Emmys: The Show That Had Everything (Analysis)

Tatiana Maslany - Emmy - Stage - H - 2016
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

No awards show ever is perfect — but the Emmys keep getting closer.

For the second year in a row, TV's biggest night had a terrific host (last year Andy Samberg, this year Jimmy Kimmel, both hilarious); wrapped up earlier than advertised; featured a remarkably diverse set of nominees; and, in the end, produced a group of winners better than any pundit, including this one, ever imagined possible.

How did this happen? In 2015, for the first time, the TV Academy employed a voting process that opened final-round balloting to all members of each category’s applicable peer group, rather than small "blue-ribbon panels," and the results were extraordinary. This year, after replacing a preferential ballot with a popular one, they got even better. Maybe it's a coincidence... but I doubt it.

Sure, there were a handful of repeat winners, but they couldn't have been more deserving: HBO's Game of Thrones and Veep for best drama series and best comedy series, respectively (Veep with a different showrunner than last year, which must be unprecedented); Veep's Julia Louis-Dreyfus for best actress in a comedy series, for a record-extending fifth year in a row (and record-setting sixth time overall in this category); Downton Abbey's Maggie Smith for best supporting actress in a drama series, her third win for the just-ended show (she's never accepted in-person); and, for the second consecutive year, Transparent's Jeffrey Tambor for best actor in a comedy series (or as Kimmel put it, a drama series that "identifies as a comedy series"), American Crime's Regina King for best supporting actress in a limited series and The Voice for best reality competition series.

Still, the greatest joy for this viewer came in seeing people crowned with their first wins, even if some were widely tipped to prevail.

Was there a more satisfying moment than when extraordinary Sarah Paulson, nominated for the sixth time in five years, finally got to clutch a statuette, and as a lead actress (in a limited series), no less, for The People vs. O.J. Simpson? And to have her joined in the winner's circle by her co-stars Courtney B. Vance and Sterling K. Brown, both chosen for career-best work over much bigger names, was icing on the cake.

How about the explosion of Mr. Robot's Rami Malek propelling him all the way to a win for best actor in a drama series? The 35-year-old, who looks at least a decade younger, plays a psychologically disturbed hacker on the show, and had the acceptance speech one-liner of the night: "Please tell me you're seeing this too!"

After 13 years of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert trading off the best variety show prize (now known as best variety talk series) for their Comedy Central shows, how cool was it to see their heir apparent, John Oliver, carry the torch, for Last Week Tonight? (That, incidentally, becomes the first once-a-week show to win in the category since another from HBO, Tracey Takes On..., back in 1997.)

Kate McKinnon, with her Hillary Clinton impersonations and many other memorable characters, emerged this year as the primary reason to tune into SNL every week (along with the prospect of catching Larry David doing his Bernie Sanders opposite her), and she, too, won, for best supporting actress in a comedy series, marking the first time that an SNL performer has bagged a supporting acting Emmy.

SNL itself didn't win best variety sketch series — somewhat surprisingly to me, and making it 0-for-2 in that category's young history — but who could quibble with the show did that did, Key & Peele, for its fifth and final season? It deserved to go out with at least one win to its name.

And, most gratifyingly for me, Orphan Black's Tatiana Maslany, who has the toughest job on TV (playing a dozen different characters) and waited years before even getting a best actress in a drama series nomination, won — I still can't believe it! (In fairness, do I think the popular ballot caused this? No, her show attracts the smallest audience of any nominee's in her category, so she probably was the beneficiary of a split. A similar dynamic may have made possible two other surprising but just wins, Bloodline's Ben Mendelsohn for best supporting actor in a drama series and Baskets' Louie Anderson for best supporting actor in a comedy series.)

Hell, I can't even take issue with the winners for directing (Thrones' Miguel Sapochnik for the landmark "Battle of the Bastards" episode on the drama side, Transparent's Jill Soloway for powerful "Man on the Land" on the comedy side, The Night Manager's Susanne Bier for that limited series and Alex Rudzinski and Hamilton Tony winner Thomas Kail for variety show Grease: Live) or writing (Thrones' "Battle of the Bastards" for drama, O.J.'s "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia" for limited, Patton Oswalt: Talking for Clapping for variety and especially Master of None's "Parents" for comedy, all instant-classic episodes).

Indeed, when your biggest gripe with the results is that Sherlock: The Abominable Bride shouldn't have won best TV movie — not because it's not great, since it is, but because it arguably shouldn't have been classified as a TV movie in the first place — then you know the night has been good.

And to all, a good night.