Television Has Never Been Better: The 69th Annual Emmy Awards

By: Amanda Egan, Contributor

     “I know the world outside is getting crazy, but look on the bright side television has never been better.” Stephen Colbert, host of the 69th Emmy Awards, remarked in his opening sketch before bursting into song. The Late Show’s expert political satirist set the tone for a star-studded Sunday evening, which was full of both light-hearted moments and political statements.  

     The upbeat musical opener included an assortment of cameos, including Millie Bobby Brown from Stranger Things dancing alongside Colbert, and Chance the Rapper spitting a few bars of social commentary. Colbert began his monologue by acknowledging the first responders and civilians involved in the recent series of hurricanes, which have demolished homes throughout the southern United States and The Caribbean. In his usual fashion, he then took a jab at President Trump, questioning why the former reality star never won an Emmy. “I thought you people loved morally compromised anti-heroes,” he quipped. Yes, the night continued with similarly redundant statements, but among the usual slew of jokes at Trump’s expense, there were also a few refreshing words of wisdom, and a surprising appearance from Sean Spicer — Yes, the real one, not Melissa McCarthy. Most importantly, the night recognized the diverse and deserving talent who bring us the shows we watch to escape the obligations of daily life. For this, I thank them, although my homework might not.

     In the dramatic categories, The Handmaid’s Tale, Black Mirror and Big Little Lies racked up most of the awards.  A dystopian tear-jerker, a sci-fi dystopia that seems jarringly close to our reality, and a vivid depiction of the dark truths involved in domestic violence — there is no doubt that all of these programs were deserving of recognition. Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman, winners for Big Little Lies, particularly touched on the importance of breaking the mold of female casting. Witherspoon urged creators to, “Bring women to the front of their own stories and make them the hero of their own stories.”

     There were certainly many inspiring female winners throughout the night, particularly Lena Waite, who became the first African-American woman to win an Emmy for writing in a comedy series. She accepted the award, along with Aziz Ansari, for the episode “Thanksgiving” in Master of None. Which, by the way, is an incredible episode of an equally great show. Other comedy winners include Julia Louis-Dreyfus from Veep, Donald Glover from Atlanta, and of course, Kate McKinnon and Alec Baldwin for their work on Saturday Night Live.

     Baldwin approached the stage as his depiction of Donald Trump loomed largely on the screen behind him. Saturday Night Live, a show notorious for fueling the political fire, has had especially positive ratings as of late, thanks to Baldwin and McKinnon’s portrayals of Trump and Clinton, respectfully. But this time, Baldwin’s message was not one of cynical political humor, but one that reminded the audience of the bigger picture:

     “When you die, you don’t remember a bill that Congress passed, or a decision that The Supreme Court made, or an address made by the President. You remember a song, you remember a line from a movie, you remember a play, you remember a book, a painting, a poem. What we do is important, and for all of you out there in motion pictures and television, don’t stop doing what you’re doing. The audience is counting on you.”

     These words succinctly sum up the message of this year’s Emmy awards. There are more stories to tell than those that make the front headlines every day. From Hamilton-star Christopher Jackson’s touching in memoriam tribute to legends such as Don Rickles and Carrie Fisher, to 92-year-old Hollywood icon Cicely Tyson’s standing ovation after stumbling over her words due to modest stage-fright, the night was about honoring generations of outstanding talent. I think John Oliver put it best in his acceptance speech for Last Week Tonight when he said, “I’d like to thank Oprah, because she’s sitting there and it seems inappropriate not to.” Thank you, John, for following the unspoken rule that you must thank Oprah if she is in the room.

     To watch the 69th Emmy Awards in full, go to CBS.com

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