The Emmys always have an uphill battle: the least glamorous, the least surprising, and the least inviting of award shows. The Grammys can always claim to be Music’s Biggest Night, just because it’s on TV, and the Oscars are the Oscars — but Emmy Night is always full of TV stars playing their real-life selves, which means it’s a bit less than television. Call it TV’s Least TV Night. So why do network executives keep trying to turn the Emmys into the glitzy awards gala it’s fated to never be? Why not just have the winners come up and say their thank-yous in their own charming, sexy, charismatic voices, instead of making them compete with canned comedy skits that will never be .001 percent as funny as Jennifer Coolidge clearing her damn throat?
Kenan Thompson hosted the 74th Annual Emmy Awards with the proverbial Just One Job, which is to make it not as humiliatingly awful as last year’s show. He got it done, by slightly less than the point spread. At least Emmy Night 2022 had a few surprises in the winners column — so, hey, thanks? And the winners made fantastic speeches, especially Sheryl Lee Ralph, Lizzo, and Zendaya. Those moments are the whole reason fans tune in. Unfortunately, they still had to fight against a ticking clock and whatever dipstick was conducting the Silence Jennifer Coolidge at All Costs Orchestra. (Talented musicians, your parents did NOT take you to years of violin lessons for you to do that to Stifler’s mom.)
Sheryl Lee Ralph had the emotional highlight of the night, with her triumphant speech after winning Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for her turn in Abbott Elementary. She began by singing a refrain from “Endangered Species,” the 1994 track by jazz legend Dianne Reeves. “I am an endangered species,” Ralphs sang. “But I sing no victim’s song/I am a woman, I am an artist/And I know where my voice belongs.” As Ralphs declared, “Anyone who has ever, ever had a dream and thought that 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. And don’t you ever, ever, give up on you.”
Lizzo’s tearful speech after winning Outstanding Competition Show for Watch Out for the Big Grrrls was a true powerhouse. “Let’s just tell more stories,” she urged Hollywood. “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. 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.’” The singer became the rare winner in Emmy history who can claim she scored a Number One hit, with “About Damn Time.” She also evoked Camryn Manheim’s radical 1998 Emmys speech — where the actress famously declared, “This is for all the fat girls!” — with Lizzo urging the audience to “make some noise for my big girls.”
Zendaya won for Euphoria, making her the first Black woman to win Lead Actress in a Drama Series twice, as well as becoming the youngest two-time winner ever. Her speech was as great as her performance, as she summed up why people feel these characters so deeply. “Anyone who has loved a Rue or feels like they are a Rue, I want you to know that I am so grateful for your stories,” she said. “I carry them with me. And I carry them with her.”
The Emmy voters love to give the same award to the same winners, year after year. Hell, the Emmy voters love repeat winners almost as much as the characters on Euphoria hate repeat bedmates. Once you win one of these statues, you have to work hard not to win it again. This year had more upsets, yet plenty of deserved wins for repeat winners who delivered top-notch work: Jean Smart had a well-deserved win for Hacks, as did Jason Sudeikis for Ted Lasso. For Best Comedy Series, Ted Lasso won for the second year running, while Succession won Best Drama Series, and The White Lotus took Outstanding Limited or Anthology Series.
Among the evening’s other big wins: Quinta Brunson won Best Writing for a Comedy Series for penning the Abbott Elementary pilot, after also getting nominated for acting in and producing the show. Amanda Seyfried won for The Dropout, playing God’s gift to true crime podcasts, Theranos girlboss Elizabeth Holmes. In the Limited Series category, Michael Keaton won for his portrayal of Dr. Samuel Finnix in Dopesick, while Murray Bartlett earned the award for his turn as the manager of the eponymous resort chain in The White Lotus. Lee Jung-jae won for his performance in Squid Game, making him the first Asian winner ever in the category of Lead Actor in a Drama Series — and, astoundingly, the fourth Asian performer ever to win an acting Emmy. But did the Emmys countdown clock cut Squid Game director Hwang Dong-hyuk any slack as he tried to give his historic thank-you speech for Best Directing for a Drama Series with an interpreter? Shamefully, no.
For the second year in a row, Emmy producers made a hugely embarrassing mess of the In Memoriam segment, where it was a stretch to even get a glimpse the industry figures being honored. John Legend did an excellent job performing his new song “Pieces,” but he’d be the first to say the In Memoriam loop is supposed to be about the artists we’ve lost, not the guy at the piano. Betty White does NOT need a candle-lit slow jam to stress her importance — a little quality time with Rose Nyland or the goddess Sue Ann Nivens would take care of that. As White famously told Ted Baxter on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, “Just cue me and then stick a sock in it.” That would make excellent advice for next year’s Emmy Night.
And yes, they did leave Joe E. Tata out of the In Memoriam tribute. Excuse me, but how many goddamn nights did this man need to serve at the Peach Pit before getting his Emmy tribute? Don’t they remember how he practically raised the Beverly Hills, 90210 gang? How he bailed Brandon out of his gambling problem? How he let Dylan hang out all day deciding between Brenda and Kelly while playing “Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind” on the jukebox? How he hosted the Flaming Lips on “Peach Pit After Dark”? This is the biggest travesty of justice since they banned Donna Martin from graduation. Here’s a great big cup of Peach Pit java to you, Nat.
As always, Jennifer Coolidge knows what time it is. The woman wanted to give a thank-you speech — and just like she said in Best In Show, “I get what I want.” Coolidge started by telling the crowd, “I took a lavender bath tonight, right before the show, and it made me swell up inside my dress. I’m having a hard time speaking.” If the Emmy honchos seriously thought they were going to intimidate her with an orchestra, forget it. Instead, Coolidge danced to the play-off music, adding a touch of comedy genius when it was badly needed. (To the surprise of no one, the show’s producers were so desperate to shut this woman up because they wanted to cut to a wretched comedy bit.) It was the coolest use of play-off music since Cuba Gooding Jr. won Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars in 1997. Thank you, Queen Coolidge, for raging against the machine.