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20 Best, Worst and WTF Things We Saw at Emmys 2017

From Stephen Colbert getting political to Sean Spicer getting a podium – the highlights, low points and headscratchers from yesterday’s Emmys.

That’s a wrap on the 2017 Emmys, and despite some bumps – and one very large, Spicey-shaped elephant in the room – the 69th annual ceremony went off with very few hitches, and not just because it ended almost exactly 11 p.m U.S. EST.

Despite some obvious misses in the nominees (no Insecure? The Americans? The Leftovers?), last night’s winners felt pretty spot-on. The Handmaid’s Tale and Big Little Lies cleaned up, as did old favorites like Veep and Saturday Night Live. Thanks to a more diverse crew of winners – including Riz Ahmed for The Night Of, Lena Waithe for Master of None and Donald Glover for Atlanta – it seemed like Emmy voters may have actually been listening to those who’ve criticised the #EntertainmentIndustrySoWhite norm.

And under the auspices of host Stephen Colbert, the whole thing was sprightly and – unsurprisingly, given the fact that we’re living in Donald Trump’s bizarro world – politically charged. Here are our picks for 20 of the night’s best, worst and most genuinely headscratching WTF moments.

By Amy Plitt and Jenna Scherer.

Best: The Politically Charged Opening Monologue

The opening number, about television’s ability to provide a pleasant escape during rough times, was snappy and just a little bit sarcastic – in other words, a perfect showcase of host Colbert’s talents as an occasional song-and-dance man. It managed to squeeze in a bunch of cast members from This Is Us, Stranger Things and Veep, while also taking direct aim at the raging trash fire that is our current moment. (“The Americans has hotter spies than the Russian inquiry/Even treason’s better on TV!”)

Chance the Rapper even showed up to inject a bit of woke-ness into the proceedings, reminding viewers that while tuning out may feel good in the moment, it’s not actually going to solve anything. Starting off with “I love television, it’s a pleasant distraction/But just imagine taking action,” he then reminded folks that there are plenty of terrible things that need our attention – police brutality and Trump’s pigheaded ban on transgender soldiers in the military among them. “I get it, them finales, they got you focused/Just record the show and try to show up at the protest,” he rapped. Solid advice. AP

Worst: … And Sean Spicer Showed Up

Like Anthony “Shit-Stirrer” Scaramucci, former White House communications director Sean Spicer has been making the damage-control rounds since ending his tenure as the Trump administration’s punching bag. Spicey appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Livelast week, and last night at the Emmys, he rolled out on a fake lectern – y’know, like Melissa McCarthy did on her SNL. (See, it’s funny, right?!?) He then assured Colbert that “this will be the largest audience to witness an Emmys, period.” Ha ha ha. But this is still the guy who defended his boss’s unconscionable positions (i.e. the Muslim travel ban) and absurd lies (the fact that Frederick Douglass is not, in fact, alive), among other things; his role in this dangerous, disastrous administration should not be forgotten. Letting Spicey in on the joke, however, does just that. AP

Best: Stephen Colbert, Emmys Host Extraordinaire

The Emmy powers-that-be knew exactly what they were doing when they chose Stephen Colbert to host this year. Yes, he’s the host of a CBS talk show (synergy!); but he’s also a shrewd commentator who doesn’t shy away from talking politics and being upfront about his point of view. The man made no bones about taking aim at President Trump’s toxicity in his opening monologue — a canny rebuke of the President’s weird obsession with The Celebrity Apprentice never having won an Emmy. (“Because unlike the presidency, Emmys go to the winner of the popular vote,” Colbert quipped.) It doesn’t hurt that the comedian is also the whole awards-show-host package: a good-natured charmer who, whether he’s leading a musical number or lobbing a pointed insult, knows how to win the crowd over. Hope to see you again next year, Stephen. JS

