“Tonight, we celebrate the hundreds and hundreds of shows that were produced this year…and then we give awards to about five of ’em.” So began Kenan Thompson’s opening monologue at the 74th Primetime Emmy Awards. Turns out, he was exactly right: After all the envelopes were torn open and all the quips were quipped, only five series walked out of the Microsoft Theater with more than one statuette.
Even as the TV landscape continues to widen (a mind-boggling 559 original shows aired in 2021 alone), the Television Academy is stubbornly keeping its focus narrow. That felt especially true last night, as awards in nine of the major categories went to past awardees. HBO’s Succession and Apple TV+’s Ted Lasso both repeated past wins for Best Drama and Comedy Series, respectively. Meanwhile, five major acting awards played the repeats: Actress in a Comedy for Hacks’ Jean Smart, Actor and Supporting Actor in a Comedy for Ted Lasso’s Jason Sudeikis and Brett Goldstein, Actress in a Drama for Euphoria’s Zendaya, and Supporting Actress in a Drama for Ozark’s Julia Garner.
These winners all certainly deserve their flowers — but the fact is, they’ve already got a whole mess of bouquets at home. We promise you, Television Academy, there’s a whole wide world of television out there just waiting for you to explore! And while a few weird, evocative series did make it into the running (we’re pouring one out for Yellowjackets, Severance, and Station Eleven), this Emmys proved once again that it’s mostly known quantities who take home the gold.
But it wasn’t all disappointments for the underdogs, thanks to history-making wins for Netflix’s Squid Game and ABC’s Abbott Elementary. Meanwhile, HBO’s The White Lotus performed a near-sweep of the Limited or Anthology Series categories, minus Best Actor and Actress wins for Michael Keaton (Dopesick) and Amanda Seyfried (The Dropout).
Overall, this Emmys was a study in innocuousness. As emceed by the amicable Thompson (who’s being a very good sport, considering NBC canceled his sitcom Kenan earlier this year), the ceremony played it safe. Jokes were tame, speeches were short, and hot-button sociopolitical issues were studiously avoided. The focus of the evening seemed to be how gosh-darn great television is — you know, as a concept.
Here are some of the most memorable moments of an Emmys night that’s otherwise very easy to forget.