Ariana DeBose was in the house, but the Emmys tonight were no Tony Awards
Not that the 74th Primetime Emmy Awards were lousy, they were certainly not. However, bereft of the real razzle dazzle of Broadway’s big show back in June and the seemingly inexhaustible exuberance of Oscar winning host DeBose, the Kenan Thompson fronted show on Monday made the small screen feel just that bit smaller in its lack of real ambition.
Already dimmed due to this year’s broadcaster NBC moving the ceremony to Monday again to keep the high stakes season opener of Sunday Night Football on schedule, the uneven 2022 Emmys never really found its own unique voice or footing, to put it bluntly.
Let’s be clear, avoiding any glaring mishaps as have befuddled the Oscars and others of late, tonight’s ceremony, was a thoroughly acceptable awards show. Perhaps it is the tone of the times we live in where every day leaves many of us exhausted that saw the 2022 Emmys pin stability as its North Star. Unfortunately, in going for the middle of the road, the result ended up simply lacking exceptionalism – which is a missed and opportunity with the quality of talent in the room and up as contenders.
Having said that, the heart stopping Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series acceptance song and speech by Sheryl Lee Ralph certainly set a new standard of excellence and passion for award shows across the board. Putting most of the Abbott Elementary actress’ shout outs on the lower third of the screen for as well as doing the same for Ted Lasso’s Brett Goldstein and others may not be to everyone’s traditional taste. Yet as a method to save time and soothe egos, it was an inspired move to by producers Reginald Hudlin, Ian Stewart and Jen Neal. Why it wasn’t evenly applied is a mystery that gave off an ad-hoc taint.
The big victories for the Quinta Brunson created Abbott Elementary, Dopesick’s Michael Keaton, HBO’s The White Lotus and Succession, AppleTV+’s Ted Lasso, Netflix’s Squid Game and Ozark’s Julia Garner, now two-time winner Zendaya, Lizzo, Hacks‘ Jean Smart, The Dropout’s Amanda Seyfried, and Jarrod Carmichael had the mix of surprise, anticipation and encores any award show would hope for. Yet, back in full in-person form for the first time since 2019, for all the smooth moves, there was more than enough of the Emmys tripping over their own feet tonight.
A top-hatted and self-described “mayor of television” Thompson started off the show strolling around the crowd, sarcastically praising the medium as the “greatest invention in the history of mankind.” The Saturday Night Live vet also took a swipe at agents’ commissions, and needlessly bemoaned the lack of literature consumed by his fellow thespians. Then the high stepping TV theme songs musical number started and somewhere between Friends, the Brady Bunch, the latest season of Stranger Things and Game of Thrones, and dressing Thompson up in barely glimpsed costumes, the plot was blurred to say the least.
What exactly was the 2022 Emmys trying to be? Because, tying to be all things to all people is spreading yourself way too thin and please few in the end, as many an Oscars, Grammys, past Emmys and Bill Clinton can tell you.
Now, full points to returning producers Hudlin, and Stewart and newbie Neal for bringing party hyper and math rich Oprah on as the first presenter, and for once again trying to break down physical barriers with stages and tables set all over the Microsoft Theater. For those bullseyes, there were shots that missed the board altogether. Case in point: you can take all the digs at Netflix’s coffers and Showtime’s placement on the dial, you want, but burying an opening monologue by any other name deep into the first portion of the shindig turns off almost all the heat and much of the spotlight.
Part of the overarching dilemma facing the production is that just like when NBC had the Emmys back in 2018, tonight saw a SNL cast member hosting. Another part of the shortchanging tonight is there was only one SNL cast member hosting.
A past Emmy winner for his SNL work and a 2021 nominee for his now cancelled Kenan sitcom, borderline national treasure Thompson is a quintessential team player, not really a leading man. To play to his many strengths, Thompson needed a foil.
Of course, NBC is going to put one of its own center stage when it is their time to host the Emmys, and, of course, finding anyone to take on the hosting gig of any award show nowadays is a hard slog. So, with all that in mind, when fellow SNLer Bowen Yang showed up on stage with Thompson for a beat to mock Will Smith’s infamous on-air slap of Chris Rock at the Oscars, the two-hander that should have been was regrettably clear as day. if a bit more imagination had been applied.
But maybe that’s for another day.
Hitting the bricks of declining interest and audiences, all week there’s been not-that-quiet whispers from NBC insiders that they expect diminished ratings and viewership for tonight’s Emmys. For a network still weighing whether to get back in business with the hobbled Golden Globes next year, the results from tonight’s Emmys may be a barometer of sorts. Granted, NBC has to wait another four years before they are lumbered with the Emmys again, and who knows if it will have been bought up by a streamer by 20126 or permanently moved to Wednesday where it won’t face football. If the Big 4 rotation stays the same, tonight could be the inflection point where NBC search their soul to see if a deeper investment in award shows is in their future or not.
Part of that consideration has to be that the general decline in the attraction of award shows right now. Specifically to tonight’s show, there’s also the Monday thing, and there’s the fact that the season opener of Monday Night Football on ABC and ESPN had a hard-fought NFL face-off between the nationally followed Denver Broncos and winning hometown hosts the Seattle Seahawks. Outside of that, there’s the hard fact too that with the exception of ABC’s sublime Abbott Elementary, the networks have no skin in the game this year when it comes to the major categories.
As one wise man said to me earlier today: “NBC is essentially stuck showing a three-hour promo for HBO and Netflix.” Toss in a dollop of Hulu there, are and you have the primary food groups of the contemporary small screen.
In all those competing contexts, and adding more than a bit of a misophonia reaction, it wouldn’t be unfair to postulate that the network and the producers of tonight’s Emmys decided to put down a mitigating marker. Hoping to under promise and thereby over deliver, their aim appears to be to have put on a decent three-hour show as opposed to putting on an extravaganza.
The 2022 Emmys partially won that award.
Fair enough, but not a ton of fun.