‘No one deserves a bigger gratitude than the first responders,” Emmys host Stephen Colbert said during his opening monologue, thanking emergency personnel for “working tirelessly following the disasters in Texas and Florida. And we have to thank also the friends who showed up with the food, the neighbors with boats, the nuns with chainsaws, complete strangers who stepped up to help rebuild.”
That set in motion an evening of national pride and unity as award winner after award winner praised American grit, resourcefulness, and courage during the recent disasters.
Just kidding. After that opening salute to first responders, it was pretty much nonstop potshots at President Trump for the rest of the evening. Yet once again Hollywood’s aim proved faulty as it took out its own big toe: Colbert had Sean Spicer onstage to promise “the largest audience to witness an Emmys, period — both in person and around the world.” The joke would have worked better if it hadn’t been part of a show drawing a rating 10 percent lower in the 18–49 demographic than the previous low. Or, to put it in an even crueler way, at any given time last night, 96 percent of Americans weren’t watching the Emmys.
In the process of tossing many barbed jokes Trump’s way, including one suggesting the president had committed treason, Colbert also invited (or begged) Trump to Tweet angrily in response, but the chief executive has so far declined. The co-dependent relationship of celebrities to Trump is like that of two bitter, drunken spouses who hurl abuse at each other before they start making out. You wish they would just forget about each other and go their separate ways, but you know they need each other too much.
As the evening wore on, Colbert’s many lame Trump gags were supplanted by the Emmy voters’ obvious, determined effort to send a message: We’re living in The Handmaid’s Tale. That Hulu show was the evening’s big winner because its insane prophecy is the Left’s cognate to the broadcasts of those TV pastors who draw an endless pool of suckers by selling the notion that Judgment Day is surely right around the corner. Margaret Atwood’s dystopian fantasy is now 32 years old, and no closer to coming true now than it was when literary luminaries claimed otherwise back then. But it comforts Hollywood to believe in their version of the Left Behind series. The show won the evening’s top award, Best Drama, the first time Hulu or any streaming service had taken home that prize, and also secured Best Actress, Drama for former Mad Men star Elisabeth Moss, whose own adherence to a certain religious dogma seemed pertinent. As Charles C. W. Cooke puts it, “It’s one thing to say we’re living in The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s quite another for a Scientologist to make that claim.”
Also of note, and possibly meant to send more messages to Trump, were wins by the Pakistani-British performer Riz Ahmed, the first Muslim ever to win a lead-acting Emmy (for his impressive work in the HBO limited series The Night Of); honors for black lead actors in both the drama and comedy categories (Sterling K. Brown for This Is Us and Donald Glover for Atlanta), and victories by two other shows centered on women (HBO’s Big Little Lies for Best Limited Series and the same network’s Veep for Best Comedy). Several of the winners made snarky anti-Trump remarks; “We did have a whole storyline about impeachment but we abandoned that because we were worried that someone else might get to it first,” said Veep star Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who also appeared in the opening musical number in which she sang “imagine if your president was not beloved by Nazis.” That song dropped in references to global warming and the Middle East and even made a plea for transgendered individuals to serve in the military. Lily Tomlin, appearing with her 9 to 5 costars Jane Fonda and Dolly Parton, said, “In 2017, we still refuse to be controlled by a sexist, egotist, lying, hypocritical bigot.”
Sigh went the audience watching at home, reminding itself to give less and less attention to these blathering, preening monomaniacs. Most Americans, even those who didn’t vote for Trump, are simply getting on with their lives these days, more worried about their car payment or how their kids are faring in school than about Washington politics.
It was, surprisingly, left to the one Emmy winner most strongly identified with mocking Trump to provide a vital moment of perspective. Alec Baldwin, who won Best Supporting Actor, Comedy for his Saturday Night Live impression of Trump, offered this reflection: “When you die you don’t remember a bill that Congress passed, or a decision 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.”
Just so. Which is why, if it really wants to serve the public interest, Hollywood should get over its obsession with what’s going on in Washington and just create better shows — including awards shows.