'Game of Thrones' & 'Veep' repeated, yet this was a surprising Emmy night
Sipowicz and Simone, together again!
Franz and Smits, together again!
Sipowicz and Simone, together again!
Dennis Franz, coming out of retirement, maybe?!?!?!
Dennis Franz saying "Ipsa this!" 23 years after TV viewers first met Andy Sipowicz?!?!!?
What, you want me to talk about the actual Emmy results, rather than the unexpected and wonderful reunion of my beloved NYPD Blue that occurred right before the end of the telecast?
Okay, fine. Though Frranz and Smits' appearance to present the final award — Outstanding Drama Series, to Emmy steamroller Game of Thrones, which tied its own record from last year for the most Emmys for a series in a single year with 12 (many of them presented last week at the Creative Arts Emmy ceremonies) — provided one last surprising and delightful moment in an Emmy telecast largely full of them.
Yes, GoT mostly dominated for its uneven but at times brilliant sixth season. Yes, FX's The People v. O.J. Simpson won in all but one of the categories for which it was eligible (losing the directing trophy to The Night Manager's Susanne Bier), and Veep and its star Julia Louis-Dreyfus repeated as expected, just as Transparent star Jeffrey Tambor repeated in a victory so routine, Emmy host Jimmy Kimmel tried giving Tambor the trophy at the start of the show to save time. There will always be repetition at the Emmys — that's built into the DNA of an awards show that honors where ongoing series are eligible year after year — just as there will always be obvious winners even among the new stuff like People v. O.J. (I slightly preferred Fargo season 2 to it, but recency plus popularity plus zeitgeist plus quality made O.J. a heavy favorite going into the night.)
And even allowing for some of the inevitability, plenty that happened during the show ranged from pleasant surprise to marvelous stunner, starting from the night's first award:
* Louie Anderson, whose nomination for his largely dramatic, cross-dressing performance on Baskets already seemed improbable, actually winning the trophy.
* Netflix's Master of None beat out some more prominent nominees in the writing category — including Veep, which seemed poised to win everything in its path but ultimately only won its two biggest categories — for its warm and smart "Parents" episode (the one that sold me on that show's greatness) and gave co-creator Alan Yang a chance to make a funny plea for more and better representation of Asian characters on television.
* Kate McKinnon became the first SNL cast member since
the 1970s 1993 to win an Emmy for her work on the show, and was one of several winners reduced to tears by the end of (or, in her case, the start of) their speech.
* Though Tambor's win wasn't surprising, the sentiment at the end of his speech — "I would not be unhappy if I were the last cis male to play a female transgender on television" — was.
* While someone from People v. O.J. was likely to win the limited series supporting actor trophy, it didn't go to the more famous John Travolta or David Schwimmer, but to the previously-obscure Sterling K. Brown, whose work as Christopher Darden gave the show so much of its emotional power. And Sarah Paulson and Courtney B. Vance also won for their phenomenal performances as Marcia Clark and Johnnie Cochran; Paulson was perhaps the lock of the night (it was her or Louis-Dreyfus), but Vance also had to compete against a more famous crop of nominees, including his Oscar-winning co-star Cuba Gooding Jr.
* Patton Oswalt was so sure he wouldn't win an Emmy for writing his latest comedy special that he didn't even prepare a speech — one of several winners of the night to have to speak extemporaneously — yet he managed to work in the evening's most touching sentiment, when he dedicated the award to two people: his daughter waiting at home for him, then added — in a reference to his late wife Michelle McNamara, who died suddenly in April — "The other is waiting somewhere else, I hope."
* Key & Peele won its first two Emmys — including Outstanding Variety Sketch Series — on its way out the door, and I'll leave it to you to decide whether the Gremlins 2 or Ray Parker Jr. sketch was the one that pushed the final season over the top.
* Rami Malek seemed like a good bet to win drama lead actor for the breakout first season of Mr. Robot, but he wouldn't be the first young phenomenon to lose after a lot of hype. Instead, he won, and got to have a little fun with the newness of it all by quoting Elliot Alderson in asking the audience, "Please tell me you're seeing this, too."
* Orphan Black star Tatiana Maslany has been giving not only one of the best performances on television for years, but at least two or three, and the Academy finally recognized her for the BBC America drama's fourth season. (It was so surprising, maybe we can even forgive presenter Kiefer Sutherland for giving her name the Adele Dazeem treatment.)
Would I have liked to see The Americans win some or all of the awards for which it was nominated tonight, or for another comedy lead actress to win rather than further weighing down JLD's trophy case? Sure. But this was a fun night, a mostly good TV show (more on that below), and more often than not, the nominees were so strong that even if I preferred a different winner in certain categories (say, Matthew Rhys or Keri Russell over Malek or Maslany), I can't really object to the actual winner(*). No awards show can honor everything great, especially in Peak TV. The best we can hope for is that the majority of the winners are deserving, and the show itself isn't a drag. The 2016 Emmys passed both tests easily.
(*) One of the few exceptions: GoT winning the drama writing award for "Battle of the Bastards," which wasn't even the best GoT script of the season, let alone the best of the nominees. But writers and writing teams can only submit one script, and David Benioff and D.B. Weiss chose "Bastards" over "The Winds of Winter" or "The Door," and there was — outside of its losses in the two supporting actor categories — an enormous groundswell of support for the series.
And I have to be honest with you: Sipowicz + Simone = dayenu.
Some other thoughts:
* Kimmel's general contempt for this sort of event had me wondering if he was going to play well in the theater, like some of the more divisive Oscar hosts (Letterman, Chris Rock, Jon Stewart), but he was mostly able to dial himself back so that he could have fun with the event without making too much fun of the event. (Though the Bill Cosby gag was pure concentrated Kimmel.) Not every bit worked (the opening filmed piece, like most of these things, went on far too long, and awards show hosts need to stop handing out food to the celebs in attendance, even if these were delivered by the Stranger Things kids in costume), but Kimmel had some good lines ("Transparent was born a drama but identifies as a comedy"), was as warm and fuzzy as he's capable of being on camera, and Matt Damon showing up to mock him for losing to John Oliver was a nice payoff to their long-running fake feud.
* Good on the Emmy-cast producers for granting separate tributes to Garry Shandling and Garry Marshall, whose impact on the medium was too great to be relegated to a slide as part of the In Memoriam. On the other hand, many of the people featured in the montage, often prominently, were people who had been on TV but were far more famous for their work elsewhere — at times at the expense of TV veterans like One Day at a Time star Pat Harrington and L.A. Law alum Larry Drake (both Emmy winners!) — including Prince getting the final slot.
* One odd surprise: Bloodline's Ben Mendelsohn winning not for his mesmerizing work in the Netflix drama's first season, but for a second season in which he barely appeared. Then again, Character Actress Margo Martindale won the drama guest actress trophy for an Americans episode (and season!) in which she only appeared in one unremarkable scene.
* Mendelsohn beat Peter Dinklage, and the similarly absent Maggie Smith beat Dinklage's TV sister Lena Headey, who was either the victim of vote-splitting (she had to compete with both Maisie Williams and Emilia Clarke from her own show) or is simply giving a performance the Academy likes enough to nominate, but not win. (Last year, she was only competing with Clarke from her own show and still lost.)
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org