TV loves nothing more than sending viewers to a different dimension. So on Sunday night, CBS’ brisk, lively Emmy ceremony opened a portal to another world. It wasn’t the real world of TV, which still has miles to go when it comes to matters of representation, diversity and inclusion, but instead a place where the industry reassured itself that it was doing the work necessary to resist the worst of the present moment. And if part of that mindset was wishful thinking, well, it was nevertheless damnably difficult to resist.
As expected, there were many references to Donald Trump (and his lack of Emmys). And though Colbert’s opening monologue had some effective jabs, and now and then there was a subversive moment, the overall tone of the ceremony was rallying and earnest. There were a few references to the fact that it might be a little to early to engage in rampant self-congratulation: Bruce Miller, showrunner of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” put it best: Everyone needs to go home and “get to work — we have a lot of things to fight for.” Indeed.
But, all things considered, it was damn near impossible to resist the lure of the fantasy world created by the Emmys, one in which performers and artists from all backgrounds were celebrated for their excellence. Look at the winners list: There’s simply not much there to grouse about. And host Stephen Colbert skillfully brought viewers to a place that was witty and sleek; occasionally slow but more often sincere.
On Sunday, two different series about the ways in which societies can oppress and constrict women (“Big Little Lies” and “The Handmaid’s Tale”) won multiple awards. A woman, Reed Morano, was declared the best director of a dramatic series. An African-American woman, Lena Waithe, was one of the winners in the the best comedy-writing category, and in her speech, she thanked her girlfriend. After he won for his work on “The Night Of,” Riz Ahmed spoke about the drama’s focus on the deeply rooted problems of the criminal justice system and Islamophobia. “San Junipero,” the episode of “Black Mirror” that featured two women in love, picked up an Emmy — twice.
Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton and Lily Tomlin, the stars of a landmark movie about women uniting to fight the man who ruled over their sexist workplace, came out on stage together, and Tomlin tartly commented that in 2017, they still would not be controlled “by a sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot.”
At times, however, it was hard not to feel a disconnect. Not much of the political humor went for the jugular: Trump was the target of gibes that made him seem like an irascible uncle. Even worse, Sean Spicer, who came out on stage with his own portable lectern, was made out to be a goofball. But Trump is not just an aging celebrity with a temper, and Spicer was part of an administration that has disdain for the truth and the rule of law.