Too much TV nowadays? Probably, certainly, yes. What can be done? When will it stop? The takeaway from Sunday night’s 67th Prime-Time Emmy Awards on Fox was that it’s a good problem to have. The shows that won most of the big awards — including HBO’s victories for best drama with “Game of Thrones,” best comedy for “Veep” and best limited series for “Olive Kitteridge,” plus other series such as “Transparent” and “Inside Amy Schumer” — are all reminders that you could do worse than crawl in a dark hole and do nothing but binge.
Despite showing some of its usual habits for giving redundant awards (did Julia Louis-Dreyfus really need a fourth Emmy for HBO’s “Veep,” no matter how good she is in that show? Did “Veep” need any more awards at this point?), there was a real feeling in this year’s show that the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences is starting to watch the same television as the rest of us.
Viola Davis triumphantly accepted the lead actress in a drama Emmy for ABC’s “How to Get Away With Murder,” opening with a quote from Harriet Tubman and saying: “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”
Is “How to Get Away With Murder” the best show on TV? Hardly. But what it, and Davis’s work in it, represent — along with an ever-increasing number of shows that feature characters and actors who do more than simply check off a row of “diversity” boxes — is a collective sense of progress.
Back in devastatingly-handsome-brooding-white-guy land, Jon Hamm won — at long last, he got an Emmy for lead actor in a drama for “Mad Men,” which ended its seven-season run in May. Compared with Davis and many others during the evening, Hamm gave perhaps the most underwhelming speech of the night.
“Brooklyn Nine-Nine” star Andy Samberg proved to be a polished and suitably glib host. Not surprisingly, his best bit was a prerecorded, spot-on musical number (of the sort that made him famous) about a man who is so far behind on watching today’s buzzworthy shows that he locks himself in bunker for a year and finishes watching “every damn show,” emerging unbathed and ready to recap.
Some of you laughed at that while some of us had a rather dark and depressing moment of self-recognition.
As awards shows go, Sunday’s Emmys suffered from the usual middle-hour drag — which America has now learned to use as a fine opportunity to sharpen its Twitter claws. An early bit, featuring Jane Lynch as the cruel walk-of-shame nun from HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” who was to be tasked with shaming long acceptance speech-givers off the stage, would have indeed been more useful than the usual hurry-up music cue.
Samberg’s other efforts included another pre-taped riff on “Mad Men’s” final scene featuring the hippie-era Coca-Cola “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” commercial and a couple of well-placed digs at the awful second season of HBO’s “True Detective”; his misses included an unnecessarily fawning sketch with NBC “Late Night” host Seth Meyers to present “Saturday Night Live” producer Lorne Michaels with a “World’s Best Boss” mug. It was like flashing back to “SNL’s” drawn out 40th anniversary proceedings earlier this year. Bring out the nun. (Shame. Shame. Shame.)
Amazon’s “Transparent,” a dramedy about a transgender woman in her 60s who comes out to her adult children and ex-wife, won two comedy Emmys — one for its director Jill Soloway and the other for its star, Jeffrey Tambor. It’s easy to watch “Transparent” and marvel at not only how good it is but how it’s been received as a cultural touchstone. “We don’t have a trans tipping point yet,” Soloway said in her acceptance speech. “We have a trans equality problem.”
“Thank you for your patience, thank you for you courage,” Tambor said, addressing the transgender community. “Thank you for letting us be part of the change.”
In a sadistic way, the Emmy Awards’ long-held tendency toward category bloat (many of the technical and smaller acting awards were doled out a week ago) finally makes a little bit of sense. There are so many worthwhile shows on right now that if you are an actor in Hollywood and you aren’t on one, then I hate to tell you this, but you might very well be dead. (As usual, there was a somber moment taken to remember the many, many TV veterans who kicked the bucket since last September.)
Including broadcast, cable and streaming networks, there are almost 400 scripted comedy and drama series currently in production this season — an increase of 500 percent from the TV shows that were on 15 years ago, and a state of affairs that more critics and network brass are referring to as “peak TV,” in which it’s becoming more difficult to separate higher quality shows from the merely good and the steadfastly mediocre.
This glut is not only obvious on your DVR, it was apparent in the jam-packed red carpet arrivals Sunday afternoon in 90-degree Los Angeles heat. There were so many stars — legitimate stars, from legitimate and even critically praised shows you still mean to watch someday — elbowing for attention and fighting off flop sweat for the chance to talk to Ryan Seacrest or Giuliana Rancic during E!’s pre-show. “[It’s] the bikram Emmys,” quipped “Mom” co-star Allison Janney – and winner later that night of an impressive seventh career Emmy.
HBO’s meaningfully dour movie adaptation of Elizabeth Strout’s novel “Olive Kitteridge” very nearly swept the “limited series” categories (what used to be known as a miniseries), including awards for directing, writing and its lead actors, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins.
The only non-”Kitteridge” prize in the limited-series competition went — deservedly — to Regina King for her supporting role in ABC’s “American Crime.” I can’t speak for everyone, but, as a TV critic, it was particularly gratifying; “Olive Kitteridge” and “American Crime” are perfect examples of two shows people are always telling me they mean to watch and never get around to. Now you have more reasons to get around to both — or more guilt hanging over you.
Emmy night was kind of like that all over: You really should be watching “Inside Amy Schumer.” You really have to watch season 1 of “Transparent” (ideally before season 2 gets here in December; standard disclaimer here about Amazon and The Washington Post sharing an owner). How can you be three seasons behind on “Game of Thrones?” You never watched “Mad Men?” At all?
Shame. Shame. Shame.