Less self-important than the Oscars and more consequential than the Golden Globes, the Primetime Emmys consistently achieve being an entertaining thing to watch while you're waiting for the JonBenét Ramsey documentary — or, you know, whatever — to come on. This year a number of people and institutions walked away winners — even if they don't have a hulking gold statue to plop on the mantle.
Ryan Murphy (actual winner)
In the limited series/movie categories, Ryan Murphy's 10-part miniseries The People v. O.J. Simpson was the property to beat. Nearly all the actors in pivotal roles were nominated, including David Schwimmer, whose (unintentionally) hilarious turn as Robert Kardashian produced the year's best Youtube supercut and made us all really thirsty. Sarah Paulson (who played Marcia Clark), Courtney B. Vance (Johnny Cochran) and Sterling K. Brown (Chris Darden) all won for their performances; writer D.V. DeVincentis was recognized for penning the episode “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia”; and Murphy himself took the stage when the show took home the award for outstanding limited series. Plus, Paulson and Kathy Bates were nominated for their performances in Murphy's dreadfully inconsistent series American Horror Story (the Hotel incarnation, which looked extra bad). I'm going to go ahead and float the idea that Murphy has made a pact with satan, but mostly just because it would make a good plot line on American Horror Story: Awards Shows.
As Jimmy Kimmel pointed out during his opening monologue, Sarah Paulson brought Marcia Clark, the famed prosecutor she played on screen in The People v. O.J. Simpson, as her date. He quipped, “Everyone in L.A. knows — if you want to win, sit next to Marcia Clark.” (He also joked, “Hi Marcia, this must be weird for you. Do you want O.J. to win this time?”) Alas, Paulson did win, and Marcia, who was widely (and unfairly, of course) torn apart in the media for her appearance and demeanor, looks good as hell 20 years down the road.
Back in August, actress-comedian Leslie Jones was subjected to one of the more egregiously hateful and horrible celebrity hackings when her personal website was compromised and plastered with Jones' own nude images, as well as her driver's license and passport info. After the release of this summer's Ghostbusters reboot, Jones was inundated on Twitter with racist and sexist messages, all for the sin of being black, female and a huge success. Last night, Jones flipped the script and took ownership of the humiliation by turning the recent events into a bit in which she joked with three dudes from Ernst and Young: “Y’all using your skills to protect best voice-over in a French sitcom, meanwhile, I’m butt-naked on CNN. I just wanted to feel beautiful, y’all. Can't a sister feel beautiful?”
Accepting his Emmy for lead actor in a comedy for playing trans-woman Maura Pfefferman on the Amazon series Transparent, Jeffery Tambor — who's now won twice for the role — said, “I’m not going to say this beautifully, but to you people out there, you producers, network owners, and agents: Please give transgender talent a chance. Give them auditions, give them their stories. And also, one more thing, I would not be unhappy were I the last cis-gender male to play a female transgender on television.” Transparent creator Jill Solloway also won for directing for a second year in a row, and implored that we “topple the patriarchy” (cut away to some uncomfortable male faces in the audience). And, later, when Orange is the new Black's Laverne Cox took the stage as a presenter, she reiterated Tambor's speech and called out Jenji Kohan for giving her a shot. The entire evening felt like a step toward positive change for trans people in the industry. (Gay and lesbian actors, actresses and behind-the-camera types were also well-represented, of course.)
Patton Oswalt (actual winner)
In April of this year, 46-year-old Michelle McNamara, the writer behind the site True Crime Diary and wife of comedian Patton Oswalt, died in her sleep. Since then, Oswalt has vividly and insightfully articulated what it is to experience grief, giving the public glimpses at a most personal journey with grace and empathy. Last night, as he accepted an Emmy for his Netflix special Talking for Clapping, he thanked two people: “My daughter Alice, who's waiting at home — the other one is waiting somewhere else, I hope.” (Later, in a backstage interview, he said, “Everything seems like the lights have been turned down 50 percent on everything since she’s gone. It's just going to be a long, long time before I can be the kind of person she made me again.”) In an award show that can ooze with a certain amount of pomp — even during the In Memoriam segment — it was a heart-rending and lovely moment.