Worst: That Overenthusiastic Announcer

If you haven’t heard of CBS’s series Superior Donuts before last night, we don’t blame you – the series, based on a Tracy Letts play and starring Judd Hirsch, hasn’t exactly captured the zeitgeist. But its young star, stand-up comedian Jermaine Fowler, was tapped as the show’s announcer in an attempt to give the broadcast a bit more pep (plus, Tiffany Network synergy!) and, well … it could’ve gone a little better, to be honest. In some cases, his enthusiasm was charming – he freaked out when Donald Glover won for Atlanta, and rightfully so! – but his jokey ad-libbing ended up being way more grating than anything else. Sometimes, there’s something to be said for sticking to a script. AP

Best: The Diversity of the Winners and Nominees

Colbert pointed out in his opening monologue that this year featured the most diverse nominee pool in the history of the ceremony, and that’s not just lip service. TV has become more inclusive both in front of the camera and behind the scenes, and the Emmys have rightfully followed suit. Reed Morano (The Handmaid’s Tale) became the first woman to win Drama Directing in 22 years, while Lena Waithe (Master of None) was the first black woman ever to win for Comedy Writing. Add to that Donald Glover’s multiple history-making statuettes for Atlanta, plus acting wins for Riz Ahmed (The Night Of) and Sterling K. Brown (This Is Us), and this isn’t merely the Emmys ticking off diversity boxes. It’s a glut of talented performers, writers and directors who have finally found a platform getting the recognition they deserve. JS

Worst: ‘Veep’ Shuts Out ‘Atlanta,’ ‘Master of None’

Emmy voters tend to find a comedy series that they like and and lavish awards on it, even when it’s up against better shows – see: Frasier in the Nineties or Modern Family in the early aughts. Case in point: Veep has been racking up Emmy after Emmy in recent years, and once again took home the award for Outstanding Comedy Series. (Julia Louis-Dreyfus also won Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for her turn as disgraced president Selina Meyer, her sixth consecutive time snagging the award.) But in a year with some seriously formidable competition – Atlanta, Master of None, Black-ish – it would have been nice to see something other than the admittedly hilarious HBO show come out on top. And given its next season will be its last, don’t count on that happening just yet. AP

Best: ‘SNL,’ Kate McKinnon Gets Recognition For a Landmark Season

It was up against some stiff competition: Billy Eichner’s guerrilla laughfest Billy on the Street, Comedy Central’s soused Drunk History. But SNL snagged the award for Outstanding Variety Sketch Series, and we can definitely say: deservedly so. Between its sharp, funny bits both pre- and post-election – Kate McKinnon’s Hillary Clinton impression earned her an Emmy this year, too – and its more absurd ones (hello, David S. Pumpkins), the 42nd season shined. (Though Lorne, this doesn’t mean you’re off the hook for that whole let’s-let-Donald-Trump-host moment from two years ago.) AP

The award for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy was Alec Baldwin’s to lose – his turn as Trump has been one of the most talked-about performances of the past year, including from the thin-skinned president himself. (Though let’s be real – it’s not exactly hard to goad Trump into angrily tweeting about TV shows when he should be, you know, doing anything else.) Still, his inclusion in the category seemed questionable at best, and while his speech hit the right targets, it felt like a bit of an easy gimme. And we’d have liked to see The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt‘s Tituss Burgess take home the gold; his performance in the Netflix series’ most recent season was as GIF-worthy as ever, but with a newfound dramatic undercurrent that deserved recognition. AP

Best: That ‘9 to 5’ Reunion

Only the fates know why we had to wait 37 years to see the most iconic trio of 1980 — Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda — step into the spotlight together again. We’re just glad it finally happened. The stars of America’s favorite workplace revenge comedy reunited to present the Supporting Actor in a Limited Series award, and to see these three dynamos playing off each other again was a gift. Parton delivered with trademark bawdy gags about boob nomenclature and branded vibrators, and Emmy-nominated Grace and Frankie costars Fonda and Tomlin drew a cutting comparison between the corporate villain of 9 to 5 and our current president. “Back in 1980, in that movie, we refused to be controlled by a sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot,” Fonda said, and Tomlin finished: “And in 2017, we still refuse to be controlled by a sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot.” Preach, sisters. JS

