Best Emmys Ever?

Ken Tucker
Critic-at-Large

Well, this is going to be an easy review to write: That was the best Emmys broadcast I’ve ever seen. Sunday night’s awards ceremony succeeded on every level. It was super-funny, thanks in large part to host Jimmy Kimmel. It featured a number of exciting first-time winners. Some excellent speeches were made. There was more diversity among the winners than ever before. If only Fargo, The Americans, and black-ish had won a major trophy or two, I’d say it was just about perfect.

Related: The Complete List of 2016 Emmy Winners

But now’s not the time to complain. Not when Sarah Paulson, Sterling K. Brown, and Courtney B. Vance all won for The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. Not when Julia Louis-Dreyfus won her fifth Emmy in a row and gave a speech that was as funny as it was moving. Not when the Lead Actor and Lead Actress Emmys for drama went to Rami Malek (Mr. Robot) and Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black). Not when Louie Anderson won for playing a variation on his mother in Baskets. I had previously written that this year’s Emmys would be a tussle between old pros and new blood, but it turned out to be a joyous new-bloodbath: So many first-timers, so many well-deserveds!

I was thrilled to see Malek win his award, and even though his opening line was self-consciously self-mocking — “Please tell me you’re seeing this too” — it still was a funny line. And Maslany was a real shocker: Genre shows like Orphan Black rarely get rewarded with Emmys, and I was convinced that if anyone new to this party would win, it would have been The Americans‘ Keri Russell.

My favorite speech of the night was probably from Courtney B. Vance, who began it with, “Glory to God!,” ended it with “Obama out!,” and in between, packed it with sincere emotion.

Best presenters? My award goes to Andy Samberg and Kit Harington, who confirmed that Kyle Chandler is indeed very kissable.

Kimmel got the night off to a great start with a taped bit about needing a ride to the Emmys that peaked with the return to the national stage of Jeb Bush, now a limo/Uber driver in the skit. Kimmel worked in his “archnemesis,” Matt Damon, after he lost the variety-talk award to John Oliver. Kimmel punctured comedy-directing-winner Jill (Transparent) Soloway’s gloriously pretentious speech (“Topple the patriarchy!”) by musing, “I’m trying to figure out whether ‘Topple the patriarchy!’ is a good thing for me.”

Related: Emmys: Jimmy Kimmel’s Best Opening Monologue Jokes

Kimmel was willing to tip over into poor taste at least three times, with a joke about the “In Memoriam” presentation, a suggestion that late O.J. Simpson lawyer Johnnie Cochran resides in hell, and by having the announcer say Bill Cosby was coming onstage “just to see how you’d react.” He even risked offending the gluten-free industry by asking audience members to raise their hands if they had such an allergy: “I just wanted America to see which of their favorite celebrities are the most annoying.” (Some would say referring to Donald Trump’s wife as “Malaria” also qualifies here, but the joke surrounding that sophomoric malapropism was so good, I’m not ruling it Poor Taste.)

Sure, you could say that the evening ended with a pair of HBO inevitables — Veep and Game of Thrones taking best comedy and drama, respectively — but those are very good shows working from the vantage point of what are arguably their best seasons. Plus, I loved the group hug the Veep cast gave David Mandel, who led the show’s transition after the departure of creator Armando Iannucci. Again, I wish The Americans could have snagged that drama trophy, but… well, next year, right?

Still can’t believe I’m smiling at the memory of seeing Louie Anderson so gratefully winning that Baskets supporting-actor award. Oh, and if anyone read my two Who Should Win and Who Will Win columns — sorry, I hope you went with my shoulds in your office pool: Turns out this year, most of the people who should have won really did win.