Awards shows aren’t meant to be good.
The best you can hope for is a couple of moving speeches, a few decent gags and some unexpected moments. So complaining about three-plus hours of bad jokes and predictability during the Emmys feels silly and pointless. Plus, the ratings were up this year, so maybe something was working.
But we’re in lockdown. I can’t leave my home. My children are barely learning, virtually. I’m starting to look like a less put together Hagrid.
So this year, all of that Emmys predictability and bad jokes reached into my chest with both hands and speed-bagged my vital organs.
The evening started off pleasantly. There was an inoffensive montage of nominated shows and then Cedric the Entertainer came out and rapped to Biz Markie’s 1989 rap classic “Just a Friend” – but as a dedication to TV. Corny, sure, but nice. A very typical awards show moment. It wasn’t good, but it wasn’t bad either. It was somewhat heart-warming – the Diabolical Biz passed away in July and that song is still great. And then LL Cool J did a decent verse and so did Lil Dicky (he is the star of Dave, which I still haven’t seen). And, I thought, oh, very interesting, here we go.
And then Rita Wilson rapped.
Rita. Wilson. Rapped.
The cringe started to set in and I became suspicious. Just what were we signing up for?
Seth Rogen knew something the rest of us didn’t. He tried to warn us, telling everyone in the audience that they should be concerned about the lack of social distancing and that the event was not being held outdoors as promised. (Last year, the awards were delivered remotely.)
But instead of listening and shutting the whole thing down, we laughed it off. And then the nightmare began… not so much a series of highlights and lowlights, but a march of discomfort. A cavalcade of absurdity that made me feel even more physically and emotionally trapped than lockdown restrictions already have. A five-kilometre radius would certainly not be enough to escape the tentacles of this octopus of awkwardness. This giant squid of squirm.
Yes, there were positive moments...
Michaela Coel winning the writing award for I May Destroy You and delivering a short and powerful speech. Conan O’Brien cheering and trying to feel like a winner. Robin Thede’s mock-angry reaction to SNL beating A Black Lady Sketch Show.
The Emmy losers support group sketch was okay, but Dr Phil was in it, which is not okay. Also, Seth Rogen called Hannah Waddingham “Hannah Waddington” and Cedric the Entertainer called Bridgerton “The Bridgertons”.
And that was pretty much it.
If there were other pleasing moments, they were easily, cruelly bulldozed by banality or truly apocalyptic “bits”.
Cedric the Entertainer was trying to keep things light and it somehow made everything much darker with brutally confusing sketches, like when he was superimposed onto a video of football players tossing around the Super Bowl trophy which is eaten by a shark (?!). The darkness was especially evident in the presenters, who seemed more imprisoned by what they were forced to read off the teleprompter than usual.
Cedric’s skits to promote his sitcom, The Neighborhood, inspired me to add a calendar reminder to ensure I’d go to my grave without watching that show.
Bowen Yang’s pedometer joke almost made me lose consciousness.
Scott Frank’s refusal to stop his acceptance speech has been widely labelled a lowlight, but by the end I was begging for him to be winning every award.
When the end eventually came, I was spent. I didn’t think there was anything else this show could do to me. But then one of the producers of The Queen’s Gambit thanked “Our grandmasters… for teaching us squares how truly hip 64 squares can be”.
And he wasn’t done.
He looked at Anya Taylor-Joy and, while, I assume, understanding that he was on television, said:
“You brought the sexy back to chess and you inspired a whole generation of girls and young women to realise that patriarchy simply has no defence against our queens”.
Twitter, as usual, made everything worse with its collective desperation to find something, anything to love.
“The Schitt’s Creek cast just standing there is EVERYTHING.”
“Jean Smart’s hair is ALL OF US.”
“Not enough people are talking about EVAN PETERS’ WATCH.”
As for the evening’s “winners”, they were mostly not surprising. (Except for Halston, which no one realised was an actual TV show.) The Crown, Ted Lasso, Mare of Easttown, The Queen’s Gambit and Hacks won a lot. They were the shows everyone liked. But they certainly weren’t the most diverse. And that lack of diversity was reflected in the acting wins. But I see this less as a problem with the Emmys than as a problem with the industry more broadly.
Now, I’m not saying any of this is anyone’s fault. A lot of talented people worked very hard on this show during a lingering pandemic. And a lot of the shows being celebrated came together under very precarious conditions so that we could have something to watch while a lot of us were stuck indoors over the last year and a half. That should not be forgotten or brushed aside.
And hopefully it goes without saying that if a subpar Emmys experience is the worst thing that happens to you during a pandemic, you’re pretty lucky. A lot of people are doing a lot worse.
But should that really excuse a Mike Pence fly on the head sketch? That happened in October 2020!
I think I’ve been very fair and even-handed in this review, carefully (and responsibly) avoiding hyperbole while giving weight to nuance and perspective. But I think we can all agree that if we are still doing Mike Pence fly jokes this deep into 2021, that means the virus has won.
This dizzyingly intelligent and at times quite touching opinion piece, which appears to be about the Emmys but is actually about Life and Truth and what it means to be human, is written by Nick Bhasin. Follow him on Twitter @nickbhasin.