The Best and Worst Moments of the 2017 Emmy Awards

The 2017 Primetime Emmy Awards were surprising in both that they were not surprising (in a good way) and they did a great job of giving out awards to people who absolutely deserved them. That wasn’t particularly hard, though, since this year’s crop of nominees were so strong. There were some delights like San Junipero finding love in the TV movie category, and DC public schools getting a shout out not only from Dave Chappelle but also from double winner John Oliver. On the not-so-great side, politics where very heavily intertwined in the broadcast, sometimes to horrendous effect (more on that below).

HBO was the big winner of the night with 29 awards (thanks to John Oliver, Veep, The Night Of, and most especially Big Little Lies — even in a year without Game of Thrones, they did very well). Netflix scored 20 awards, including Best Supporting Actor for John Lithgow (The Crown) and the aforementioned San Junipero. But it was shutout in the biggest categories, where Hulu took home 10 awards including Best Drama and Best Actress in a Drama for The Handmaid’s Tale. NBC returned to some broadcast dominance with 15 awards, thanks in part to This Is Us. FX, who was a big winner in 2016, won a small sum of 6 awards, including two for Donald Glover and Atlanta. But FX’s high-profile limited series like Fargo and Feud were shutout when up against Big Little Lies, which proved to be one of the evening’s juggernauts with 8 awards. The Handmaid’s Tale also garnered 8 awards, though both were bested, ultimately, by Saturday Night Live’s 9 trophies. It’s worth noting that for individual achievements, Julia Louis-Dreyfus is on her 8th Emmy — tying Cloris Leachman.

There is a lot to unpack from the broadcast, so let’s keep it simple — below are some of the best and worst moments from the 2017 Emmys, and one in between; you can go here for the full list of winners:

Best — Money Doesn’t Always Buy Success

Despite Netflix spending the sum total of a mid-sized nation’s GDP on its programming, the streaming giant did not come away with a major award this year. In any other year, I could see The Crown sweeping, or Stranger Things making a serious impact, and I personally loved both series. But it was Hulu — Hulu! — who became the first streaming service to win a Best Drama or Best Comedy Emmy. The Handmaid’s Tale had a great debut season, and it was also eerily timely, something that served most of the night’s winners well (and explains Saturday Night Live’s overpowering number of wins). But Handmaid’s win also proves that money doesn’t always equal success in the TV world, and that throwing dollars at content won’t necessarily bring you the next big thing. There’s some comfort in that.

Best — Diversity Wins

The term “diversity” has become a sort of catch-all that has a kind of nebulous meaning, so let me put a point on it: Riz Ahmed (Best Actor in a Limited Series), Donald Glover (Best Actor in a Comedy, Best Director of a Comedy), Sterling K. Brown (Best Actor in a Drama), Aziz Ansari and Lena Waithe (Best Writing in a Comedy Series). Glover is the first black man to win for directing a comedy (and he chose to share it, as he said in his speech, with Hiro Murai who really set the visual tone of Atlanta), Waithe is the first black woman to win for comedy writing, and Brown is the first black man to win the Best Drama actor award since Andre Brauer in 1998. These were huge moments for a number of reasons, and hopefully the gap between first and second doesn’t take long.

Worst — Sean Spicer's Cameo

Many a think piece has been written, is being written, and will be written on this moment in more depth than I will be getting into, but I will say: what a dunderheaded move. It’s telling that CBS doesn’t have a single image of him from the awards show on their press site. Who thought this was a good idea? The entire night, Hollywood railed against Trump and his administration — which was certainly no surprise — but then Spicer got a moment of (undeserved) redemption. Why? What was the point of that? What good did this do? Afterwards, Twitter was flooded with pictures of Spicer hobnobbing with Emmy attendees, and it summed up the huge problem we continue to have with politics and entertainment blending together. I was already tired of the political rhetoric that flowed through the entire ceremony (politics which helped give Alec Baldwin a win that would have been far more deserving to almost anyone else in that category), but to have Spicer come up as a kind of “lovable joke” … it’s a problem.

Best — Legacy Presenters

Dolly Parton, Norman Lear, Carol Burnett, Cicely Tyson … We are not worthy! For the most part the Emmy presenters were fine this year, with some stilted dialogue and awkward non-jokes, which is to be expected (and some weird flirting … not the time, you guys). But the real delights were the old guard showing up and being, well, delightful. TV is maybe better than it has ever been, but we should not forget so many past luminaries who helped us get here (especially after a year when so many other luminaries passed). And Dolly Parton calling her tatas Shock and Awe on primetime is worth the price of admission, folks.

Neutral — Stephen Colbert as Host

The opener was stale and not particularly funny (or interesting), though Stephen Colbert loosened up once he got to do a more traditional monologue (and I will forever love how loud and long Anthony Anderson laughed at the Bill Maher joke). Some of the skits were better than others — the Westworld spoof started off well but went on for too long, though Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel drinking bitter cocktails after John Oliver’s win was wry fun. RuPaul dishing Emmy dirt was lovely, but once the show started rolling, Colbert didn’t do much with his live segments are maybe he could have. Then again, there wasn’t much to really comment on — for the most part, the night went along without a hitch (mostly). And it more or less ended on time.

Worst — Sterling K. Brown Being Played Off

Yes, if you’re wondering, Nicole Kidman got an extra minute for her speech while Sterling K. Brown not only was cut short but also was played off with, as he noted, the “very loud” fanfare rather than the quiet tinkling of a piano to signal that your time is coming to an end. That was atrocious. Kidman had some great things to say in her speech about shining a light on domestic abuse, but it also seemed like she was looking for ways to fill all of the time she was being given, because the Emmys would not dare cut off a movie star. Brown gave a moving speech about following in the footsteps of the greats, including Brauer who is a kind of hero to him. And that was all he was allowed to say. This was a historic win in a major category for a broadcast series — Emmy directors, you should know better.

Best —Ann Dowd Winning

Who wasn’t thrilled for Ann Dowd? Down could have been considered an upset with her win, but it wasn’t upsetting in the least. She had a small but pivotal role in The Handmaid’s Tale, and a more significant role in The Leftovers this year (for which she wasn’t nominated, except in Leftovers fans’ hearts). But her genuine surprise and tearful happiness over being acknowledged after so many years in the business was a beautiful thing to see, and wonderfully deserved. Similarly, I hadn’t realized that Laura Dern had been nominated but never won for an Emmy — her win and speech were also a joy to behold.

Image via Hulu

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