Worst: Too Many Attempts at YouTube-able Moments

In a world where the success of a TV event is measured not just in eyeballs when it airs but YouTube views and Facebook shares the day after, it’s not exactly surprising that awards show producers are trying to keep up with easily consumable sketches for the day after. But the bits that Emmy producers clearly wanted to go viral via RuPaul’s turn as “Emmy” dishing with the host or the Colbert-goes-to-Westworld sketch – felt too long by half, and like they were trying too hard to be full of GIF-able bits. AP

Best: ‘Master of None’ Writer Lena Waithe’s Speech

Alan Yang and Aziz Ansari’s thoughtful Netflix comedy showcases a panoply of voices – and nowhere was this more evident than in Season Two’s standout “Thanksgiving,” a deeply personal episode co-written by Master of None actor Lena Waithe based on her experience of coming out. The Writing for a Comedy Series win made history – Waithe is the first African-American woman to ever win in the category – and earned she and Ansari a standing ovation. The show’s co-creator stood to one side as Waithe delivered a moving speech dedicated to her “LGBTQIA family,” an acronym we never thought we’d have the privilege of hearing on network TV. “The things that make us different … those are our superpowers,” she said. JS

Worst: Seth MacFarlane’s Hokey Presentation Voiceovers

If you ask Seth MacFarlane to show up for an awards show, you can reliably expect him to be, well, Seth MacFarlane – that is, make crude jokes and do Family Guy voices. So of course he announce the nominees for Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series – a category full of serious shows like Big Little Lies, The Night Of, and Black Mirror – in various voices, from Petter Griffin to American Dad‘s Paul Lynde-sound-alike alien. The worst part? He gave the camera a little self-satisfied smirk at the end. Because in MacFarlane’s world, the only person whose amusement really matters is the man himself. AP

Best: Donald Glover Winning Not One But Two Emmys

Multi-hyphenate Donald Glover has been continually raising the bar on both the industry and himself, and Atlanta – the stylish, weighty FX comedy that he created, stars in and executive produces – feels like the apotheosis of his singular vision. Glover earned double acclaim last night for Directing of a Comedy Series (for brilliantly absurdist episode “B.A.N.”) and Lead Actor in a Comedy Series. He’s the first black person to win in the first category in 32 years, and the latter ever. “I want to thank Trump for making black people Number One on the most oppressed list,” he quipped in his first speech. JS

Best: Sterling K. Brown’s Stirring (If Shortened) Speech

The Emmys finished in crisp and timely fashion this year thanks to a strict enforcement of short acceptance speeches … but there’s always someone who soldiers on over the play-off music. This year it was Sterling K. Brown, who won Lead Actor in a Drama Series for his morally complex turn in This Is Us and delivered the night’s most memorably charming address. “Like, Walter White held this joint? Dick Whitman held this joint?” the actor said, brandishing his Emmy in joyous disbelief; he also paid tribute to Andre Braugher, the last African-American man to win in the category in 1998. That blasted music cut Brown off just as he was getting going, but that didn’t stop him: He finished his speech backstage in a flurry of thank-yous. JS

Worst: ‘Westworld’ Going Home Empty-Handed

After Game of Thrones swept the floor last year, it seemed like the Emmys had finally come around to taking genre TV seriously. Though it earned the most nominations of the year (22, tied with SNL), a big win was not in the story loop for Westworld, Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy’s fearlessly strange and twisty sci-fi thriller about robots, gunfights and the nature of human consciousness. Along with the Duffer brothers’ Stranger Things, which was also snubbed last night, itwas the water cooler show of 2016, and also featured a web of outstanding performances, especially from nominees Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright, Evan Rachel Wood and Anthony Hopkins. But the show took home no Primetime statuettes. Still, at least we got to see that weird but compelling sketch of Colbert “glitching” and getting taken backstage for in-the-buff repairs with Wright and Tituss Burgess. JS

