Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer got the audience he probably never imagined he’d have on Sunday night, as he wheeled a podium, Melissa McCarthy-style, on to the stage of the 69th Primetime Emmy Awards to declare, “This will be the biggest audience to witness an Emmys, period.”
Did he sound any more convincing than he had in January, when he talked about the audience for the inauguration? Maybe not.
But then it was a big night for HBO’s Big Little Lies, which won the Emmy for limited series or movie, as well as for lead actress Nicole Kidman, supporting actor Alexander Skarsgard, supporting actress Laura Dern, and director Jean-Marc Vallee.
It was also an important night for Hulu, whose Margaret Atwood adaptation, The Handmaid’s Tale, became the first streaming drama to win the Emmy for outstanding drama and brought Elisabeth Moss her first Emmy. She’d previously been nominated as an actress six times for Mad Men and once for Top of the Lake.
Spicer’s appearance, 15 minutes into the show, capped an opening by host Stephen Colbert of CBS’s Late Show, that made good on his promise to acknowledge President Trump as “the biggest TV star of the last year.”
Though maybe not in the way the Celebrity Apprentice host might like: Trump’s chagrin over never having won an Emmy was dredged up again, including the clip from the presidential debate where Hillary Clinton brought it up, as well as his tweeted claim about Seth Meyers’ having hosted the Emmys with “marbles in his mouth.”
Cut to Meyers in the audience, spitting out marbles: How long had they been in there?
Until Spicer arrived, Colbert’s Handmaid’s Tale-themed chorus line was probably the best sight gag of a musical number whose lyrics included references to treason and a president “beloved of Nazis.”
So, yeah, Colbert, who thanked Spicer, but only after referring to HBO’s The Wizard of Lies as “the Sean Spicer story,” went there. Over and over.
So, too, did many Emmy winners and presenters.
Donald Glover won the Emmys for lead actor in a comedy and directing for a comedy series for Atlanta, the FX series he created and in which he stars.
“I want to thank President Trump for making black people No. 1 on the most-oppressed list. He’s the reason I’m probably up here.”
Veep star Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who set a record by winning a sixth consecutive Emmy for lead actress in the HBO series, which also took the Emmy for comedy, said that the show had considered a “storyline about an impeachment, but we abandoned that because we were worried someone else might get to it first.”
John Lithgow received the first award of the evening, outstanding supporting actor in a drama series, for his role as Winston Churchill in Netflix’s The Crown. Lithgow, after thanking the usual people, thanked Churchill: “His life, even as an old man, reminds us what courage and leadership in government really looks like.”
Kate McKinnon thanked, among other people, Hillary Clinton, as she picked up an Emmy for outstanding supporting actress in a comedy series, awarded for a season in which Clinton was just one of many characters McKinnon portrayed. Saturday Night Live then went on to win outstanding variety sketch series for a politically charged season that drew its highest ratings in many years
“I suppose I should say, at long last, ‘Mr. President, this is your Emmy,'” said Alec Baldwin as he accepted the Emmy for supporting actor in a comedy series for his appearances as Trump on SNL.
The 9 to 5 reunion of Dolly Parton with Grace and Frankie stars Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin gave Fonda and Tomlin a chance to declare their unwillingness to be controlled by — naming no names — a “sexist, lying, egotistical bigot.”
It wasn’t all politics.
John Oliver, of HBO’s Emmy-winning (again) Last Week Tonight, picked up on Dave Chappelle’s earlier shout-out to the “D.C. public schools,” and urged viewers tweeting about the Emmys to add the hashtag #DCPublicSchools in hopes of getting it to trend on Twitter. It worked.
Colbert’s interview with the Emmy (RuPaul) was short and sassy, as the statuesque statuette advised winners not to express surprise at “how heavy I am — because that is just rude.”
Ann Dowd’s tearful acceptance for supporting actor in a drama for Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale was a sweet moment of recognition for the longtime character actress, who’d never won — or even been nominated — before. She was also nominated this year, but did not win, for her guest role in HBO’s The Leftovers.
There were signs that Emmy voters are continuing to take note of TV’s growing diversity.
Lena Waithe, who, along with Aziz Ansari, cocreator of Netflix’s Master of None, won for writing for a comedy series, becoming the first African American woman to do so. “The things that make us different are our superpowers. The world would not be as beautiful as it is without us in it,” said the actor and writer, addressing her LGBTQ “family.”
Sterling K. Brown, who won for lead actor in the NBC drama This Is Us, received his second Emmy. He won last year for playing Christopher Darden in FX’s The People v. O.J.: American Crime Story.
Reed Morano, one of a very limited number of women in the American Society of Cinematographers, and reportedly its youngest member, won for directing The Handmaid’s Tale.
Other winners included Riz Ahmed, lead actor in a limited series or movie, for HBO’s The Night Of; Bruce Miller, writing for a drama series, for The Handmaid’s Tale; Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, variety talk series and writing for a variety series; NBC’s The Voice, reality competition series; Charlie Brooker, writing for a limited series, movie, or dramatic special, for Netflix’s Black Mirror: San Junipero, which also won for TV movie; and Don Roy King, for directing a variety series, Saturday Night Live;
As always there were a few awards not even a three-hour show could get to:
Most seasoned presenters: Producing legend Norman Lear, 95, and actress-comedian Carol Burnett, 84, who showed the kids how it’s done. “I’ve always believed that laughter adds time to our lives, and no one has added more time to my life than this woman,” said Lear of Burnett.
Strangest suggestion in an acceptance speech: By Black Mirror: San Junipero’s Brooker that the world might be better if Emmy attendees began making love. On a count of three.
Social-media coup: To Oliver, who in getting #DCPublicSchools to trend, demonstrated the mastery of audience engagement he demonstrate regularly on HBO’s Last Week Tonight. But then, he’s not yet asked people to have sex in public.
Train management: To Quantico star and presenter Priyanka Chopra, whose Balmain gown came with a feathery appendage she had to hold in one hand, like a docile goose, as she walked onto the stage.
Red-carpet product misplacement: For Romono Keveza, the designer of Debra Messing’s dress, whose name Messing appears to have mispronounced during her interview with Giuliana Rancic. Or so said Rancic.
Outstanding show of charm on the red carpet: To Stranger Things nominee Millie Bobby Brown, who geeked out over being interviewed by Jason Kennedy on E! – telling him she used to watch the network’s red-carpet coverage when she was 8. Which was five whole years ago.