, Gavin O’Connor and Leslee Feldman not only gave me the part and the opportunity of a lifetime, but by default, you also gave me a son. [He and costar Keri Russell have a two-year- old, Sam.] I just hope the little bugger’s asleep…. Joel Fields, for everything you wrote, said and brought to this bountiful table… Chris Long, your mentorship meant everything…. To the woman who truly got me this award: I don’t have words or the time, Keri Lynn, thank you. More to come.”

Though there was much pre-show buzz about Killing Eve star Sandra Oh being the first Asian woman nominated as Lead Actress in a Drama Series, that Emmy went to Claire Foy for her work as Queen Elizabeth II in The Crown. “This wasn’t supposed to happen,” Foy said. “I felt so proud of being in the company of such extraordinary performances…. Bloody hell — I’m technically not swearing,” she added.

Outstanding Reality Competition Program went to RuPaul’s Drag Race, which won the category for the first time. In addition, RuPaul Charles was named Outstanding Reality Competition Host, his third Emmy in the category. This marked the first time a reality competition series and its host prevailed in the same year.

“We are so happy to present this show,” Charles said, thanking the audience “on behalf of the 140 drag queens we have released into the wild... and all of the dreamers out there.”

Comedian Dave Chappelle presented the Outstanding Variety Sketch Series award to Saturday Night Live, bringing the show’s all-time Emmy total to 67 — including 10 for show creator Lorne Michaels. In acceptance,

Michaels had words for critics of broadcast television: “In 1975, when we started, there were a lot of articles for most of that decade about how the networks wouldn’t be here much longer. And here we are. It’s 2018, and we are [on] the Emmys, and we are on NBC.”

But HBO wasn’t finished yet. Game of Thrones was named Outstanding Drama Series for the third time, and Peter Dinklage also won his third Emmy for the role of Tyrion Lannister. “Thank you, [creators] Dave [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss] for changing my life. I can’t walk down the street anymore.”

However, the biggest surprise of the evening wasn’t an awards upset or unannounced appearance. When the director of the Oscars, Glenn Weiss, won for Directing for a Variety Special, he addressed his girlfriend, Jan Svendsen, in the audience. “You wonder why I don’t want to call you my girlfriend? Because I want to call you my wife.”

As the shocked but delighted audience members rose to their feet, she walked to the stage, where he presented a ring and went down on one knee. In a moment made for TV, Svendsen said yes.

When John Oliver subsequently came to the stage with executive producer Liz Stanton to accept the Emmy for Outstanding Variety Talk Series for Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, he said what many had no doubt been thinking: “On behalf of all of us, I’d like to thank Glenn Weiss’s fiancée for saying yes. This could have been a very different evening. You really came through.” 

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 10, 2018

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