Marred by resistance to the needs of the pandemic, the past two Primetime Emmy Awards ceremonies quickly shaped themselves according to the pandemic’s demands. This year’s Emmys, though, finally saw a relative return to normalcy, which in turn re-exposed the unevenness at the heart of the production. The night, led by host Kenan Thompson, consisted of insipid gags mocking everything from the accelerated foray into streaming to the hackneyed stumble into an era of content oversaturation. The result was an evening that amounted to a diminution of the very spectacle the show premised itself upon. Most ironically, the exhibition felt just as awry and existentially lost as the ceremony purported television to be — except this time, audiences could choose to watch its highs and lows unfold on NBC or Peacock.
Jennifer Coolidge triumphs (and is played off)
Jennifer Coolidge (of “Legally Blonde” fame) won her first Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series for her role in Mike White’s HBO dramedy “The White Lotus.” It’s a performance defined by an insular yet tragicomic vulnerability that is intertextual, interweaving White’s script with Coolidge’s star image. The warm honesty Coolidge offered in her speech echoed the layers of her character, Tanya McQuoid. “I just want to say, you know, I took a lavender bath tonight right before the show, and it made me swell up inside my dress,” she said, breathless at the start of her address. “And I’m having a hard time speaking.”
But just as she could catch her breath and thank her family and friends, Zedd — the designated Emmys DJ — played her off with an instrumental “Hit the Road Jack.” At least Coolidge made the most of it — she swayed her hips to the track to raucous applause, opting for whimsy rather than rightful indignance.
Rhea Seehorn, Bob Odenkirk snubbed
The departure of “Better Call Saul” left a considerable void within the medium of television. The series’ keen eye for distinct visual imagery, character-driven plot progression and the illumination of spectacle within the mundane set it apart from its contemporaries, but also left the show underappreciated. Bob Odenkirk and Rhea Seehorn, playing Jimmy McGill and Kim Wexler respectively, received multiple nominations for their performances in the latest season of the show, but left the Emmys empty-handed. For a final season that relied on their poignant performances, the lack of recognition was all the more disappointing. Nonetheless, when considering other television greats that went unrecognized — “The Wire,” “Enlightened” and “The Leftovers,” to name a few — “Better Call Saul” is certainly in good company.
Sheryl Lee Ralph rejoices in splendor
Upon winning Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for her work in “Abbott Elementary,” Sheryl Lee Ralph burst onto stage in song, crooning the opening lines of Dianne Reeves’ “Endangered Species.” The former “Dreamgirls” actress enraptured the audience in a display of raw verve, spontaneity and emotion as she finished thanking her collaborators, family and friends.
“I am here to tell you that this is what believing looks like,” Ralph declared. “Don’t you ever, ever give up on you.”
Mike White sweeps, just wants to stay in game
Mike White’s popular HBO satire “The White Lotus” received five awards, including Outstanding Limited Series. White has long been heralded as an unsung yet acclaimed television auteur, particularly for his prior work on the dramedy “Enlightened,” starring the iconic Laura Dern. This recognition, accordingly, was a novel surprise for him at this junction in his career, prompting White to compare his sweep in the limited series category to his experience as a contestant on “Survivor” in a delightfully skittish yet earnest fashion.
“I just want to stay in the game,” White pleaded, referencing the arduous effort one must exert within “Survivor” to remain in the show. “Don’t come for me. Don’t vote me off the island, please.”
Kia advertisements, montages galore
The best way to meaningfully lambast the endless stream of content bombarding the American cultural consciousness according to the Emmys is to… bombard its audience with even more needless content. Hence why this year’s Emmys broadcast incorporated a lengthy Kia advertisement under the guise of a corny, mawkish sketch and broadcast montage after montage of nostalgic series such as “The Brady Bunch” and “Friends.”
Perhaps most disappointing was that the charisma of actors Jennifer Coolidge, Sheryl Lee Ralph and Jean Smart were cut off to provide time for an exercise in stale, force-fed materialism that only undercut Kenan Thompson’s extensive monologue.
“Succession,” an HBO satirical drama centered on the machinations, dysfunction and trauma behind the media conglomerate Waystar Royco, took home the prize for Best Drama Series. Matthew Macfadyen also shocked audiences in a surprise win for his role as Tom Wambsgans — the ambitious, yet subordinate executive who undergoes an arc that demands the gamut. After a third season that built up to a crescendo reminiscent of “Shut the Door. Have a Seat.” — an all-time great “Mad Men” episode that restructures the workplace setting of the series for seasons to come — closing out the night this way felt entirely earned and gratifying.