Positivity-signaling shows “Ted Lasso” and “Hacks” traded off comedy awards at the 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards on Sunday night. The happy scenario showed off a past year that had tried all. In fact, the traditional television industry’s theme tended to be “Hey, we’ve all got jobs!”
The joie de vivre at Emmy Awards
The theme of Emmy Awards did the trick to uplift the spirit. You got the feeling people were having a good time. No president of an award-bestowing arts academy, for instance, has ever received as warm a reception as Frank Scherma of the Television Academy when he announced Debbie Allen as winner of the Governor’s Award. But it was an insular jollity, one that didn’t really come through the screen. Whether it was the actual mood or the venue and nature of the production, it felt like a very private party. But then Emmy Awards are all about this, aren’t they?
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The ceremony opened not with a skit or a production number or a monologue by host Cedric the Entertainer, but with a promo reel of snippets from nominated shows. That self-celebratory mood carried through into an opening number with the ad-copy refrain “TV, you got what I need,” riffing on Biz Markie’s “Just a Friend,” featuring what appeared to be every rapper with a regular role on a broadcast or cable series, plus Rita Wilson.
Elbow room at the LA Live complex
The show’s producers had said that a live audience of 500 would have plenty of elbow room in a tented room at the LA Live complex in Los Angeles during the Emmy Awards show. The featureless space — it resembled the venue for a B-list fashion show — looked pretty crowded on screen, though, and presenter Seth Rogen agreed, crying, “There’s way too many of us in this little room!”
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Echoing comments made by Jennifer Aniston earlier in the week about the Emmy Awards, he indicated he would not have come if he had known what the social-distancing situation would be. It appeared, as the show went on, that would be the night’s only contentious moment, unless you counted Scott Frank’s visible irritation as the producers tried three times to play him off during his marathon acceptance of a writing award for “The Queen’s Gambit.”
There was little in the scripted portions of the ceremony to draw us in. The good moments were more off the cuff. “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver” was responsible for a couple, with a reference to Oliver’s mock crush on actor Adam Driver that was one of the evening’s few genuinely funny bits, and an affecting tribute by Oliver to comedian Norm Macdonald, who died five days before the awards. (Lorne Michaels of “Saturday Night Live” also celebrated Macdonald.)
Kerry Washington, presented the award for supporting actor in a drama series. While at the Emmy Awards, he paid tribute to actor Michael K. Williams, a nominee for “Lovecraft Country,” who died on September 6. Less fortunate was the decision to put the camera on musicians Leon Bridges and Jon Batiste during the memorial segment. At the Emmy Awards, with the camera, they put the images of many of the honorees, including Macdonald and Williams, far in the background.
Some presenters scored by playing off their screen personas, like Jennifer Coolidge of “The White Lotus” and the stars of last year’s big winner, “Schitt’s Creek.” But the “Schitt’s Creek” bit, involving a fake teleprompter malfunction and Eugene Levy’s mock annoyance at getting no lines, went on too long, which was a common problem. A taped sketch about a support group for actors who had never won Emmy Awards just managed to stay funny to the finish line.