• James Kunovski

Final Thoughts on the 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards

Context


Following five tedious virtual Creative Arts ceremonies last week, it was time for the 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards. Naturally, they were virtual, and more on that below, but for the most part, the ceremony was off-kilter, a bit strange but competent enough to get the job done. In true 2020 fashion, award campaigning was uprooted, making prognostication hugely unpredictable. For one, there were no elaborate FYC (or for your consideration) events/galas/whatever Netflix had up their sleeves. It was hard to gauge what the industry were watching and discussing, so the nominations alone were a blind surprise. As the members segued into voting, it became anyone’s game. The nominees welcomed plenty of newcomers, but most programs were previously nominated, including favourites "Succession", "Ozark" and "Schitt’s Creek". Their nominations exploded this year. Familiar favourites returned: "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" and "The Handmaid’s Tale", (both having won once in their respective series), and those that have hardly received their due: "Better Call Saul" and "The Crown". These skewed mixture of nominations came to a head Sunday night in a truly *interesting* ceremony.



Ceremony


Like the elephant in the socially distanced room that it is, the pandemic bookended the ceremony. It began with host Jimmy Kimmel, who faired well enough in his third gig, delivering the opening monologue to an empty crowd, though they used gleeful reaction shots from ceremonies past (huh, remember when we could gather in large rooms.) Unfortunately this weird angle guaranteed every joke would bomb. The ceremony ended with "Succession" creator Jesse Armstrong’s "un-thanks" for the virus and its political handling. For the split moments that I believed the producers thought the reaction shots would be a good attempt at creating atmosphere, (akin to the “fake” cheers during sport matches), it turned out to be a way just to drill home that this was the loneliest Emmys ever.


The groundbreaking proceedings went on relatively glitch-free. I think Kimmel’s audio cut off some time around the In Memoriam, though that could have just been on my end. Between the interns who either raced or stationed themselves at nominee’s homes, to setting up at least a hundred cameras for the feed, its execution remains an unsung miracle. The Emmys were always due for a makeover. So, with that being said, does virtual work? For all it’s worth, the ceremonial differences were a welcome change to an increasingly stale affair. I would be remiss to ignore the awkward air of some moments, like Aniston and Kimmel almost burning the studio down, but if 2020 late night shows have taught us anything, it’s not easy to deliver unpolished jokes to empty crowds. The show was a mixed bag of style; the segues from in-person presentation to pre-recorded skits to the airing of frontline workers stories were as jarring as this sentence reads. I doubt network executives would want to continue this format in more normal circumstances but at least they have a plan-b for modern times.



Winners


Schitt’s Creek

This little Canadian cult favourite and sleeper hit broke four Emmy records with its sixth and final season. Before Sunday, it had clinched the title for most nominations for a comedy in its final season (fifteen noms). It became the first serial program to sweep all seven major categories; holds the most wins for a comedy in a single year (nine) and is one of four shows where each principal actor has won an Emmy. I enjoyed the series, especially towards the end, but a seven for seven sweep is excessive. Granted, it would be for many other shows. There is a reason it has never been done before, save "Angels in America" in 2004, (deserved by the way), because in this era of peak television, is there really a show that is truly that much better than the competition it keeps.


Succession

In my breakdown of the nominations, it was mentioned that the Television Academy did right by "Succession". HBO’s observational drama about the wealthy Roy family and their dwindling media empire received eighteen nominations, ultimately winning seven. Jeremy Strong rightfully won lead actor in one of the evening’s most assured picks. Strong committed to moulding Kendall into a broken man who was also capable of glimpses of courage, like the D.C. talk back, and deeply vulnerable moments through his relationships with Naomi and Jennifer.

Watchmen

No surprises here. Members awarded the writing of the transcendent and relevant “This Extraordinary Being” while also singling out the core performances of Regina King and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. HBO's limited series won eleven in total. Along with Disney’s "The Mandalorian", it received the most Creative Arts Emmys with seven wins. These wins echo another HBO limited series that recently won its top prize and was eventually renewed.

The Internet

Kudos to the cyber-waves for pulling off a victory of Herculean proportions. As mentioned before, there were no distracting technological upsets with the only clear example happening in-studio. Considering the Creative Arts ceremonies were sometimes a comedy of errors, see here, props to director Hamish Hamilton and our trusty friend, the internet, for pulling off this feat.


Nominees Who Were There for a Good Time

In these times the Emmys were a welcome distraction for a couple of hours. Joining in on the distraction were Alex Borstein, in very Alex Borstein fashion, living her true Mae West fantasy, "Curb Your Enthusiasm’s" Jeff Garlin who showed up shirtless and Rachel Brosnahan in pyjama couture. The invitation’s dress code was along the lines of “whatever makes you most comfortable,” which is vague enough to cause stress, but this outline did not dampen a few fashion moments. As expected Zendaya and Billy Porter pulled through, but so did "Insecure’s" Yvonne Orji and "Unorthodox’s" Shira Haas. Then there was Australian Sarah Snook with her foil Emmy. Were nominees being judged on the contents of their living rooms? Probably, if only their socially distanced blocking wasn’t distracting enough. See, Jesse Armstrong, to which Kimmel noted resembled an intervention… “rudest host ever,” as Jason Bateman semi-scolded.