Best: Standout ‘Black Mirror’ Episode ‘San Junipero’ Cleans Up

Charlie Brooker’s British import is a Twilight Zone for our time, a pitch-black anthology serial about the ways humans warp and are warped by the technology at our fingertips. It’s both surprising and encouraging that the usually cynical series’ most hopeful episode, “San Junipero,” won Black Mirror its first pair of Emmys — for Outstanding Television Movie and Writing for a Limited Series, Movie, or Dramatic Special. As a standalone mini-movie, it’s a glistening piece of television: a beautifully filmed and acted love story between two women that delivers both on style and emotional heft. We could’ve done without Brooker awkwardly calling for a spontaneous orgy in his acceptance speech, but the sentiment is there: “Love will win.” JS

Best: The Tasteful ‘In Memoriam’ Segment

Almost everything about the Emmys tribute to the celebs who’ve recently passed away was extremely classy and well done. (We’ll get to that almost in a second.) The producers tapped theater heavyweight Christopher Jackson, best known for playing George Washington in Hamilton, to sing Stevie Wonder’s “As” while the memorial – to stars like Mary Tyler Moore, John Heard, Florence Henderso, and Jerry Lewis – played in the background. It ended with a clip of the final moments of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, in which the star, who passed away in January, turns out the lights of the WJM-TV newsroom, and exits. It was simple and poignant, which is the best you can hope for. AP

Worst: … And Then Roger Ailes Gets a Spot

Perhaps Matt Taibbi said it best when Ailes, the chief architect of Fox News and, arguably, our current political predicaments, died this past May: “He left behind an America perfectly in his image, frightened out of its mind and pouring its money hand over fist into television companies, who are gleefully selling the unraveling of our political system as an entertainment product.” Still, despite all that – and the fact that more than a dozen women claimed that he sexually harassed them during his tenure at Fox – the man was given a place of prominence during the In Memoriam segment. (So, Charlie Murphy and Dick Gregory, no; Ailes, yes. Got it.) If anyone is wondering how behaviour like Ailes’s continues to happen, here’s a clue: It’s because of things like this. AP

Best: ‘Big Little Lies’ Wins Big

You’d be forgiven for thinking the film industry had invaded last night, with the likes of Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon popping up everywhere, looking like they’d taken a wrong turn on the way to the Oscars. But they made waves on the small screen with Big Little Lies, David E. Kelley’s moody HBO miniseries (based on Liane Moriarty’s 2014 novel) about a murder in an affluent community. The show tied with The Handmaid’s Tale for most Emmys of the year, taking home prizes in eight categories, including Outstanding Limited Series, Lead Actress (Kidman), Supporting Actor (Alexander Skarsgard), Directing (Jean-Marc Vallée) and Supporting Actress in a Limited Series (Laura Dern). As many of the winners hastened to emphasise, Big Little Lies is more than its sleek surface and clever plotting; it’s a story about women’s lives and the cost of domestic abuse. Witherspoon called for the TV world to “bring women to the front of their own stories and make them the hero of their own stories,” and Kidman echoed her sentiment: “More great roles for women, please.”

Best: ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Gets the Gold

Bruce Miller’s adaptation Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel turned out to be the most upsettingly relevant show of 2017 – so it’s no surprise that The Handmaid’s Tale was a big drama winner tonight, nabbing eight statuettes including Outstanding Lead Actress (Elisabeth Moss), Writing (Miller), Supporting Actress (Ann Dowd) and Directing (Reed Morano. In addition to being a timely meditation on the way society polices women and their bodies, it’s also a vividly realized piece of television – from Moss’s haunted and haunting central performance to the show’s visceral cinematography and pointed writing. And it was particularly lovely to see veteran actor Dowd nab a much-deserved win (for her turn as the fearsome Aunt Lydia) after decades of memorable but often unrecognized work on TV, film and stage. JS