Yes, we’ve heard — you’re hopelessly behind on all the brilliant TV shows you’re supposed to be watching. There’s not enough time! (There’s probably not even enough broadband!) To that burden, Emmy night would like to add another: By not keeping up with the latest TV you’re not keeping up with the diversifying nature of popular culture, you cretin, you.
Perhaps Sunday’s dutiful and occasionally clever 68th Primetime Emmy Awards show, hosted by ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel, will act as the nudge to get you to finally watch FX’s “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story,” which won a pile of trophies, including outstanding limited series, actor, actress, supporting actor and writing.
You’re so many seasons behind on “Game of Thrones,” which won its second consecutive Emmy for outstanding drama, that you may as well as surrender.
But maybe you’ll at last check out BBC America’s “Orphan Black,” which stars outstanding actress winner Tatiana Maslany in multiple roles as a group of clones, and which fans have been effusing about for years. Or maybe you’ll finally start watching USA’s hallucinatory techno-thriller “Mr. Robot.” (“Please tell me you’re seeing this too,” joked the show’s star, Rami Malek, who won for outstanding actor in a drama.)
If nothing else, everyone must finally take notice of how much more diverse the TV landscape is right now — certainly when Emmy night is compared with 2016’s Oscar night. TV has a wide array of character roles that simply wouldn’t have existed even a decade ago, in stories that would have never see the green light — and, as Kimmel quipped, the only thing Hollywood values more than diversity is congratulating itself for that diversity.
Calls for further diversity could be heard throughout the show, mainly in acceptance speeches. Alan Yang, who co-created of Netflix’s comedy “Master of None,” shared its Emmy for outstanding comedy writing. “There’s 17 million Asian Americans in this country, and there’s 17 million Italian Americans,” Yang said. “They have ‘The Godfather,’ ‘Goodfellas,’ ‘Rocky,’ ‘The Sopranos.’ We got Long Duk Dong [a character from the 1984 movie ‘Sixteen Candles’], so we got a long way to go. But I know we can get there. . . . Asian parents out there, if you could just do me a favor, if just a couple of you get your kids cameras instead of violins, we’ll be all good.”
The night featured several deserving wins, even if a couple of them were repeats — and, in the case of Julia Louis-Dreyfus winning the outstanding actress comedy Emmy for “Veep,” a five-peat. (It seems redundant, yes, except that Louis-Dreyfus’s performance this year as Selina Meyer, the self-absorbed vice president who attained and then lost the U.S. presidency on an electoral technicality, surpassed all the previous seasons in its portrayal of utter humiliation.) Louis-Dreyfus trembled as she gave her acceptance speech and shared the news that her father had died Friday; on a much lighter note, she vowed that “Veep” must rebuild the wall between political satire and political reality it had unwittingly torn down — and make Mexico pay for it. (“Veep” also won for outstanding comedy series.)
In addition to Regina King’s second consecutive win (outstanding supporting actress in a limited series) for ABC’s anthology drama “American Crime,” Jeffrey Tambor was another deserving repeat winner (outstanding actor in a comedy) for his striking performance as Maura Pfefferman in Amazon’s “Transparent.”
“I’m not going to say this beautifully, but please give transgender talent a chance,” Tambor said. “Give them auditions, give them their story. Do that. I would not be unhappy if I were the last cisgender male to play a transgender female on television. We have work to do.” (Cisgender, you ask? Feel free to Google it and catch up.)
Kimmel, an elder statesman in the current post-Letterman late-night era, could host one of these things in his sleep — and at times it seemed like maybe he did. His opening video was a textbook example of the form, topically cheeky in all right places. It started with the host riding in the back of the O.J. Simpson Bronco, then hitching a ride with the Dunphys of “Modern Family,” then unfortunately ending up in CBS “Late, Late Show” host James Corden’s car, where some Wham! karaoke is compulsory. Next he tried to hitch a ride with the motorcade carrying “Veep’s” Selina Meyer (Louis-Dreyfus), only to find the limo is being driven by Jeb (!) Bush. Eventually the host is delivered to Microsoft Theater by a dragon piloted by “Game of Thrones’s” Emilia Clarke.
Kimmel tried a few gags that didn’t always feel original. When he called on the kid actors from Netflix’s “Stranger Things” to distribute peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches made backstage by his mother to members of the audience, it was too reminiscent of Ellen DeGeneres ordering pizzas during an Oscars telecast however many awards seasons ago. (“If you’re allergic to peanuts, I guess this is goodbye,” he said, “because we could only afford one EpiPen.”) He’s good with staged bits, but always better at quick snark.
After Jill Soloway accepted an outstanding directing award for her groundbreaking Amazon comedy “Transparent” by encouraging Hollywood to “Topple the patriarchy! Topple the patriarchy!” Kimmel immediately wondered what that means to a guy like him.
“I’m trying to figure out if topple the patriarchy is a good thing for me or not. I don’t think it is,” he said, before moving on to the line that sounded more prepared: “A lot of people wonder what ‘Transparent’ is doing in the comedy [category]. You have to understand, ‘Transparent’ was born a drama but it identifies as a comedy.”
(Another good one: “How can there be this many producers for that show?” Kimmel marveled, watching “The Voice” producer Mark Burnett and an army of underlings crowd the stage to receive the Emmy for outstanding reality show. Or following up an announcement to please welcome Bill Cosby: “He’s not really here. I just wanted to see what you guys would do.” And this sharply, after yet another “O.J.” acceptance speech: “I have to wonder if Johnnie Cochran is smiling up at us tonight.”)
So powerful has cable and streaming television become that it is not only a great equalizer and diversifier, it can, in the case of “People v. O.J.” change our perceptions of an actual person — a task once reserved for the finest dramatic films about real-life subjects.
Marcia Clark, for example, the prosecutor who tried to put O.J. Simpson in prison for murder. She accompanied Sarah Paulson, the actress who played her so eloquently in “People v. O.J.,” to the ceremony. And when Paulson won for outstanding actress in a limited series, she used part of her acceptance to acknowledge an overdue shift in perception. “I’m glad to be able to stand here today in front of everyone and tell you I’m sorry,” Paulson said to Clark.
That’s where television is right now, and it’s quite a place.