There are the Emmys — the awards — and there are the Emmy Awards. The first is a trophy; the second is a television show. The trophy, awarded to whatever and whomever a plurality of voters happened to watch and like or remembered liking before, almost always rewards good work, and it is nice when people or programs one admires are celebrated. But given a wealth of possibilities, it’s meaningless in terms of absolute quality — though on behalf of their favorites, many viewers will consider not winning a slap in the face. Those tweets will already be coursing through the cybersphere by the time you read this.
The Emmy Awards — “The 74th Primetime Emmy Awards” to give it this year’s full royal title — is just a television show, this year hosted by Kenan Thompson, to be enjoyed or hate-watched or looked at just to see what everybody’s wearing or completely ignored. And one can say in advance, as one inevitably says in retrospect, that it will be too long and fall somewhere on a scale between Not Completely Horrible and Surprisingly Good. Which, once again, it did, if a little closer to the former than the latter.
Along with a number of questions that maintain from year to year, one wondered beforehand whether the broadcast would address more timely industrial concerns and world events. Would “Abbott Elementary” win anything, striking a blow for broadcast television? (Yes! Sheryl Lee Ralph for acting in it and creator Quinta Brunson for writing it.) Would anyone mention the queen? (No, but “Succession” creator Jesse Armstrong threw some shade at the British succession and the new king: “Evidently, a little more voting involved in our winning than Prince Charles.”) Trump the hoarder? (Yes: Martin Short to audience: “I wish I could box you up and take you home like classified White House documents.”) Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at the last big awards show? Yes, but vague. Thompson to Oscar host Regina Hall: “Surprised she’s at another award show — girl, you brave.”
Some other questions:
How was the host?
Thompson was fine. Much of the night’s humor was fairly inside, and he made two jokes about Netflix’s business troubles and one about nobody watching Showtime. And he made the obvious and necessary point that “we celebrate the hundreds and hundreds of shows that were produced this year and then we give awards to about five of them.” He danced with commitment and agility in an opening number set to TV themes that, despite an energetic ensemble, felt on the whole remote. But the job is a struggle, and he was saddled to some dumb bits.
What was the vibe?
The producers tried hard to create a festive atmosphere (first presenter Oprah: “As you can see, tonight is a party!”) with the VIPs, nominees from the (relatively few) nominated shows seated at tables surrounding pedestals where the awards were accepted. The audience microphones were turned up, and announcer Sam Jay kept her own volume high. There was a DJ instead of a band. There was a “bar set,” which supported bits featuring the Simpsons (Mo the Bartender, responding to a prank call from Bart: “Is there a Bo Tox in this celebrity audience; can any of you even raise an eyebrow here?”) and Kumail Nanjiani as an “honorary bartender” in over his head. (“Someone asked me for a martini extra dirty and I spat in it— is that right?”) The pace was fast, in a way that was somewhat exhausting. Did it feel like a party? One you were watching through a window, perhaps.
Did anyone get political? No. Winners just weren’t allowed the time. The countdown clock, mentioned by more than one winner, kept them talking fast and nervously.
Was anything really and truly surprising? Yes, the presence at the bar of “Kenan & Kel” co-star Kel Mitchell seemed to actually catch Thompson off guard. Their hug might have been the evening’s sweetest moment.
Who most heroically resisted being played off in the middle of an acceptance speech? Jennifer Coolidge, winning for “The White Lotus,” sounding very much like a Jennifer Coolidge character (“I took a lavender bath tonight just before the show and it made me swell up inside my dress … I’m having a hard time speaking”), who protested when the music started playing — “Hold on, this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing and I’m full, I’m full … and wait, hold on, hold on” — and then just started dancing.
Who was moving? Lizzo in yards of red tulle, accepting for her “Watch Out for the Big Grrrls”: “When I was a little girl, all I wanted to see was me in the media, someone fat like me, Black like me, beautiful like me. If I could go back and tell little Lizzo something, I’d be like, ‘You’re gonna see that person, but, bitch, it’s gonna have to be you!’” Sheryl Lee Ralph, singing. Final presenter Selma Blair, by her mere presence.
Who/what was funny? As usual, there’s a divide between presenters reading provided banter, and often seeming kind of confused about it, and those who clearly bring their own material. “Only Murders in the Building” trio Short, Steve Martin and Selena Gomez have got their act down. Short: “Thank you so much for what was in my head a standing ovation.” Martin mentioned “walking the red carpet that I have at home.” Gomez, when Martin asked how much time they had left: “With a good diet and exercise, maybe 10, 12 years.”
Did any historical firsts give hope that the Television Academy has turned a corner? Yes! “Squid Game” star Lee Jung-jae and director (also creator) Hwang Dong-hyuk, the first winners for the first nominated foreign-language series. “I truly hope ‘Squid Game’ won’t be the last non-English series to be here at the Emmys,” said the director. But those corners can fool you.
How many people watched, and does this represent the end of awards shows? That is a question for tomorrow. But you can be pretty sure the Emmys will be back for number 75, making a bigger deal than ever.