Turns out going with two hosts instead of one did not double the fun at the 70th Primetime Emmy Awards tonight. Fronted by Saturday Night Live’s Michael Che and Colin Jost and executive produced by Lorne Michaels, this year’s celebration of television’s best and brightest quickly became mired in some of the worst tendencies of the long-running weekly variety show.
With Michaels back running the small-screen ceremony for the first time in 30 years, there was nothing as ill-considered as pink-slipped White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s toxic cameo on the 69th Primetime Emmys, yet the best moment of the NBC-broadcasted shindig Monday at the Microsoft Theater in downtown Los Angeles was entirely unscripted. When Best Directing for a Variety Special winner Glenn Weiss proposed to his longtime girlfriend Jan Svendsen live onstage, there was not an unmoved heart in the house. Sadly, that genuine expression of emotion was fleeting and not to be repeated in any form or fashion.
Starting off with SNL‘s Kate McKinnon and Kenan Thompson and a dead-letter routine that diversity was thriving and discrimination was “solved” in Hollywood, the back on Monday Emmys was simply too much all Lorne all the time. Despite some dance moves from nominee Ricky Martin, the first of several inevitable references to the imploded Roseanne, more SNLers and a very brief appearance by EGOT winner John Legend, the kickoff indicated that tonight’s ceremony was clearly not ready for primetime – and that was before “Weekend Update” anchors Che and Jost hit the stage.
It wasn’t until Henry Winkler took the stage to accept his Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy series Emmy, in the first award of the night, that the shindig shook off of its languid start. Even with the Donald Trump roasting strategically dimmed from 2017, that burst from the former Fonz proved a fading energy that the often-stellar Jimmy Kimmel and Tracy Morgan tried (unsuccessfully) to keep buoyant in their stint soon afterward.
In the first hour alone, with the exception of few sparks like Rachel Brosnahan’s get-out-the-vote plea when winning the Lead Actress in a Comedy Emmy, and presenter Michael Douglas’ barbed assertion that rage of losing is well worth holding onto, the 70th Primetime Emmys were really showing their age tonight. Up against a much more energetic Monday Night Football on ESPN pitting the Seattle Seahawks and Chicago Bears, the creaky state of Emmy affairs only got more AARP and not very LOL — and not because of the “incomparable” Betty White, if you know what I mean.
To put it another way, there was distinctly not Too Much Fascinating Information, no matter what appointed Emmy expert and another SNL alum Fred Armisen said.
A lot of that had to fall on the skinny shoulders of the “Weekend Update” duo, who seemed dwarfed by almost everyone else onstage and in the theater with their weak banter and low-wattage chemistry out from behind their SNL desk. Earlier tonight on the red carpet, SNL alum and past Golden Globes co-host Tina Fey had high hopes for Che and Jost’s hosting efforts. “They got this,” the past and current nominee said. “They’re used to being live and used to having to cut stuff at the last minute.”
While the former might be true, the latter was certainly not the case as in too many years past there was a lot of filler and little killer. Starting so promising with a straight no razor approach, the midshow Che-fronted “Reparations Emmys” segment soon crashed hard with its tone-deaf line about the trophies being stolen from Bill Cosby. Perhaps the heaviest misfire of all had to be that not short enough tribute to Michaels from Golden Girls‘ White for “all the wonderful things he’s done for me.”
This is not to take anything away for the wins for Winkler, Brosnahan, Barry’s Bill Hader, Seven Seconds’ Regina King, Darren Criss, and Godless’ Jeff Daniels. Nor to do less than celebrate trophies for Peter Dinklage, Westworld’s Thandie Newton, The Americans‘ Mathew Rhys, The Crown’s Claire Foy, the triumphant return of Games of Thrones, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story and more, but the self-congratulations that are part and parcel of all awards shows went into maximum overload. When TV Academy chair Hayma Washington came out onstage and asked the theater and the industry to give itself “a hand” for its inclusion efforts, the work done and the work to be done towards more necessary equal opportunities felt dimmed in its true significance. When Michaels himself went up to accept the nearly 70th Emmy for SNL and no one else on stage got to speak, the existential double helix sucked the air out of the room and the show almost completely.
Coming off last year’s all-time low among the vital 18-49 demographic and a viewership matching rock bottom, the Emmys needed a solid home run tonight. To paraphrase a line Monday from Dave Chappelle, the potentially greatest Emmy host we’ll never see, they didn’t even get close to filling that “Emmy-sized hole in your soul.”