Yes, I Actually Enjoyed Last Night’s Emmys
(And They Actually Gave Some of the Awards To The Right People and Shows)
Before I get to my reactions to last night’s Emmys, a confession. I take this show far too seriously. Yes, I realize that to actually care about any awards show intensely shows just where your priorities are and honestly, after so many years of being disappointed by the shows they don’t nominate (This is Us far too often) and the shows they do (Game of Thrones, anyone), the constant repetition of nominees and winners (and last night was no exception) I should be far too jaded to care. But damn it, I am invested. No matter how many times Michael C. Hall lost or Julia-Louis Dreyfus won, how many times went for series more traditional dystopias like The Handmaid’s Tale over more frightening ones like Mr. Robot, every year around this time I watch with fever intensity, wanting to believe. And that hinders any enjoyment I might possibly get from the proceedings.
So let me this say out front: Last night was fun. Keenan Thompson was very fun and enjoyable to watch (he always is) but honestly, the presenters were just as entertaining. Jean Smart and Hannah Einbinder come on, and Einbinder is too shy to speak…but she wanted a better view of Zendaya. Seth Meyers and Amy Poehler show up to give a supporting awards and as always, become Seth Meyers and Amy Poehler. Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez come on stage and remind just how much fun we have watching Only Murders in the Building. (Best line among them: Gomez: “You know why I love hanging out with these guys? Absolutely no paparazzi.”) And of course, the wonderful Mindy Kaling and B.J. Novak came out to present the award for Best Writing for Limited Series and then absolutely trash anyone who writes limited series. (Novak: “And once you’re done, you’re free to retreat to your luxurious, tropical compound. Kaling: “Assuming you didn’t shoot your Limited Series at your luxurious, tropical compound, Mike White. How did you spend your pandemic?” Naturally, White won the award.)
And all of this before you get to many of the actual acceptance speeches. I’d been waiting for more than a year to finally hear Jennifer Coolidge give the acceptance speech she’s never had a chance to do for The White Lotus. So naturally, she was Jennifer Coolidge, saying she took a lavender bath, and was having a hard time moving or talking. Then as the music started to play her off the stage, she started to dance. This would be the high point of any awards show, but tonight everybody played second fiddle to Sheryl Lee Ralph.
I’m not necessarily saying that her win for Abbott Elementary was unexpected; it was one you didn’t dare hope for, and judging by her initial deer in the headlights reaction, Ralph didn’t have a clue it was coming. It took her nearly a minute to get to the stage, and the first words out of her mouth were the lyrics to ‘Endangered Species’. She really didn’t have to say anything after that, but considering the importance of her triumph — Ralph is only the second African-American actress in history to win Best Supporting Actress for a Comedy — it is a moment that will go down in the annals of Emmy lore.
As for those who dared complain — with some justification — about Emmys being a little too pale last year, it will be very hard to make that argument this year. In addition to Ralph’s triumph, there were also the brilliant victories for Lee-Jung Jae and Hwang Dong-Hyuk for Squid Game, the similarly historical victory for (sigh) Zendaya and Quinta Brunson’s triumph for Best Writing for Abbott Elementary. Throw in victories for Colman Domingo and Lee-Yoo Mi for Guest Actor and Actress (Euphoria and Squid Game, respectively) victories for Jerrod Carmichael for his ground-breaking Rothaniel, and victories over this weekend for Lizzo, RuPaul and the late Chadwick Boseman, I dare anyone to try and come up with the hashtag EmmysSoWhite this year.
As for my own satisfaction with the original winners, generally, I was fine with about eighty percent of them. I had absolutely no problem at all with any of the winners in the Limited Series category, all of which I basically predicted in the last two weeks. On a personal note, I was glad to see Mike White, a brilliant creative force that has spent his entire career in movie and TV acknowledged by critics and ignored by the rest of the world enjoy such triumph for The White Lotus. And honestly, after four consecutive years of Limited Series awards being dominated by the grimmest subjects imaginable (even Watchmen was pretty dark among the stunning visuals), wasn’t it nice for a Limited Series to win for just being fun? To be sure, it was about rich people behaving just as badly at play as they do at work, but it was hard not have fun along the way.
As for comedy, I’ll confess to being slightly surprised to see Ted Lasso end up the night’s biggest winner, taking four Emmys for Best Comedy, Jason Sudeikis for Best Actor, Brett Goldstein for Best Supporting Actor, and Best Director. But honestly, considering how the lion’s share of the awards leading up to the Emmys went this past year, I’m not that surprised. The only thing I’m slightly disappointed is that Sudeikis beat Bill Hader for Best Actor, and since Hader has two Emmys already, I think he’ll be fine with it. Jean Smart beating Quinta Brunson was only a shock because the momentum seemed to be going her way. The second season of Hacks was, if anything, better than the first and Smart deserved an Emmy for it just as much as she did last year. If anything, I’m disappointed that Hannah Einbinder still hasn’t one…but honestly, I think even Einbinder doesn’t have a problem with losing.
Yes, Succession won Best Drama to be sure, but all things considered, the series didn’t have as dominant a night as it had managed two years ago, walking away with just four Emmys. Indeed, it finished second in overall awards to Euphoria (boo!) which won five, and Squid Game (yea!) which took six. Indeed, Squid Game’s victory wasn’t just impressive, but historical, and hopefully gives a sign for future foreign language dramas and comedies to have a chance beyond the international awards occasionally given. I was actually fine with Matthew MacFayden’s victory for Succession; with the exception of J. Smith Cameron, I thought he deserved it the most. As much as I detest Ozark, Julia Garner’s win didn’t bother me that much: she was the finest thing about this show. As for Zendaya…
At one point, Thompson joked about the Emmys that we acknowledge hundreds of shows and give awards to about five of them. It wasn’t entirely true this year — the Emmys managed to spread things around for quite a few series in this category, including Only Murders in the Building and Stranger Things on the technical side — but it is a trend that you have to acknowledge. This year, black-ish and Insecure departed winless from the Emmys, no doubt hurt by the constant presence of shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm. As for drama, there will be more chances for Severance and Yellowjackets, but This is Us departed with far less recognition from the ranks than it deserved, and time is running out for Stranger Things and especially Better Call Saul. It was probably the best series of the year, but has yet to win a single Emmy. What are its chances likely to be like next year when such major nomination hogs as Westworld, The Handmaid’s Tale and The Crown (okay that one deserves all the nominations and wins it can get) return for their penultimate seasons? And that’s before the 2022–2023 season has properly begun. Is it any wonder that watching the Emmys causes me so much agita?