Host Jimmy Kimmel started the 72nd annual Emmys on Sunday night with a question on every viewer’s mind: “Why are we having an awards show in the middle of a pandemic?” Yet for as surreal or, worse, tacky as the event could have been, there were still several surprising moments.
The most jaw-dropping turn of events was the way Schitt’s Creek made a historic clean sweep of all of the major comedy awards. It’s the first time a single show won all of the top comedy awards. Meanwhile, the evening’s most recognized show, Watchmen, won the top honor in the Limited Series category, as well as two acting trophies, and one for writing. Succession and Ozark were tied in drama series nominations, but Succession mostly edged out the Netflix show, which scored a statuette for actress Julia Garner, claiming Best Drama Series and trophies for director, writing, and “L to the O-G” rapper Jeremy Strong for Best Actor. Perhaps most embarrassing for ABC, which aired the ceremony, no network television shows won any awards.
Despite plenty of canned applause, there was an overarching sense of getting on with it throughout the night. After all, there was no audience to woo — only a goofy Jason Bateman cameo amid celebrity cutouts in the Staples Center — and nobody to laugh at the evening’s typically tame jokes (like Randall Park confusing the opportunity to present an award with “Al Pacino” with an alpaca … while standing next to an alpaca.) Instead, the producers recognized essential workers like teachers and farmers, and both the show’s presenters and awards recipients acknowledged the achievements and sacrifices of black Americans — in fact, the broadcast set a record for awarding the most people of color in performance categories. Kimmel even joined Anthony Anderson in a chant of “Black Lives Matter.” And even though mentions of Trump’s name were kept to a minimum, many of the winners encouraged Americans to vote.
“Go out and vote because that is the only way we’ll have love and acceptance out there,” Schitt’s Creek co-creator Daniel Levy said during his acceptance speech for the Outstanding Comedy Series trophy. Regina King, who won Outstanding Actress in a Limited Series for her role in Watchmen, urged people to go to Ballotpedia.com, learn about their municipal elections and “vote up the ballot.” “Be a good human,” she said. And Mark Ruffalo, who may have been campaigning for president himself during his Lead Actor in Limited Series win for I Know This Much Is True, asked people to “vote for love and compassion and kindness.”
Anthony Anderson’s moment during the show was to recognize that there were more people of color nominated for Emmys this year than ever before, and it was couched in mock outrage that there was no audience of white people to cheer it on. He mentioned all the black poets who would have been thanked in speeches and also shouted out some of the lyrics to “WAP,” which were bleeped (but the titular acronym could have just as easily stood for “Watch Amazon Prime,” given the lack of network TV winners this year). More serious, though, were the T-shirts worn by Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series winner Uzo Aduba (“Breonna Taylor”), Outstanding Drama Series presenter Sterling K. Brown (“BLM”), and Watchmen creator Damon Lindelof (“Remember Tulsa ’21”). And Yahya Abdul-Mateen II dedicated his award, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series for Watchmen, to “all the black women in my life.”
“History is mystery,” Lindelof said while accepting the Emmy for Outstanding Limited Series. His show was loosely based around the Tulsa race massacre, when white residents attacked an area known as “Black Wall Street.” “It is broken into a million puzzle pieces and many are missing. We know where those pieces are, but we don’t seek them out because we know finding them will hurt. Sometimes we caused that hurt. Maybe we even benefited from it. But we have to name it before we can repair it. … We dedicate this award to the victims and survivors of the Tulsa massacre of 1921, the fires that destroyed Black Wall Street still burn today. The only way to put them out is if we all fight them together.”
Succession showrunner Jesse Armstrong summed up the general mood surrounding the state of the world right now with a series of “unthank you’s” during his acceptance speech for Best Drama Series, which he gave from his home in England. “Unthank you to the virus for keeping us all apart this year,” he said. “Unthank you to President Trump for his crummy and uncoordinated response. Unthank you to Boris Johnson and his government for doing the same in my country. Unthank you to all the nationalist and quasi-nationalist governments in the world who are exactly the opposite of what we need right now. And unthank you to the media moguls who do so much to keep them in power.”
When he was done, his cast, scattered around the world, applauded. That scant recognition will have to do for now. Considering the pandemic has halted the production of many television shows for the foreseeable future (yet The Conners inexplicably carries on), this may be the last “Pandemmys” for a while.