The 72nd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards were presented last night in a relatively lively, primarily virtual ceremony featuring riotous highs (you are a national treasure, Mr. Letterman), only a few dismal lows (poor Anthony Anderson), some great surprises (thank you Jennifer, Courtney, and Lisa for the half-reunion of Friends), and, in a wonderful change of pace, loads of truly deserving victors. (My favorite comedy series, drama series, and limited series all won! Who woulda thunk it?!) And because, back in July, my Emmy-nominations recap was broken down into a dozen significant takeaways, it seemed only right to design my Emmy-wins recap in similar fashion. Without further ado … .
1) That Opening Fake-Out Was Disturbing: When telecast emcee Jimmy Kimmel walked onto the Staples Center stage and was greeted with an ovation by a packed auditorium of celebrities, none of whom were wearing face masks, it had to be a joke … right? But the bit went on and on, with Kimmel's mentions of certain nominees leading to cutaways to those same nominees laughing and applauding, and it started to not seem so funny: What were these people doing there?! Wasn't this, like, illegal in Los Angeles?! Thankfully, though, things became clearer once you noticed how many famous faces in those cutaways – Gwyneth Paltrow, Jon Stewart, Jerry Seinfeld – had no earthy reason to be at this particular Emmy ceremony. And when the camera finally landed on Kimmel himself in the audience, cackling mightily at one of the punchlines delivered by Stage Jimmy, the jig was blessedly up. It turned out the cutaways were clips from previous Emmy telecasts, the laughter and applause were previously recorded, and the show's host was indeed alone in that auditorium. With one exception … .
2) Jason Bateman Needs to Host This Thing Someday: All told, Kimmel did a dandy job at handling emcee duties in a relative void, probably because he's had six months of practice reciting comedic monologues to a studio audience of no one. His pandemic-era one-liners (“Welcome to the No People's Choice Awards”) largely landed; his rehearsed bits – plus a clearly not-rehearsed bit with Jennifer Aniston that found her having to extinguish a literal fire – were generally solid. But over the course of the entire show, no one scored laughs quite like Bateman did in the first 10 minutes, bantering comfortably and hilariously with Kimmel, sitting in the audience amongst cardboard cut-outs, and even doing an excellent job of mimicking one. Sadly, he was only around for three minutes. Next year, his face-time should be upped to three hours.
3) For an Unprecedented Experiment, the Show Felt Like Normal … Mostly: True, there were pandemic jokes. Lots and lots and lots of pandemic jokes. And it was just a tad disconcerting to see nominated performers, for the most part, grinning at us from the comfort of their living rooms, like we were all engaged in the world's glitziest Zoom meeting. (Isse Rae and her team from Insecure topped the rest by being televised from within an empty football stadium.) But the prerecorded applause following the announcements of nominees' and winners' names wasn't distracting or off-putting in the least; the truly funny segments (with Randall Park's and Anthony Carrigan's definitely best-in-show) were, as usual, matched by achingly forced ones (unfortunately for him, and us, Anthony Anderson proved how awful standup comedy can be when no one's around to laugh); and, amazingly, this live telecast involving many dozens of streaming participants seemed glitch-free on a technical level. Not including Kimmel setting that garbage can on fire.
4) So Voters Apparently Liked Schitt's Creek a Little: Make that a lot. Make that an historic lot. When the evening's first two winners were Catherine O'Hara and Eugene Levy, it seemed likely, if it hadn't been already, that Canada's Pop TV sitcom would net the Comedy Series prize, which it eventually did. But even the show's most ardent fans, myself among them, couldn't have imagined that the show would achieve Emmy history by winning more trophies in a single year – a whopping nine (including its two Creative Arts Awards … see #10 below) – than any other comedy series ever. Not only that, but at last night's ceremony, the show made further history by being the only TV series, comedy or drama, to ever go seven-for-seven in the major races, also garnering statuettes for directing, writing, and supporting castmates Annie Murphy and Daniel Levy. (The only other program to make a comparable clean sweep was HBO's 2003 miniseries Angels in America.) And not only that, but Creek co-creator Daniel Levy became the first individual to ever win four Emmys, in one night, for producing, directing, writing, and acting. Holy Schitt's.
5) Succession Had a Good Run, Too: Its supporting cast was unfortunately ignored, but between last night's telecast and the craft awards presented earlier in the week, HBO's thrilling media-empire saga wound up with seven Emmys overall, with the drama's victories including wins for outstanding series, directing, writing, guest actress Cherry Jones, and lead actor, a prize that went to Jeremy Strong, and not his more widely predicted co-star Brian Cox. Oo-oo-oo-oo … Kendall trumps Logan! It's like Succession's season-two finale all over again!
