The big, televised awards shows ain’t what they used to be, that’s for sure. They are now fraught events watched by skeptical viewers in anticipation of some cringeworthy moments or, worse, boredom.
The Emmy Awards telecast on Monday was different. Disconcertingly funny, occasionally chaotic and, in the end, a celebration of the already overpraised shows in the prestige categories. By the time Ted Lasso was scooping up Emmys again, you began to wonder whether you were watching last year’s Emmy Awards on a time-loop. HBO’s Succession won Outstanding Drama Series. Of course it did. Precisely as predicted.
As breezy host Kenan Thompson said near the start of the shindig, “Tonight, we celebrate the hundreds and hundreds of shows that were produced last year, and then we give awards to five of them.”
Still, before the boring bits at the end, what NBC presented was a snappy, lightweight show, often silly but producing some memorable moments. It was a pleasure to see the ABC network comedy Abbott Elementary take home trophies. At a time when old-school network shows are considered an endangered species, and not worth anyone’s time in the streaming universe, the little show with a tone and style all its own was certainly acknowledged.
But when series creator and star Quinta Brunson took to the stage to accept the award, she had to put up with Jimmy Kimmel playing dead at her feet, in a comedy bit that should have been rethought and then rejected before the show. However, when Sheryl Lee Ralph won for her role in the show, after a decades-long career on stage and TV, she let the room and the world know what she was feeling. She sang in powerful voice, belting out several verses of Dianne Reeves’s Endangered Species. It took your breath away.
A problem was the short time that winners were allowed to speak after accepting the award. Now, it’s universally acknowledged that acceptance speeches these days can be so rambling they make viewers change the channel, but this type of brevity looked cruel. One of the best moments came when Jennifer Coolidge won her first ever Emmy (deservedly) for HBO’s The White Lotus miniseries. “This is a once in a lifetime moment!” she bellowed. No way was she going to be abruptly played off the stage by the loud music the producers inserted. Instead, she danced to it. You could only applaud her,
Perhaps a reason the acceptance speeches were so short – you really felt sorry for Amanda Seyfried accepting for The Dropout – was to allow for the jokes and sketches to flourish instead. Well, some did and some were duds. A set of musical numbers meant to celebrate TV theme songs went awry quickly. The use of both a house DJ and an MC seemed overkill. The long In Memoriam segment was filled with names that were near-impossible to read if you were watching at home.
For all the fun segments and occasional surprises, the Emmy Awards slowly moved into familiar territory. If you were waiting for Netflix’s Squid Game, a show of breathtaking originality, to be honoured, you had to wait a long time.
At last, Squid Game’s Lee Jung-jae won Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, making him the first actor in a non-English series to win in the category. That’s extraordinary given that he prevailed over fellow nominees Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul), Jason Bateman (Ozark), Jeremy Strong (Succession), Adam Scott (Severance) and Brian Cox (Succession).
One certainty to emerge is that HBO’s Euphoria is a phenomenon that is largely off-the-radar for older viewers, and its lead, Zendaya, is probably the biggest star in the world to a younger audience She earned her second Emmy acting win, at just 26 years old, for playing the troubled teen Rue Bennett on the show. Also, Zendaya looked like Hollywood royalty, unlike many other nominees, male and female.
Yet for all the peculiar bits of spontaneity, a sense of the predicable loomed. In addition to Ted Lasso (comedy series) and Succession, it was a repeat win for Last Week Tonight With John Oliver (variety talk series), Saturday Night Live (variety sketch series), Jason Sudeikis (comedy actor) and Jean Smart (comedy actress).
Clearly, some Emmy voters are in repeat-mode. John Oliver’s show now wins year after year, while Seth Meyers and others do outstanding work night after night in late-night. Smart deserves praise but the second season of Hacks was nothing as lively and withering as the first. And giving another award to Ted Lasso looked like the work of people who don’t actually watch much new TV.
Already some TV critics are calling the Emmy Awards a disaster. But it was not that. Outside the bubble of the TV business the show looked good, felt good and sure had awkward moments. Apart from the predictable wins at the end, it was good chaos.
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