Jennifer Coolidge did not take a lavender bath just to sit through such an embarrassing Emmys telecast.
The actress, who deservedly won an Emmy Award for her work on The White Lotus, gave a speech that was long overdue and as delightful as all of her fans had manifested, but was rudely played off by the producers of a TV special about how good TV is who had no idea what kind of television people want, or need, to see.
Coolidge made the most of the moment, hilariously dancing as the music drowned out her thank-yous. So, ironically, one of the more iconic moments of the night will be owed to the producers’ gross negligence. They played off Jennifer Coolidge, who any savvy person knows would give a speech worthy of an hour of a telecast’s time. But at least we got that horrendous and overlong Kia commercial. If you buy a Kia now, you’re officially homophobic.
This was one of the worst Emmys telecasts in recent memory. Not in the “claws are out” way that people tend to pounce on award shows for being out of touch. It’s the opposite.
The awards of this awards show were beautiful. They were meaningful. With each win and with each rousing, exceptional speech, the night proved why TV is a powerful medium and how, at this moment, it is more impactful and inclusive than ever. Award shows are fun to watch, and, in spite of itself, this year’s ceremony made that case.
But the resistance to let this progress and the emotion surrounding it—cue up speeches from Sheryl Lee Ralph, Lizzo, and Geena Davis—thrive and instead assume that it has to be packaged with antiquated gimmicks and manufactured “showbiz” nonsense goes to show how ill-equipped Hollywood is to embrace the sea change that we (and Emmys voters!) have already accepted and, now, celebrated.
Because the Emmys telecast itself seemed to neglect the meaningfulness of this, here were the big winners: Abbott Elementary scored big wins for Ralph and Quinta Brunson. Succession took home Outstanding Drama Series. Squid Game took home several awards, a monumental moment for foreign-language series, including a Best Actor win for Lee Jung-jae and Best Directing for Hwang Dong-hyuk, the first Asian men to do so. Zendaya became the first Black woman to win Best Actress in a Drama Series twice. Amanda Seyfried took home the trophy for her revelatory work in The Dropout. The White Lotus cleaned house, as it should; a significant milestone for ass-eating on TV.
Ted Lasso won a few awards, too, for Best Actor, Best Directing, and Best Comedy Series. Ted Lasso is a good show, but it should not have won those awards. Making Jason Sudeikis shamefully walk past Martin Short and Steve Martin on the way to the stage to pick up his trophy made me chuckle. (Again: Good show! Bill Hader and Abbott Elementary would like a word!)
The reason to spotlight these wins is, again, because the telecast itself seemed to find them unimportant. It was almost as if handing out trophies was a chore—a distraction from the mission to make viewers eye-roll as much as possible while watching insufferable bits.
It’s hilarious, then, how moving most of the wins were. (Beyond that, I can’t remember a time I’ve seen an award show and thought almost every winner was the right choice.)
While the telecast trotted out Pete Davidson, who admitted that he did not attend rehearsal and then repeated a joke that Regina Hall had delivered expertly 10 minutes prior, and as such dug its own award-shows-are-over grave, the actual point of the show—rewarding television—was showing why it matters.
Watch Ralph’s speech right now. Do it. It ranks among the best awards speeches of all time. I can’t wait to watch it over and over again while drunk at 1 am and cry. She took her time. She made it her moment, which was warranted and then some. After a second standing ovation, she burst into song. (Another standing ovation.)
“To anyone who has ever, ever had a dream and thought your dream wasn’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t come true, I am here to tell you that this is what believing looks like, this is what striving looks like,” she said. As actress Jackée Harry tweeted, this is the first time in 35 years that a Black woman won this award. Until now, Harry was the only one to do it—not because there weren’t deserving contenders, but because that’s how Hollywood is. Ralph, after an unparalleled career, is getting her due. Her moment means that maybe things are changing.
Zendaya’s second win in Best Actress in a Drama Series means that maybe things are changing. Lee Jung-jae and Squid Games’ wins mean that, too.
Quinta Brunson is only the second Black woman to win an award for comedy writing. The first, Lena Waithe, only won five years ago. While Brunson was giving her speech, Jimmy Kimmel laid at her feet, committing to a ridiculous bit that wasn’t getting any laughs. But he stayed there anyway, as Brunson delivered her life-changing and, for young people watching, society-changing speech.
Like much of the telecast, it was juvenile and crass. The team involved in Abbott Elementary, by the way, donated their Emmys campaign budget to teachers and schools. That exemplifies all the class that this ceremony was missing.
Kenan Thompson hosted the show, and was, to keep it concise, terrible. It’s never a good thing when the parade of presenters who nailed their bits—the Only Murders in the Building cast, Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers, Mindy Kaling and BJ Novak, Vanessa Bayer and Molly Shannon, Regina Hall—had you wish they were the hosts instead.
The opening featured people doing interpretative dances to classic theme songs. At one point, the cast of The Brady Bunch was introduced, but none of the other series involved in the set piece were. It made no sense. Between that “Debbie Allen choreographing a contemporary dance to a film score” energy and the montages to “dramas” and “medical TV shows” of it all, the ceremony was giving strong 1990s Oscars vibes.
There was an inexplicable decision to announce the nominees for the next award while the previous winner was still on stage, which seemed entirely disrespectful, and then have presenters come out and speak from the teleprompter for 45 seconds before announcing the winner. Make any of this make sense!
At one point I thought that maybe the producers had an idea about what this year’s Emmys in particular could mean. They gave an honorary award and a big chunk of time (time that I’m grateful for) to the Geena Davis Institute for Gender in Media. It’s a remarkable organization that crusades for more representation in TV and film, while also elucidating why that matters.
Davis herself seemed to observe the profound nature of what was happening that night with the wins.
Davis took the stage minutes after Lizzo won an Emmy for Best Reality/Competition Series for Lizzo’s Watch Out For the Big Girls. “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,” Lizzo said. “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.’”
Television, Davis said, helps people see themselves and also who they can be.
That resounded through the night. The Abbott Elementary wins! Squid Game! Zendaya! Murray Bartlett, who thanked his partner and brought Jonathan Groff to the show!
But it was also a night that didn’t have any idea what to do with its own importance. I can’t believe that’s all we got in terms of a tribute to Betty White. A few seconds at the start of the In Memoriam? Ditto for Nichelle Nichols, the trailblazing Star Trek actress. There was such an opportunity for moments here, but the Emmys were too paranoid about its identity to take them.
Instead we got poor Sam Jay, a comedian and commentator who I enjoy, saying things like, “Now scan that QR code,” for a social media tie-in that no one would ever care about, and, in the worst moment of the show, introducing Law & Order: SVU’s Mariska Hargitay and Christopher Meloni as “two cops no one wants to see defunded.” What…
Then there were the music cues. “Shake Your Booty” blasted as Jesse Armstrong accepted an award for Succession. Zedd must go to jail for this.
The Emmys this year mattered more than ever, and I’m really happy about that. But they also truly sucked. Rather than try to reconcile that, I’m just going to lay on the floor like Jimmy Kimmel. That, apparently, is what now qualifies as showbiz.