There were two lessons to be gleaned from Jimmy Kimmel’s pre-filmed opening sequence to the 68th Annual Emmy Awards: (1) There are diminishing returns to James Corden‘s Carpool Karaoke and (2) if you need to save a failing bit, include Julia Louis-Dreyfus. (In this instance, she breezily reprised her “Veep” character Selina Meyer while a tardy Kimmel tried to hitch a ride in her presidential limo, driven by a surprisingly game Jeb “Jeb Exclamation Point” Bush.)
For the rest of the surprisingly brief, casual opening monologue, Kimmel leaned hard on O.J. Simpson jokes, diversity jokes, jokes about Maggie Smith‘s perennial absence at the Emmys, and blaming “Apprentice” producer Mark Burnett for the rise of Donald Trump.
In keeping with a year in which most of the nominations were pleasant surprises (“The Americans”! “UnReal”!), the awards continued in the same vein right off the bat, handing Louie Anderson a trophy for his work as Zach Galifianakis‘ mother on FX’s “Baskets,” Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang for writing an episode of “Master of None,” and Kate McKinnon as the first cast member to win for “Saturday Night Live.”
But the biggest surprise might have been when Julia Louise-Dreyfus made history by winning lead actress in a comedy for the fifth year in a row — and did not do one of the comedy bits that have made her repeated wins such pleasures. Instead, an emotional Louis-Dreyfus read from a sheet of paper and then closed her speech with a heartfelt tribute to her father, William, who had passed away two days before.
The rest of the evening was a mix of insider jokes, tired awards-season cliches — do we really need to keep handing out free sandwiches to people whose borrowed clothes cost more than most people’s monthly salaries? — and awkward cutaways to cranky-looking attendees (Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, why so dour?).
As expected, FX’s “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” swept up in the miniseries or TV movie category (Sarah Paulson finally left the Emmys a winner), “Veep” took home the comedy trophy, and “Game of Thrones” snagged the best drama prize.
Less expected was the coronation of the new generation of TV stars with wins for Tatiana Maslany (“Orphan Black”) and Rami Malek (“Mr. Robot“), both beating out heavy hitters in the lead drama acting categories.
Throughout the evening, Kimmel proved to be a smart, acidic host. “I have to believe that Johnny Cochran is somewhere smiling up at us,” he said after Courtney B. Vance won for playing assistant DA Christopher Darden in “People v. O.J. Simpson.”
Calm and wry, Kimmel effortlessly poked fun at the proceedings, from Cuba Gooding Jr.‘s career low in “Snow Dogs” to the inclusion of winner “Transparent” in the comedy category. But his high point was celebrating a loss in the talk show host category by bringing out a smirking Matt Damon, munching on an apple, to heckle him.
More importantly, Kimmel kept the show moving, proving that the Emmys are, in fact, just a very long awards show. There wasn’t a lot of excess to be found, just a lot of awards, a lot of introductions, and yet another In Memoriam performance of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”
However, that doesn’t really make for a memorable ceremony, and even with a huge number of first-time winners, there weren’t many gotta-watch-it-on-YouTube-later speeches. If there was a category for Efficient and Effective Awards Show, the 68th Annual Emmys would be a lock.