Hollywood’s changing times, both in front of the camera and behind it, took center stage Monday night at the 70th annual Emmy Awards, where Game of Thrones, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and The Assassination of Gianni Versace all won multiple trophies. In particular, Maisel — which, appropriately enough, is about turning the tables on the entertainment industry — dominated the comedy categories, winning Outstanding Comedy Series, Lead Actress, Supporting Actress, Directing and Writing. Other notable wins included Versace, which earned Emmys for Outstanding Limited Series, Lead Actor and Writing; Game of Thrones, which won for Best Drama Series and a Best Supporting Actor award for Peter Dinklage; and The Americans, which garnered trophies for Writing and actor Matthew Rhys.
Broadcast television was the biggest loser at the Emmys this year (don’t tell Lorne Michaels, the only winner to wave the flag for networks), as shows on streaming services and cable channels — both basic and premium — swept up the most awards. Netflix had garnered the most nominations this year and the dominance of shows like its Godless, The Crown and Black Mirror, along with Amazon’s Mrs. Maisel, showed a formidable pivot toward recognizing streaming programming.
The show opened with a gag about how this year had the “most diverse group of nominees in Emmy history,” led by Kenan Thompson and Kate McKinnon, where they sang a song called “We Solved It” — saying they had finally “solved” the diversity problem in Hollywood. But if the nominees represented a wider group of people, the winners didn’t always reflect it. Co-host Michael Che joked to his foil, Colin Jost, early in the program that his mother doesn’t watch “white awards shows because you guys don’t thank Jesus enough.” And as the night went on, he wittily pointed out the lack of diversity among the winners by saying, “Six awards, all white winners, nobody’s thanked Jesus yet.”
It was even more notable as the cast of Atlanta — one of the evening’s most nominated programs and a favorite to win — all lost in their respective categories; star and creator Donald Glover (or someone he’d hired; the Internet was not sure) showed dressed as his Teddy Perkins character. In the end, only three people of color accepted awards.
The #MeToo movement and the role of women in Hollywood were also hot social topics during speeches. Claire Foy, who won Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama for The Crown, beamed about the conversation drawing attention to women. “I know everyone’s talking about women in the industry, but if that’s what’s happening, bloody hell,” she exclaimed. And Mrs. Maisel herself, actress Rachel Brosnahan, used her platform to draw a parallel between her show, which is about a woman defying odds by becoming a successful stand-up comic in the Fifties, and the current moment: “It’s about a woman who’s finding her voice anew, and it’s something that’s happening all over the country right now.” She then urged people to vote.
Despite being a rather dry show, there were a few highlights among the winners and odd turns. Mrs. Maisel’s Alex Borstein asked women to stop peeing on toilet seats in public restrooms; Happy Days’ Fonzie (actor Henry Winkler) finally won an award (“I wrote this [speech] 43 years ago … “); Maisel’s top-hat-wearing Amy Sherman-Palladino won twice (“My panic room’s gonna look so pretty,” she said double-fisting her trophies); and Thandie Newton took up Che on his challenge (“I don’t even believe in God, but I’m gonna thank her tonight,” she said).
And then there was Glenn Weiss, who won a directing award for the Oscars and seemed to speak like a broken robot until he managed to get the theater on its feet when he proposed to his girlfriend, Jan Svendsen. “You wonder why I don’t call you my girlfriend?” he said. “Because I want to call you my wife.” Leslie Jones stood right up, and the rest of the room followed. Svendsen ran onstage and Weiss took a knee, offering her his mother’s ring. It was a rare, unexpected, bright spot in an overall dull evening.
Other standout moments included Che’s star-studded “Reparations Emmys,” a charming appearance by 96-year-old Betty White, for seemingly no other reason than to bring out the ever hilarious Betty White (“I want to thank Lorne Michaels for all the wonderful things he’s done with me … no for me”) and Matthew Rhys, who called back to the evening’s proposal saying that his partner, Americans co-star Keri Russell, had told him, “If you propose to me, I’ll punch you clean in the mouth.”
The low points: a recurring gag starring Fred Armisen and Maya Rudolph, who claimed to have all these Emmy facts but didn’t — it wasn’t funny the first time, yet they were trotted out again and again. And the relative low energy in the room, reflected by wide shots of empty seats (which may have had something to do with the quality of the awards show or with long lines at the bar, since this was the first year people were allowed to bring drinks to their seats).
Perhaps they should have just left the comedy up to White, who still has impeccable timing even as she approaches 100. “It’s incredible that you can be in a career this long and have people still put up with you,” she said, offering a pregnant pause. “I wish they did that at home.”