“It is an honor to be here sharing this night with the many, many talented and creative people who haven’t been caught yet,” co-host Michael Che announced at the beginning of the 70th Annual Emmy Awards. It set the tone for a toothless, flaccid, cramped and tedious night. What can you say about a show-biz gala where the highlight is Betty White picking up a lifetime achievement award? Or the guy who directed the Oscars dropping to his knees to ask his girlfriend to marry him? All you can really say is it was the Emmys — now and always, the dorky underling of the glitzy award shows. Bumping it to a Monday night is just a polite way of saying “Yeah, we got nothing” — kind of like bringing in hosts Colin Jost and Michael Che to do agonizingly bland “Weekend Update” schtick. Jesus Christ Superstar Live might have turned John Legend into an EGOT winner, but not even he could raise this ceremony from the dead.
The poor Emmys always try hard, too hard, yet they’re always out of step with red-carpet season. They still happen in the fall, a quaint remnant of the days when the three broadcast networks used to premiere all their new shows then — like how we still say “Wednesday” because of medieval Norse peasant farmers worshipping Odin. But network TV was a non-factor all night. As Jost and Che quipped, “Our network NBC has the most nominations of any broadcast network, which is kind of like being the sexiest person on life support.”
Henry Winkler won for HBO’s Barry, his first prime-time Emmy, decades after getting nominated for Happy Days … and it was apropos the Fonz got honored, since the hosts’ monologue had just gone over like Ralph Malph telling a knock-knock joke. (Ron Howard was in the house, too — where the hell was Potsie when they needed him?) As one of the most uncomplicatedly beloved figures in Hollywood, Winkler elevated the tone for the whole night. “I wrote this speech 43 years ago,” the Fonz told the crowd, giving the secret to his long career: “If you sit at the table long enough, the chips will come your way.” It was a touching moment — in the Winkler canon, it was up there with the time he met David Bowie on The Dinah Shore Show. (Bowie said, “I’m a great fan of Fonzie.” Aren’t we all?)
The sentimental highlight had to be when Glenn Weiss, director of the Oscars telecast, used his speech to propose to his girlfriend. It sounded like a terrible idea (and it actually was a terrible idea) — yet in practice the gesture was genuinely touching. It was the most romantic live-TV marriage proposal since the premiere episode of The Osbournes: Reloaded, where two audience members got engaged and then hitched onstage as Ozzy gave away the bride and then blasted the couple with a fire extinguisher. (Needless to say, there was no second episode of The Osbournes: Reloaded.) Betty White had her big moment — a sweet chance to honor a 96-year-old goddess who’s still around and able to enjoy it. Sandra Oh had the night’s coolest parents in tow. Hannah Gadsby did an all-too-brief riff that scored more laughs than the hosts did all night.
From the Yassss Queen dept.: Claire Foy won for The Crown. What’s the downside, you ask? The Academy never got around to giving Keri Russell an Emmy at any point during her historic run on The Americans. Her KGB husband Matthew Rhys represented the show’s final season, which should have won Best Drama … except the award went to Game of Thrones, which hasn’t aired a new episode since the last time winter was coming. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and The Assassination of Gianni Versace rightly won a slew of awards. Twin Peaks got shut out entirely. Thandie Newton really knows how to give a speech. Jeff Daniels, who won Best Actor on a Drama one of the many, many, many years that Jon Hamm didn’t win (The Newsroom, it was called), helped score yet another Emmy for Godless and thanked his horse.
Bill Hader was another well-deserved winner for Barry, while his old Saturday Night Live chum John Mulaney won as well. (Somewhere, Stefon was smiling, probably at a party with Gaye Dunaway and Tranderson Cooper.) They were the most welcome SNL presences on a show that couldn’t stop reminding you it was a Lorne Michaels production, especially an endless Fred Armisen/Maya Rudolph comedy bit that never got off the ground. On the other hand, Ricky Martin should always show up everywhere. There was a credit-card ad that used Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy,” a bittersweet reminder of the days not so long ago when the highlight of any award show would come when Prince would show up, demolish the room with an eyeroll, then strut off.
Michael Che did a clever sketch about “Reparations Emmys,” where he handed out awards to black stars like Jimmie “J.J.” Walker from Good Times and Marla Gibbs from The Jeffersons. Pour one out for the late great Isabel Sanford, Weezy Jefferson herself, who gave the coolest Emmy acceptance speech of all time back when she won Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy series back in 1981. She came out with a mouthful of cheese. “Excuse me,” she told the crowd. “I put a piece of cheese in my mouth — I wasn’t expecting this.” Then she stood there chewing with a cocky grin. “See, I’ve waited so long, all my humility is just gone.” That’s how a legend does it.
The In Memoriam loop paid respects to some of the beloved TV faces of yesteryear, to the poignant sound of Aretha Franklin’s “Amazing Grace.” (What, did you think they were going to honor Steven Bochco by playing selections from Cop Rock?) So many greats: Anthony Bourdain, Burt Reynolds, David Cassidy of the Partridge Family (one of Rolling Stone‘s first nude cover stars), Charlotte “Mrs. Garrett” Rae, Robert Guillaume, John Mahoney and right behind Curtain Number Three, the great old-school game-show host Monty Hall from Let’s Make a Deal. There was something especially poignant about seeing The Andy Griffith Show‘s Jim Nabors in the montage — he died last year at 87, having survived long enough to not only finally come out of the closet, but marry his longtime partner of 43 years. And of course, Rose Marie, who lived long enough to see herself revered as a #MeToo pioneer as well as a Hollywood Squares legend. Now more than ever, we’ll take Rose Marie to block.