The Emmys proved resistance to Trump is here to stay on TV

Ken Tucker
Critic-at-Large

Remember this year’s Emmys? Awards shows come and go quickly — they seem so momentous in the moment, and so rapidly forgotten once they conclude. (Quick: what movie won Best Picture in last year’s Oscars?) But before Sunday night’s Emmys fade into obscurity, let’s recall how it went down over the course of three hours.

Host Stephen Colbert is the late-night talk-show host who has been most consistent in his analytical comedy about the tumultuous presidency of Donald Trump. So it was significant — nothing less than a statement of purpose — when he started off the night with as light-hearted a production number as he could muster. All smiles, he sang and danced his way through a song called, “Everything is Better on TV.” Even here, though, the numerous guest stars scattered throughout the evening began to suggest what was to come. In the most pointed line of the merry tune, Julia Louis-Dreyfus — soon to make history for winning more Emmys (six) for the same role (in Veep) than anyone — sang, “Imagine if your president was not beloved by Nazis.” (Will this help ESPN’s Jemele Hill and her “Trump is a white supremacist” tweet problems, in a well-the-white-lady-said-it-too kind of way? Probably not.)

The problem with live shows like this is that, except for the host — who picks and chooses his or her moment to go on the attack — there’s no predicting when the broadcast will feature a presenter or winner who’s got a scrap of paper in a sweaty palm, anxious to read a condemnation of the president. The result can be a wearying repetition of received, self-congratulatory non-wisdom. And Trump — our most famous centaur; half-businessman, half-TV-star — makes for a frequently irresistible target. So after a while, the anger at our POTUS could not help but seem somewhat rote.

I was freshly dumbfounded, however, by Colbert’s willing employment of former press secretary Sean Spicer as a reverse-SNL, mobile-podium joke. As I wrote in my Emmy review earlier, rewarding Spicer for his recent disgraceful performance as a Trump spokesman — one who cheerfully admitted to Jimmy Kimmel last week that he told the country whatever Trump wanted the press to hear, regardless of whether it was true or not — was baffling, coming from a host as morally ethical as Colbert seems to be. Perhaps it was Colbert’s sense of Catholic forgiveness.

Trump pervasiveness didn’t prevent the Emmys from showcasing some prominent firsts, and they were firsts that never smacked of political correctness but rather a simple, honest acknowledgment of talent: Lena Waithe as the first African-American woman to win a comedy-series Emmy (along with Aziz Ansari) for the excellent “Thanksgiving” episode of Master of None. This Is Us‘s Sterling K. Brown as the first black actor to win a best actor Emmy since  in 1998. Riz Ahmed as the first man of South Asian descent to win a best-actor Emmy, for The Night Of. Donald Glover as the first African-American to win a best-comedy-directing Emmy, for Atlanta. And there were numerous awards, both in front of and behind the camera, that established records for women in television, capped by Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s historic six-times-and-counting Veep win. Oh, and get this: By winning the best drama award for The Handmaid’s Tale, Hulu became the first streaming service to win a best-show Emmy — not the mighty Netflix (whose Stranger Things was essentially ignored in the on-air winnings on Sunday), not the prosperous Amazon Prime, but Hulu, hoo-hoo!

Did you have an Emmy pool going at home? If so, I must say with pride that I picked 11 winners from the 14 major categories in my will win/should win column last week. Stick with me, kids, and you’re likely to win the pot of cash — well, at least for this one year.

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