It feels weird to say this during a historical era when the end of an awards show is usually time to complain, but… the Emmys were pretty good! Samberg was an unapologetically goofball host with deceptively sharp material, and the acceptance speeches were funny, moving, powerful, and often a mixture of all of three. And as a result, this year’s Highs and Lows roundup is heavily weighted towards the Highs. And we’re not complaining!
HIGHLIGHT: Viola Davis Speaks the Truth
To underline her history-making Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series victory, How to Get Away With Murder’s Viola Davis had a tear-inducing speech at the ready. After opening with a Harriet Tubman quote, the veteran character actress went on to point out the continued scarcity of roles for minority actresses in Hollywood, saying: “You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.” Hopefully her words — along with wins by Uzo Aduba and Regina King — will help change that.
LOWLIGHT: Cringe-Worthy Cutaways
Why, when someone on stage tells a joke about a black person, do award show directors still cut to black actors in the audience for a reaction? Considering this kind of binary cutaway logic gets more cringey every year, you would think directors would stop this patronizing and oddly segregating tradition. And yet, early in Samberg’s monologue, he made a couple of Cosby jokes and — bam! — in zoomed the camera to get Queen Latifah’s reaction. Considering Viola Davis’s impassioned speech about equality that would come later in the show, can we please make reaction shots more color-blind and stop this weird “Was it funny? Let’s ask a black person!” haplessness.
HIGHLIGHT: Jon Hamm Finally Wins That Elusive Emmy
It was the biggest storyline coming into this year’s Emmys — will Jon Hamm finally win? — and the night didn’t disappoint, with the Mad Men star at long last claiming an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series (after seven consecutive losses). The crowd, sensing the historic occasion, gave Hamm a rousing ovation as he literally dragged himself onto the stage, overwhelmed by the sheer weight of the moment. Sure, it was a long time coming, but it was great to see Don Draper go out in style.
LOWLIGHT: Amy Poehler Did NOT Win That Elusive Emmy
It’s not that Julia Louis-Dreyfus didn’t deserve to win her fourth consecutive Emmy for the role of Veep’s Selina Meyer. It’s just sad that Amy Poehler didn’t get Jon Hamm’s happy ending with her sixth and final nomination for playing Parks and Recreation’s Leslie Knope. For better or worse, she’s in good company: Remember Steve Carell never won for The Office’s Michael Scott, though he also was nominated six times.
HIGHLIGHT: Andy Samberg Opens Strong
Quick, before the afterparty ends, somebody at the TV Academy sign Samberg up to host in 2016! His opening musical number about bingewatching (and its attendant bad smells) was Lonely Island perfection: Full of energy and witty with a mischievous dose of satire. From there he pivoted to a monologue that at first was undermined by the audience not seeming like they were quite on his wavelength — but about 10 jokes in, the room got in sync and everything was right in the awards-show world. The rest of the night went just as well (see the “lows” section for the rare exception), and it was a sign of how winning a host Samberg was that when he told his awesomely terrible “I didn’t see Olive Kitteridge, I only saw half of it” joke, the audience groaned and then laughed rather than groaning and burning him in effigy.
LOWLIGHT: Presenters Were Allowed to Ramble, but Winners Weren’t
Andy Samberg made a joke in his monologue about winners who exceeded their allotted speech time getting the Game of Thrones “shame” bell. The Emmy producers weren’t that cruel in the end, but it doesn’t seem right that winners get the “wrap-it-up” sign when presenters such as Jimmy Kimmel are allowed to milk their bits (and not be all that funny until Will Forte picks up the joke later).
HIGHLIGHT: Tracy Morgan Makes a Moving (and Funny) Return
Hollywood loves a comeback story, and we got a great one on Emmy night, with 30 Rock star Tracy Morgan making his first appearance on stage since a devastating car crash nearly killed him last June. Before presenting the award for Outstanding Drama Series, Morgan thanked everyone for their prayers and well wishes, and even threw in a few jokes, saying that after he awoke from his coma following the accident, “I was ecstatic to learn I wasn’t the one who messed up.” Here’s hoping we see Tracy back on TV full-time again, and soon.
LOWLIGHT: No Batgirl in In Memoriam? Holy Oversight!
Yes, lots of TV luminaries passed away this year — but couldn’t producers have spared a few seconds for Yvonne Craig, too?
HIGHLIGHT: ‘Transparent’ Takes Home the Gold
The joy of Transparent’s dual wins for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series and Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series was enhanced by Jeffrey Tambor and Jill Soloway’s impassioned acceptance speeches. Soloway offered a personal thank you to her own “Moppa,” while Tambor remembered an acting teacher whose advice was to act as if his life depended on it. “And now I’ve been given the opportunity to act because people’s lives depend on it,“ he continued, going on to thank transgender community for their “patience…courage…[and] inspiration.”
LOWLIGHT: The Spoiler Montage
Well…guess there’s no need to watch that Sons of Anarchy finale now! Thanks to the Emmy montage department, Jax Teller’s final ride was completely spoiled…along with the endings of almost every show that wrapped up its run last year. So if you were saving the final season of, say, Parks and Recreation or Boardwalk Empire for a weekend binge, you can spend your time cleaning your house or designing your Halloween costume — like a bullet-ridden Nucky Thompson — instead.
HIGHLIGHT: Regina King Is Genuinely Shocked
A lot of people say they weren’t expecting to win, but as good of an actress as American Crime’s Regina King is, you know she wasn’t faking her surprise when she was named Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series. Presenter Taraji P. Henson made sure the audience gave King the applause she deserved, and King delivered a composed, heartfelt speech in which she managed to thank everyone she needed to as someone who’s been in the TV business for 30 years — and has a mother and grandmother who taught her "the power and blessing of being a woman.”
LOWLIGHT: This Dress.
By the way, you can see all the red carpet looks here.
HIGHLIGHT: 'Veep’ Breaks New Ground
First there was Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Anna Chlumsky tearing up over the HBO comedy’s first win in the writing category — a sweet sight that speaks louder than any “thank you” an actor could offer to his or her show’s writers onstage. Then, the show finally took home the Outstanding Comedy Series trophy, breakingModern Family’s five-year streak.
Any moments we missed? Let us know in the comments.