The Unexpected

Still amazed by Zendaya’s win for "Euphoria" and Maria Schrader for "Unorthodox". Amazed in a good way, mind you. Moments like these make the months of guessing all the more exciting. According to awards website Goldderby and their power rankings, Zendaya placed fourth in her category and Schrader, fifth. After a full hour of the same winner, (I promise I’ll get over it), the show becomes much more intriguing when it throws logic to the wind. Zendaya is only the second African-American to win her category and Schrader, who has enjoyed success in her native Germany for "Deutschland 83/86", championed international filmmakers.


Emmy Interns

Imagine racing around to nominee’s homes just in case they won an Emmy. I have to laugh. I laughed even more when Ramy Youssef, nominated twice for his eponymous Hulu comedy, shared what happens when you lose your category.



Losers


The Opening Monologue

Never have really been a Kimmel fan and I believe the ceremony would have benefitted from a medley of presenters instead. I came to my host-less conclusion after that awful monologue. The writers had an unenviable task, since they couldn’t ignore the real-world context of the events, but with no one present to actually play off the observations, the monologue ended the same way it begun… with fake laughter and applause. Worst joke had to be concerning Norman Lear’s newfound title as oldest Emmy winner. “The only thing I’ll be producing when I’m 98 is phlegm.” Yeah… Have to admit though, near the end, it was cute to see most of the nominees projected in the hall.


Almost Ozark

Julia Garner saved Netflix’s most celebrated nominee from an embarrassing record-breaking loss. Garner won her second consecutive Emmy for her tempestuous portrayal of Ruth Langmore. "Ozark’s" third season went home with one award from eighteen nominations. Garner wasn’t poised to take home the Emmy. Had Helena Bonham Carter from "The Crown" won, the season would have broken the record for most nominations without a win. That unfortunate title still belongs to "Mad Men’s" masterpiece of a fifth season, which went home empty handed after gaining 17 noms. That is a topic for another day.


Comedy Series That Aren’t Schitt’s Creek

Title speaks for itself, as only three other comedies won Emmys this year. All outside of the main ceremony, "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" won four while "Black-ish" and "Insecure" received one each. It was interesting to see the acting peer group’s adulation for "Maisel" and the writers for "What We Do in the Shadows" not spill over into wins. If the Levys stand by their original final season decision, these programs and many returning series will have their time in future ceremonies. For your consideration, "Barry" season 3, which I’m basing off nothing but hope.


Succession

Not a loser in the traditional sense, but perhaps a loser in the "Succession" sense, that is to say, those that think they are winners. If there was ever a current show that deserved a Schitt’s-style sweep, it's this one. The supporting player spots, despite a turnout of four, were clinched by non-"Succession" actors. Supporting actor went to Billy Crudup for "The Morning Show" and supporting actress to Julia Garner. The losses do come with reasoning, however I can’t speak for Culkin whose episode submission was the strongest. Braun and Macfayden both submitted their work in the finale for consideration, effectively cancelling each other out. Sarah Snook submitted the season premiere instead of "DC", which did a much better job at highlighting Shiv’s stunted emotional range by way of corporate manoeuvrability. If this calibre of material and pragmatic performances continue, these decisions could well be rectified in the future.


My Predictions

Welp, it’s a sad day for awards prognosticators everywhere. Goldderby rightly predicted six out of the seven "Schitt’s Creek" wins and from afar I cackled away at the postulation. On the other hand, I barely came close to any accuracy. Last year I predicted, (main ceremony excluding variety and competition programs), 16 out of the 22 wins, while this year I correctly noted 11 out of 22. Once again, recall the randomness of this awards season.


Netflix

A certain streaming giant made quite an impression when it picked up 160 nominations for its behemoth quantity of programs. Fast-forward two months and when the hurly-burly was done and won, the network went home shortchanged. At the main ceremony it won 2 Emmys (Garner and Schrader) from 37 nominations. Pop TV had the more considerable ratio with 7 for 8, and HBO led the pack with 11 from 32. Netflix remains one of the only major American networks not to win a coveted best program slot.



Round-Up


In many ways the Emmys remained as normal as ever. There were flatlining jokes, awkward pre-taped segments, and a trove of live speeches, with most winners celebrating with loved ones and trophy in hand. There was an historic sweep for a show, which will delight many fans, and the acceptance of another, which has delighted me. Per usual, there has been plenty to unpack; to celebrate and to disagree. For a ceremony, and a year, that will go down in history books, there was an air of normalcy and sincerity to be found in the most unexpected of affairs. Eventually I’ll be able to pinpoint why, but something about that is decidedly reassuring.