When the best part of your Emmy Awards broadcast tonight is the short sendoffs to series that have finished including Games of Thrones and Veep, you might want to get your gaze out of the rearview mirror before you lose control.
Sadly, that’s not what the host-free 71st Primetime Emmy Awards chose to do. Which is why the just over three-hour result skidded all over the small-screen equivalent of the street on Sunday.
Yes, there were big wins for HBO’s GoT and Chernobyl in the Drama and Limited Series categories, Amazon’s Fleabag for Comedy and Netflix’s Bandersnatch from the Black Mirror team in the Outstanding Television Movie slate. There was a censorship bleep for Succession creator Jesse Armstrong quoting Donald Trump, though it was a night of relatively few direct hits at Hollywood’s POTUS piñata.
There was also history made by Pose star Billy Porter’s Lead Actor in a Drama win and there were surprises like Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge taking a historic Emmy record away from Veep’s Julia Louis-Dreyfus in the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series category.
When They See Us’ Jharrel Jerome scoring Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series over the heavily favored multiple Oscar winner Mahershala Ali for his True Detective Season 3 role beat the odds on a lot of office pools. Killing Eve‘s Jodie Comer snagging Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series emptied a wallet or two when so many had bet on her co-star Sandra Oh.
Yes, there were touches of a maestro’s greatness from the legendary Bob Newhart in skit near the top of the show and a fine turn on a lost opportunity of making everyone watch HBO’s winning Chernobyl by a deadpan Jon Hamm.
However, a few sparks do not a fire make and the pandering, Kardashian’d Emmys tonight was a burnout, with a musical number featuring Meryl Streep masks that brought back fond memories of Rob Lowe and Snow White.
It’s a double disappointment because after a cringe-inducing purple carpet arrivals show stumbled through by The Masked Singer’s Jenny McCarthy, Fashion Police alum Kelly Osbourne and Fox Sports’ Shannon Sharpe, the actual show had nowhere to go but up.
Yet, preceded by a glimpse of the performers for the upcoming second season of Masked Singer, the Fox-broadcast Emmys went instead for a fast faceplant opening with a quickly flattened Homer Simpson cameo and then Black-ish and 2019 nominee Anthony Anderson mock scrambling to take control in a skit in desperate search of a rewrite. Emerging as the adult in L.A.’s Microsoft Theater, Bryan Cranston came on to tell us “television has never been this damn good” – which is true of the medium but not the endgame of tonight’s Emmys.
A short save by the legendary Newhart in a waxworks skit with Ben Stiller was genius. But that soon was soiled by a Family Guy segment invoking the imprisoned Bill Cosby and the toxic Roseanne Barr and the Emmys always being “great for rewarding great people for great work” in the past.
It was made clear in a matter of seconds earlier tonight who should have been hosting the Emmys. James Corden showed it almost without effort and the right amount of swagger when CBS’ Late Late Show host presented the Bandersnatch-winning Outstanding Television Movie category. Corden also unveiled he had what Emmy might need offstage too.
“Every time you’re nominated, rightly so, you win everything,” the multiple Emmy winner and 2019 nominee told Green Book vet and most recently Oscar Best Actor winner Ali on the arrivals carpets as a clearly out-of-her-league McCarthy looked on. “I think you’ve had the best three years of any performer on planet Earth,” Corden added as Fox cut to commercial — likely in the hope of not making it too evident how mistake-prone and hapless its own team was proving to be.
“It’s the Emmys — but it’s also Fox, so ehhh,” self-described “sherpa” and voiceover presenter Thomas Lennon declared in a moment of honesty that made the Los Angeles Rams’ 20-13 Sunday Night Football win over the Cleveland Browns that went down to the final minute on NBC seem like old-school appointment viewing – which the ratings probably will reflect Monday morning.
And may I add, don’t give premium cablers GoT and Veep a big stage farewell; instead, Fox’s should have had its own soon-to-be-departing Empire get its moment in the spotlight. Also, there was barely an au revoir to Big 4 ratings juggernaut The Big Bang Theory – that’s a jackmove.
On the flip side, as terrible as what the teleprompter had those onstage saying on the Don Mischer- and Ian Stewart-produced show, the winning speeches often sparkled in a format that was designed to allow more time for the heartfelt thank-yous.
Unsurprisingly, Fleabag’s Waller-Bridge soared in her acceptance of Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series, as did the double threat of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s Tony Shalhoub and Alex Borstein, both Emmy-winning vets. That trio, GoT’s repeat winner for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series Peter Dinklage and others offered evidence that it is the canned nature of these awards shows that are killing the fun and mystery and turning viewers off, host or no host.
If the solution is to hire a Waller-Bridge or a seasoned host (aka Corden) or stand-up comedian like Sarah Silverman and let them off the scripted leash, I don’t know – but at this point and in this century, crisis-management intervention is required.
“Applebee’s has a host,” past Oscar host Jimmy Kimmel said alongside 2017 Emmy host Stephen Colbert onstage tonight in a poignant moment of self-deprecation that rebounded into a true lost opportunity on live TV. “I’m sorry, but this show sucks,” the ABC late-nighter threw in there, getting the biggest laugh of the night up to that point with a contrived aside about listening to Jason Bateman’s vacation stories.
“You let this slide, the next thing you know they’ll start using Alexa to present the nominees,” CBS nate-night frontman Colbert added, as the voice of the Amazon helper came on the speaker system to announce the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series category and that shocker of a win over multiple past winner and clear favorite Louis-Dreyfus for a queenslayer Waller-Bridge.
Sorry, Stephen, between the Oscars and the Emmys, the avalanche has begun.
In an age of tired and ratings-declining awards shows, the Emmys needed to slay on Fox tonight. Instead, like the Wall that protected the icy northern border of what was once the Seven Kingdoms on Game of Thrones, the whole thing came tumbling down.
It’s ABC’s turn for the 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards next year – what’re ya thinkin’?
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