It’s almost a point of fact that no one likes awards telecasts. They’re either too long, awkwardly hosted, plagued by disappointing winners, or an unholy trinity of all three. Still, there will be people who were actually quite charmed by Sunday night’s tear-filled Emmys telecast, hosted by Andy Samberg in all his unapologetically—and polarizingly—goofy glory.
Donald Trump will probably not be one of them.
Hell hath no fury like an auditorium of really famous people united by political exasperation and given a microphone to make jokes from, and the business mogul turned Republican presidential hopeful was the butt of many of them. And, man, was that butt kicked hard.
Samberg, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, the Key and Peele duo, and Amy Schumer all got in digs on Trump, making it a running theme of an otherwise surprisingly emotional Emmys that left at least one TV writer (Hi, My name is Kevin…) ugly-crying on three separate occasions. (OK, four. Fine! Five. Curse you, Viola Davis!)
But while the latter half of the Emmys telecast was marked by perfect speeches and well-deserved wins—Game of Thrones! Veep! Jon Hamm!—the first half was devoted almost exclusively to Trump.
Samberg got his laugh line in early, roasting The Donald during his opening monologue. “Donald Trump is running for president, to the delight of uncles everywhere. I’ve got to say, sure, Donald Trump seems racist.” Then, after a pause as if a punchline was coming. “Let’s see, what else?”
Trump then got prime real estate in Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s acceptance speech for Best Actress. She opened her thanks by claiming to quote a line from Veep: “What a great honor it must be for you to honor me tonight.” She, too, paused, but this time a punchline came. “Sorry, Donald Trump said that.” She twisted the knife further, too. “It’s getting trickier and trickier to satirize this stuff.”
Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele were next to bat, taking a swing at Trump while presenting the Outstanding Reality Competition series award.
“There is one category of TV that allows us as a society to sit down and enjoy the simple spectacle reality,” Peele said. “A strange reality, where people can’t seem to say two words without throwing each other under the bus,” Key replied. Then Peele: “A reality where a panel of millionaires fight like sharks to be chosen by average middle-class Americans.”
The kicker: “But enough about the Republican National Convention, let’s get to the award.”
And it wasn’t just Schumer who took a shot at Trump. It was her entire writing staff, whose heads were Photoshopped into embarrassing photo ops from Trump’s past as their names were announced as nominees for Best Writing in a Variety Series.
Donald Trump’s history with the Emmys hasn’t always been so icy. Before poetic justice was served earlier this year and the “you’re fired” tycoon was himself given the pink slip from NBC, The Apprentice was nominated in the Best Reality Competition category twice (though losing to The Amazing Race each time).
And then there’s this. This. This gem of a video, this gift to the world bestowed on us all like a soft kiss from an angel. It is a video of Donald Trump and Megan Mullally singing the Green Acres theme song, Trump dressed in denim overalls. It is hands-down my favorite Donald Trump moment of all time. (Though also my least favorite Megan Mullally moment.)
It was part of a bit at the height of American Idol called “Emmy Idol,” in which TV actors sang theme songs from their favorite shows throughout the show. Kristen Bell, then back in her Veronica Mars days, sang the theme from Fame. Even Kristen Bell couldn’t make this bit endearing. Donald Trump, however—this is to be cherished forever.
But while Trump was a frequent target at this year’s ceremony, there was so much class, especially toward the show’s last hour, to make the roast that dominated the earlier portion of the show more palatable.
A tearful speech by Orange Is the New Black star Uzo Aduba in which she sobbed while paying tribute to her sister and poignantly thanking her team—“I love you mostly because you let me be me”—kicked off a relentless assault on our heartstrings.
Viola Davis made history in becoming the first black actress in the Emmys’ 67-year history to win the award for Best Actress in a Drama Series for How to Get Away with Murder, and gave a speech so emotional and so essential, it’s tempting to reprint it in full in this piece. Just this highlight should have you reaching for Kleenex: “Let me tell you something: The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”
I can’t feasibly estimate the number of times I’m going to watch it drunk at 2 a.m. on YouTube over the next few years, weeping silently to myself.
This year’s In Memoriam segment ended with Leonard Nimoy saying his famous line, “Live long and prosper,” a classy touch in a traditionally awkward package. And Mel Brooks returning to the Emmys stage to present Best Comedy series would have been the most emotional homecoming had Tracy Morgan, just over a year after a car accident left him in a coma, not walked out onstage—to a standing ovation—on his own two feet.
I’m not convinced the Television Academy wasn’t in some secret partnership with Kleenex.
It’s a great thing, though. Hollywood award shows can be so vapid and self-congratulatory, and actors so often—and insufferably—confuse saying something political with saying something meaningful.
The Trump jokes aside, it was a treat that so many winners Sunday night gave speeches that were deeply personal—and therefore incredibly moving. Amy Schumer’s acceptance speech for Best Variety Sketch Series was as lovely as you’d dream it would be, while Transparent creator Jill Soloway and star Jeffrey Tambor used their time at the microphone to galvanize a fight for transgender civil rights—thanking those who have already been fighting for it.
There were mini-sweeps in the major races—Veep, Game of Thrones, and Olive Kitteredge’s domination should make for a hopping HBO party tonight—that didn’t exactly make for a suspenseful night, but one in which the griping over who was robbed is less fitful than usual.
Juggling all of this, Andy Samberg was less a master of ceremonies than its jester. (It takes a special kind of comedian to pretend to perform anilingus on a massive Emmy statue in front of television’s most esteemed creators.)
His material Sunday night was so very Andy Samberg-y: a little petulant, like the class clown who knows he’s gonna get a laugh by riling up the teacher, but also so confidently offbeat that he doesn’t seem to care if some people don’t get—or even like—his jokes.
The bits he tried required swinging for the fences. A handful were home runs. (Emmys can kill!) Others missed wildly. (Is there a mug for Worst Awards Show Bit?)
But the best thing about Samberg’s hosting job, while uneven, was its silliness. Given the amount of emotion, it made for a bit of a tonally bipolar ceremony. But these things can tend to be such a slog that his wiliness combined with the winners’ authentic geyser of emotions made for an Emmy Awards night that, while not perfect, was a bit refreshing.
Overall, the telecast was a winner. Now it’s just a race to see which comedian will be the first that Donald Trump will call a loser.