And so we have put to bed the 70th running of the Emmy Awards, that night when the people of television go on to television to honor the people of television — some people of television anyway.
The broadcast, hosted by “Saturday Night Live’s” “Weekend Update” co-anchors Michael Che and Colin Jost, and produced by “SNL” creator Lorne Michaels, aired on a Monday, unusually, because NBC, whose turn it was to broadcast the ceremony, had football on Sunday.
Here are the questions a reviewer must ask of any modern awards show: Did it run on time? In running on time, was it cruel to the people it was supposedly made to celebrate? Was whatever was roiling the news, from outside the industry or within it, or from both at once, addressed seriously, whimsically, ironically, facetiously or embarrassingly, or not at all? Was the host or hosts funny? Did that crazy thing that happened make it all worthwhile?
This year’s crazy thing was an acceptance speech by Glenn Weiss, who won for directing the 2018 Oscars broadcast, which doubled as a marriage proposal. (If you’re going to hijack the Emmys broadcast, it helps to be on a first-name basis with its director.) “There are so many guys with rings in their pockets that didn’t win now,” said Jost.
Irony was the opening gambit, a way to address the fact that Hollywood has only begun to engage its historic lack of diversity. Like an episode of “Saturday Night Live,” the hosts came in after a cold open. “SNL” castmates Kate McKinnon and Kenan Thompson were the first people to take the stage, the latter announcing that this year’s was “the most diverse group of nominees in Emmy history; I’m going to go ahead and say it, we solved it,” which led to a modest production number on the subject of diversity no longer being an issue, performed with a company including Kristen Bell, Ricky Martin, Tituss Burgess, Ru Paul and Andy Samberg, as the token straight white guy, and “The One of Each Dancers.”
At three hours, the Emmys are twice the length of a “Saturday Night Live” episode, which is to say, they are unwieldy and subject to patches where nothing is funny. Still, even the routines that fell flat, such as an unfortunately recurring bit with “SNL” alumni (and “Forever” co-stars) Fred Armisen and Maya Rudolph as unprepared Emmy experts, had their moments. Which, after all, is very like “Saturday Night Live.”
Apart from a number of Roseanne Barr jokes, few people in the news — or for that matter, in the crowd — were addressed directly. As close as disgraced, newly former CBS chief Les Moonves, the biggest elephant in the room — who was not actually in the room — came to being named was a joke, the punchline of which was “Ronan Farrow is on line one." The president, so often the target of japes and jabs, was largely off the docket. The acceptance speeches too, perhaps because they were so compact, tended not to stray from the business at hand.
The double-act opening monologue had the feel of “Weekend Update,” delivered standing, in tuxedoes, to an auditorium filled, said Che, “with the many, many talented and creative people in Hollywood who haven’t been caught yet.”
“This year,” said Jost, “the audience is allowed to drink in their seats. Because the one thing Hollywood needs right now is people losing their inhibitions at a work function.”
On “Weekend Update,” Che frequently deals in racial issues, and his Emmy gig was no different; indeed, in one joke, he described the Emmys itself as “a white people’s award show.” He described “The Handmaid’s Tale” as the story of an “imaginary future where an entire group of people are forced to work and make babies against their will; it’s what black people call history. It’s ‘Roots’ for white women.” He also asked, “Can you believe they did 15 [seasons] of ‘ER’ without one Filipino nurse. Have you been to a hospital?”
But diversity was an issue throughout the broadcast, which included a filmed segment in which Che awarded “Reparations Emmys” to stars of old black sitcoms. The evening’s last line was his as well: “Stay tuned for ‘Showtime at the the Apollo.’ ”
The production was streamlined without feeling hurried, marked by a crisp, efficiency, from the double-monologue; to the presenting (the nominees were announced by the disembodied, almost robotic voice of the announcer, the winners, by the presenters); to the set itself, a giant curved video screen that would part occasionally to reveal a giant Emmy statuette — if you can call something that big a statuette — and the orchestra. Winners stood before 30-foot-tall images of themselves (height approximate) that elegantly said “bigger than life.” On the whole, the show felt classy in an actually classy way.