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Emmys Review: Token White Guy Andy Samberg Gives Respect Where It’s Long Overdue

Host set the tone for a night of breakthroughs

Eminently likable Emmy host Andy Samberg felt a little like a token white guy at Sunday’s awards, trying earnestly to show he was on the right side of things.

On a night of broken barriers and long-overdue respect paid to long-neglected artists, he saved his best jokes for fellow white guys.

“Sure, Donald Trump seems racist,” he said, before dropping the punch line: There wasn’t one.

At times in his opening monologue, he could sound like the Twitter Police – the legions of scolds who either move our society forward by continually calling out bigotry, or merely create the self-serving illusion that they do so, without inconveniencing themselves by doing anything tangible.

Good news: We don’t have to debate whether Samberg’s solid jokes about racism, Hollywood’s gender-based wage and age gap, and court-clerk-gone-rogue Kim Davis might someday, somehow change American hearts and minds. Because the awards themselves made a difference.

“Thank you for your patience,” Jeffrey Tambor told the transgender people to whom he dedicated his win for “Transparent.” That remark established early on that this would be a night of righting past wrongs.

There were plenty of wins for stars and shows that had arguably been snubbed before, including for first-time Outstanding Drama Series winner “Game of Thrones” and Jon Hamm, who rolled onstage to claim his acting prize like someone who had gone through a lot to get it.

But those kinds of struggles are comparatively miniscule.

“How to Get Away With Murder” star Viola Davis accepted her Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series award – the first for an African-American woman — by quoting Harriet Tubman. She described a vision of a line with only white women on the other side.

“The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity,” she said. “You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”

Award shows have a hypocritical habit of demanding regular Americans change their errant ways on a host of social issues, even as voters play it dull by handing out the same awards to the same people year after year.

This year’s Emmys were different. Instead of demanding everyone else shape up, the Emmys got their own house in order. They awarded shows and talents that represent diversity and other values Hollywood often espouses more than it demonstrates.

The telecast wasn’t about scolding so much as love and acceptance. The voters heaped honors on the woman-driven “Olive Kitteridge.” They feted women of color: not just Davis, but also Uzo Aduba of “Orange is the New Black” and the long-underrated Regina King of “American Crime.”

Allison Janney noted that her show, “Mom,” honors not only moms, but people in 12-step programs. “It is a privilege to work on a show that reminds us that there is hope,” she said.

Amy Schumer, whom Samberg described as “really, really funny… for a person,” probably never wants to hear another word about what her success means for women in comedy.

But she slayed a giant when her “Inside Amy Schumer” beat zillion-time Emmy winner “Saturday Night Live” in the new category Outstanding Variety Sketch Series.

Notably, none of these felt like token wins, or attempts to paper over Hollywood’s enduring issues with underrepresentation. This was the rare year there were no notably bad decisions.

Add in a couple of amusing if forgettable digital shorts by Samberg – and one brilliant skit about stars fighting over a can of beans on the red carpet – and you had yourself a historic and historically good show.

Of course, the Emmy voters still played old favorites. Julia Louis-Dreyfus and “Veep” will get Emmys for as long as they exist.

And “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” (which has fired the satirical aspirations of many a Twitter constable), won its ninth award for Outstanding Writing for a Variety Series. It also took home the award for Outstanding Variety Talk Series.

Stewart noted the gulf between creators and actual viewers as he reminded the nominees in the room that normal peoples’ food isn’t provided by craft services.

“It costs money,” he said. “Very little of it is gluten-free or vegan.”

Samberg started the show by noting that this was an affair dedicated to the best of television – “Sorry books, not tonight,” he said, as all-caps on the screen announced “SUCK IT BOOKS.”

But soon after, Frances McDormand noted the literary roots of “Olive Kitteridge.”

“It started as a book,” she said. “Okay, Andy?”

Respect for the written word – how’s that for celebrating the forgotten? The Twitter police had little to complain about Sunday.

Don’t miss the best moments from the 2015 Emmy Awards — read TheWrap’s complete coverage here.

Also: See TheWrap Magazine’s Fall TV Issue complete coverage: