If the 69th Annual Emmy Awards targeted just one viewer, it was clearly President Donald Trump, a goal acknowledged early on Sunday in host Stephen Colbert’s biting monologue.
“Hello, sir. Thanks for joining us,” he said. “Looking forward to the tweets.”
Jokes at the president’s expense flowed throughout the evening, but the real message came through in the choice of winners, a diverse group that often took the opportunity to show their political leanings, sometimes subtly — sometimes not.
The artists who worked on “The Handmaid’s Tale” never mentioned Trump, including star Elisabeth Moss, who won after falling short seven previous times and celebrated with several bleeped obscenities. But the Hulu series’ dominance spoke volumes. It was the first time a streaming service came out on top as either outstanding drama or comedy. “Tale” was also the first drama champ with a predominantly female cast.
“Go home and go to work,” creator Bruce Miller told the crowd during his acceptance speech for the best drama award, with novelist Margaret Atwood joining the show’s cast and producers onstage. “We have a lot of things to fight for.”
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who made Emmy history by winning her sixth Emmy as a lead actress in a comedy, said that her sitcom “Veep,” named best comedy for the third year in a row, had considered an upcoming story line about impeachment but “we were worried someone else might get to it first.”
Donald Glover, who won as both an actor and director for “Atlanta,” thanked Trump for “putting black people No. 1 on the most depressed list. He’s probably the reason I’m up here.”
No show benefited more from the political climate than “Saturday Night Live,” with a win for best variety sketch show, another for director Don Roy King and supporting performance awards for Alec Baldwin and Kate McKinnon, whose portrayals of Trump and Hillary Clinton, respectively, helped make the past season one of its most memorable.
McKinnon, who also won last year, made a point to thank Clinton for her grace, while Baldwin noted that he and his wife didn’t have children during the past “SNL” season because “you put that orange wig on, it’s birth control.”
Executive producer Lorne Michaels said that he never thought the first season could be matched in terms of unpredictability and excitement.
“Turns out I was wrong,” said the icon who launched the series in 1975.
“Last Week Tonight With John Oliver,” one of the few series that’s been tougher on Trump than “SNL,” was recognized for both outstanding writing and best variety/talk show for the second year in a row.
John Lithgow, honored for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in “The Crown,” thanked the late British prime minister for being a reminder of “what leadership really looks like.”
Sean Spicer seemed eager to get in on the fun, even at his own expense. He rolled out on a podium to exaggerate the size of the Emmys viewing audience, a reference to his infamous press conference following Trump’s inauguration. Audience member Melissa McCarthy, whose scathing portrayal of the former White House press secretary on “SNL” earned her an Emmy last week, seemed less than amused.
Presenters also got in their political digs, most notably the reunited cast of “Nine to Five.” While Dolly Parton made her umpteenth joke about her breast size, co-stars Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda compared their sexist boss in the 1980 movie to another unnamed “egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot.”
The success of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” based on Atwood’s dystopian novel, also made a statement of sorts, with many viewers drawing lines between current events and the nightmarish sexism depicted in the show. In addition to Moss, its winners included actress Ann Dowd, writer Bruce Miller and director Reed Morano. Morano’s win marked the first time since 1995 that a woman has won in that category.
“Big Little Lies,” also based on a novel by a woman, was represented in the winner’s circle by actors Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern and Alexander Skarsgard and director Jean-Marc Vallée.
Cicely Tyson, who helped present “Lies” with its award for outstanding miniseries, was visibly shaken as she reflected on the impact of “Roots,” the 1977 miniseries for which she received her first Emmy nomination.
Diversity was represented throughout the evening.
Riz Ahmed, a British Pakistani, was recognized as lead actor in a miniseries or movie for “The Night Of,” and Sterling K. Brown was the lone acting winner from broadcast TV’s best hope, “This Is Us.” He saluted Andre Braugher, whose win for “Homicide: Life On the Street” in 1998 was the last time a black actor won in his category.
Aziz Ansari and Lena Waithe won for writing an episode of “Master of None.” While Ansari is the show’s bigger star, this was more Waithe’s win — the first for a black female writer for a comedy series — triggering a standing ovation. Waithe thanked her girlfriend and gave a passionate shout-out to the gay community.
The late Mary Tyler Moore, an icon for both the gay community and feminists, got the special honor of closing out the In Memoriam tribute with footage of Mary Richards turning out the lights in her Minneapolis-based sitcom’s final episode; a car commercial featuring the theme song from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” followed.