“Veep” and “Game of Thrones” may have repeated as Best Series winners Sunday night but there were plenty of surprises at the 2016 Emmy Awards.
Coming largely in the acting categories, underdogs like Tatiana Maslany (“Orphan Black”), Louie Anderson (“Baskets”), Kate McKinnon (“Saturday Night Live”) and Ben Mendelsohn (“Bloodline”) helped make the program watchable for the better part of three hours.
Host Jimmy Kimmel worked overtime, too, creating just enough interest between categories to make us want to stick around. While he repeated an Ellen DeGeneres Oscar bit (he handed out sandwiches to the audience) and played off his love/hate relationship with Matt Damon, he was quick with ad libs that were snarky and appropriate.
Pointing out “The Apprentice” creator Mark Burnett, Kimmel said the Emmy winner was responsible for Donald Trump.
Comedy Actress winner Julia Louis-Dreyfus got in her political jabs, too: “Our show started out as a political satire but it now feels like a sobering documentary.”
Louis-Dreyfus (who has won five Emmys for the same character, a record) had the most poignant acceptance speech of the night. She said the only opinion that mattered was her father’s. He died Friday.
The night’s juggernaut was “The People v. O.J. Simpson,” which won Best Limited Series, Best Actor (Courtney B. Vance), Best Actress (Sarah Paulson), Best Supporting Actor (Sterling K. Brown) and Best Writing.
While “Game of Thrones” didn’t win any acting honors, it did get Best Writing, Directing and Drama.
Kimmel started the show by giving Jeffrey Tambor an Emmy to speed things along. Tambor did come through (he won Best Actor for “Transparent”) and offered a challenge to producers to hire more transgender performers.
Anderson got the surprise ball rolling by winning the night’s first trophy for his work as a woman in “Baskets.”
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Rami Malek was a favorite of many Emmy watchers, but his show, “Mr. Robot,” didn’t get a lot of hardware leading up to Sunday’s presentation. When he won Best Actor, he seemed visibly nervous and said: “Please tell me you’re seeing this, too.” It was a neat hat tip to his character, Elliott.
The night, though, belonged to Kimmel who kept things moving and made a good pitch for getting the Oscar job next year.
Among the night’s notable moments:
• Sarah Paulson thanking – and apologizing to – Marcia Clark, the woman she played in “People v. O.J.” She also gave a shout-out to her partner, Holland Taylor, who won several Emmys in the past.
• Taraji P. Henson for taking Kimmel’s ribbing (“at this point you could drop the P.,” he said) and turning up in two dresses and two hairstyles.
• Ribbing Maggie Smith for not showing to the Emmys, then telling her she had to come to lost and found for her 2016 Emmy.
• Memorable tributes to Garry Shandling (from Tambor) and Garry Marshall (from Henry Winkler).
• An opening segment that managed to involve the “Game of Thrones” dragon and Jeb Bush.
Because there was such stiff competition, some very good shows didn’t win the awards they might have in a different year. “The Night Manager” got one (directing); “American Crime” did, too (Best Supporting Actress for Regina King); but “Fargo” went home empty-handed.
All in all, it was a good night – even if you’d never heard of half the shows.