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At the Emmys, ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘Mrs. Maisel’ got upstaged by a modest proposal

Since none of us watch the same shows anymore, is it any surprise that the biggest moment of the night wasn't even about TV?

Lorne Michaels (C) and cast and crew accepts the Outstanding Variety Sketch Series award for 'Saturday Night Live' onstage during the 70th Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 17, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.  CREDIT: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
Lorne Michaels (C) and cast and crew accepts the Outstanding Variety Sketch Series award for 'Saturday Night Live' onstage during the 70th Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 17, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. CREDIT: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

The only show that everyone who watched the Emmys actually watched was the Emmys.

This is the clearest take-home from a show that sort of hop-skipped its way along through a bumbling, so-so night, even as virtually every duo of presenters seemed better equipped to host the 70th annual awards than Michael Che and Colin Jost, the men from Saturday Night Live who were chosen for this task over all of their female castmates.

The night went largely without wins that could have unified the crowd in adulation — like, say, a would-have-been-historic victory for Sandra Oh, the first Asian woman nominated for outstanding lead actress in a drama series (that trophy went to Claire Foy for The Crown). Though it was momentous, if quietly so, for a show as unabashedly feminine as The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel to scoop up so many prizes:  Five in total, including lead actress for Rachel Brosnahan, supporting actress for Alex Borstein, and outstanding comedy.

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 17:  Sandra Oh (L) and Andy Samberg walk onstage during the 70th Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 17, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Lester Cohen/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 17: Sandra Oh (L) and Andy Samberg walk onstage during the 70th Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 17, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Lester Cohen/WireImage)

And it’s especially sweet to see Amy Sherman-Palladino, a TV veteran with such a distinctive, luscious vision get her due — and for a female showrunner making a show that’s all about, as Brosnahan put it in her acceptance speech, “a woman who’s finding her voice anew,” to dominate the comedy categories, dancing above the lingering sexist myths perpetuated by deeply unfunny men about the ability of women to be funny at all.

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But for the most part, there was this fractured, distant feeling in the room that was palpable enough to be sensed by the viewers at home. People would parade up the podium as about 70 percent of the room applauded politely while squinting, a vacant look behind their eyes, trying to place the television series they were supposed to be clapping for.

There were a few exceptions to that sense of “huh?” permeating the proceedings, like the long-ignored but finally acknowledged The Americans, whose co-creators won a writing Emmy for the series finale and whose lead actor, Matthew Rhys, won, too. (No such luck for his co-star and real-life partner, Keri Russell, though as a consolation prize, she won the internet.) The room lit up at the victory for RuPaul’s Drag Race. Everybody loves the Fonz.

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 17:  Rachel Brosnahan accepts the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series award for 'The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel' onstage during the 70th Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 17, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 17: Rachel Brosnahan accepts the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series award for 'The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel' onstage during the 70th Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 17, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

But for the most part it seemed a little like watching a 20 year high school reunion: A bunch of people who ostensibly have something significant that ties them together, but who really fell out of touch ages ago and have nothing in common anymore.

At home, everyone looked up from their phones for a second as the winners were announced and remembered, as if from a dream, the coworker who keeps telling them to watch Barry — “it’s so easy, it’s only eight episodes!” — or the friend who raved about The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel — “you can knock it out in a weekend, it’s only eight episodes!” — or that glowing review they read of Godless — seriously, no excuses, it’s only seven episodes — but wait, which one is Godless again?

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The rumor is that we’re approaching the singularity, but on television it feels like we’re speeding in the opposite direction, approaching a not-too-distant future where none of us are watching the same shows anymore. Now we spend most of our conversations not bonding over a shared viewing experience but apologizing for falling behind on our appointment viewing — did you ever think the day would arrive when you could be shamed for not watching enough television?

We’re all dodging the questions about why we stopped watching The Handmaid’s Tale, even though it’s so relevant and timely (too much rape) or Game of Thrones, even though it’s so thrilling and dragon-y (too much rape) or Westworld, even though if you stare at it long enough it supposedly will make sense and be totally worth how confusing and pointless it seems right now (too much rape) all the late night shows, even though they’re all full of cathartic resistance-zingers (they’re spinoffs of the news, so, too much rape). The hype for This is Us is that it will make you sob uncontrollably, possibly forever, and who needs help doing that right now? Most of the comedies we’re supposed to be watching aren’t even funny, and the ones that are funny weren’t nominated for Emmys.

Is it any surprise that the moment that delighted and united the crowd wasn’t about any of the nominated television shows at all? This night belonged to Glenn Weiss, who, while accepting his Emmy for his direction of the Oscars telecast, delivered a moment that fit right into this summer of rom-coms by proposing to his girlfriend, Jan Svendsen. 

At the end of the evening, as the show was running long, the award for outstanding drama series went to Game of Thrones. Perhaps it was just the distance from the screen to the couch, but it seemed like an anticlimactic end to a mostly forgettable way to cap off the evening. Maybe that’s because half the shows that won are shows most of us have only been meaning to watch. You have our permission to skip all of these shows, every last one, except for The Americans, which you should have been watching all along.