Arts

Emmy Awards

Jokes fall flat, but surprise winners give Emmys some lift

Hosts Colin Jost, left, and Michael Che speak at the 70th Primetime Emmy Awards on Monday, Sept. 17, 2018, at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP
Hosts Colin Jost (left) and Michael Che.

Aside from a sweep for “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” Monday night’s Emmy Awards were spread around oddly evenly this year. A little “Game of Thrones” here, a little “The Americans” there. “Barry” got in on the action, as did “The Crown,” “Godless,” “The Assassination of Gianni Versace,” and “Westworld.”

Alas, nothing for “The Handmaid’s Tale,” last year’s big drama winner. Blessed be the fruit, yes, but not Hulu’s unsettling dystopian drama.

Of course, we should win an Emmy for most tolerant audience of the year. The Emmy telecast opened with a song-and-dance type number with the chorus, “We solved it” — “it” being TV’s diversity problem. The bit was self-irony at its softest, with Ricky Martin, Tituss Burgess, RuPaul, Andy Samberg, Kristen Bell, and John Legend joining Kenan Thompson and Kate McKinnon to sing the fangless song that contained no memorable lines.

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The song only delayed the inevitable: a joyless stand-up set by hosts Colin Jost and Michael Che, whose chemistry continues to evade me.

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The pair welcomed “many creative and talented people in Hollywood who haven’t been caught yet,” one of a few played-out nods to the #MeToo movement, and noted, “the only white people who thank Jesus” on awards shows are Republicans and ex-crackheads. It was like watching an assortment of “Weekend Update” jokes cut because they hadn’t worked in rehearsal.

It made me want McKinnon and Thompson to return to the stage, hang out, and maybe borrow the mics from their two colleagues for a couple of hours.

Once Fred Armisen and Maya Rudolph showed up in a recurring bit to play comically unprepared Emmy experts, it was clear the night was doubling as an episode of “Saturday Night Live” — a not-great episode at that. When “SNL” won for best variety sketch series, it seemed redundant. When an overwhelmed Betty White repeatedly thanked Lorne Michaels, who produced the Emmys, it seemed doubly so.

The best “SNL” touch: Leslie Jones screaming with glee for a crazy long time while presenting Regina King with her statue for best lead actress in a limited series. “I’m only rooting for the black people,” Tracy Morgan had said while presenting early in the night, and he had to wait until halfway through the show for the first winner of color.

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The slinging of the gold started off with a burst of joy, as Henry Winkler, nominated six times over the decades, finally won as best supporting actor in a comedy series for “Barry.” “I wrote this 43 years ago,” he joked about his acceptance speech, which was breathless. “Barry” also had an unexpected best actor winner with Bill Hader, who took the statue from favorites Donald Glover and Ted Danson.

But the best comedy prize, and the only sweep of the night, belonged to the endearing “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” First, in a surprise, Alex Borstein won best supporting actress and was shocked enough to open her speech on a delicate subject: “Ladies, stop peeing on toilet seats.” “Mrs. Maisel” also took directing and writing awards for Amy Sherman-Palladino and a best actress award for Rachel Brosnahan.

“It’s about a woman finding her voice anew,” Brosnahan said, noting the show’s connection to #MeToo and, perhaps, explaining some of the Television Academy’s enthusiasm for it.

“The Americans” finally got a major award, with Matthew Rhys deservedly winning for best actor in a drama for a season in which his character was on the outside of the spy business uneasily looking in. Will the show’s fans ever adjust to his Welsh accent? Never. Joel Fields and Joe Weinberg of “The Americans” also won for writing the finale of that series, a pitch-perfect ending to an intriguing and timely period piece.

Claire Foy was the unexpected winner for best actress in a drama, since the odds favored Elisabeth Moss and Sandra Oh. It was her last chance to win for her role in “The Crown,” which may have influenced voters; Olivia Colman is taking over the part of Queen Elizabeth next season, as her majesty ages. “Westworld” got a solid nod with Thandie Newton winning best supporting actress in a drama.

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And “Game of Thrones” took a pair of biggies — for best drama and for Peter Dinklage for best supporting actor.

What happened with “The Handmaid’s Tale,” given the timeliness of its themes? The drama may have been just too dark for voters this time around. Another possibility: The Emmys, whose telecast has been failing in the ratings, wanted to celebrate a blockbuster to keep as many fans as possible engaged.

The limited series awards were also spread around, with an emphasis on the powerful and much-deserving “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story,” which took best of the lot. Darren Criss gave a rousingly appreciative acceptance speech for his best actor prize, which he earned for playing the self-loathing, desperate Andrew Cunanan.

“Godless” was honored with a pair of supporting acting awards for best limited series, with Merritt Wever delivering a sweetly scattered and self-conscious acceptance speech: “I came prepared and it’s bombing already,” she said early on. Wever almost bested her wonderful 2013 acceptance speech for “Nurse Jackie,” which was, in its entirety: “Thank you so much. I gotta go. Bye.” And Jeff Daniels, best supporting actor, had an odd thank you list that included his horse.

Strangest moment of the night: Glenn Weiss, a winner for directing the Oscars, proposed to his girlfriend from the stage. She said yes — phew — came to the stage, and let him put a ring on it.

There was no red carpet this year, literally. Instead, the famous flooring was gold, in honor of the Emmys’ 70th anniversary. And so down a yellow brick road they came, on a slow march to the land of applause, stopping only to showboat and promote.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.