6) Oh Yeah, and Watchmen Didn't Do Badly, Either: HBO's graphic-novel adaptation/re-invention just missed tying the record for the most Emmys ever awarded to a single program in a one year, meaning Game of Thrones' pinnacle of 12 will remain intact for at least another season. Yet 11 shiny gold tchotchkes are nothing to sniff at. Watchmen received seven Creative Arts Emmys prior to Sunday, among them one for the music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, who are now just a Tony Award away from an EGOT-ing. And the show picked up another four last night, for limited series, writing, and that awesome screen couple Regina King and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. This marks the former's fourth Emmy victory in six years, by the way, and in between wins three and four, she also scored an Oscar. As Mel Brooks famously stated: It's good to be the King.
7) Voters Stuck with the Familiar, Except When They Didn't: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver won Variety Talk Series for the fifth consecutive year. RuPaul's Drag Race won Competition Program for the third consecutive year. Ozark's Julia Garner won Drama Supporting Actress for the second consecutive year. Mrs. America's Uzo Aduba won her third Emmy – for Limited Series/TV-Movie Supporting Actress – in seven years. Adding all those wins for Schitt's Creek, Succession, and Watchmen, and there was a lot of familiar on display at last night's ceremony. But let's hear it for Mark Ruffalo, who has been previously nominated for acting Oscars, Emmys, and a Tony, but never won any of them until scoring his Outstanding Actor in a Limited Series/TV-Movie trophy for playing twins in HBO's I Know This Much Is True. And let's really hear it for the crazy-deserving Zendaya, whose Drama Lead Actress statuette makes the 24-year-old performer only the second woman of color (following Viola Davis in 2015) to ever receive that prize, as well as the category's youngest winner in history. Euphoria indeed!
8) The “In Memoriam” Presentation Was Lovely: A cavernous, nearly empty Staples Center auditorium proved, perhaps unexpectedly, the ideal site for the annual acknowledgment of deceased television artists, adding an air of melancholic gravitas and making impossible the awkward, popularity-contest applause that usually accompanies these things. R&B singer H.E.R. performed a haunting rendition of Prince's “Nothing Compares to U.” And just when it seemed inevitable, and deserved, that the well-crafted montage of famous and not-famous faces would end with the image of Kirk Douglas, who was 103 when he passed away in February, the segment climaxed instead with the face and voice of Chadwick Boseman, whose acting career started on TV 17 years ago. All told, it was one of the finest “In Memoriam”s ever. Nicely done, Emmys.
9) The Show Came in on Time: Twenty-three categories. Prerecorded segments. Long (frequently too-long) comedy routines. Live feed from more than 100 locations around the globe. The potential for so very, very things to go wrong. (Or rather, as Kimmel joked in his opening monologue, “What could possibly go right?!”) And yet, after Succession nabbed the final trophy of the night, the Emmy ceremony still clocked in at just under three hours! Someone really needs to hire this telecast's producers for next year's Oscars … ya know, if there even is a next year's Oscars … .
10) There Were Plenty of Wins We Didn't Get to See: Because there are far too many Emmys annually awarded to squeeze into a three-hour broadcast, winners in literally 100 other categories were announced over five nights the week prior, meaning that unless you caught all of these presentations at Emmys.com, you likely didn't get to experience a bunch of the year's most significant victories. So here's a sampling of what we missed during the (virtual) handing out of Primetime Creative Arts Awards: Eddie Murphy won his first-ever Emmy, for guest hosting Saturday Night Live. Maya Rudolph won her first-ever two Emmys, one for her vocal performance on Netflix's animated Big Mouth, and one for playing Kamala Harris on SNL. (A gig she may have to get used to this fall … and maybe beyond.) Dave Chappelle's latest standup special, Sticks & Stones, received three trophies – for Prerecorded Variety Special and the program's writing and directing. The much-maligned short-form streaming platform Quibi was responsible for two acting winners – Laurence Fishburne and Jasmine Cephas Jones – in the Web series #freerayshawn. Jasmine's dad Ron Cephas Jones won his second Emmy for guest starring on This Is Us. And if you were rooting for its Drama Series win last night, don't feel too bad for The Mandalorian, as the Disney+ Star Wars offshoot picked up seven Creative Arts trophies – the same amount as Watchmen. Coulda been eight if Baby Yoda were eligible as a guest actor.
11) Turns Out I'm Not Bad at This Emmy-Guessing Thing: Despite last night's ceremony boasting only one fewer category than the Academy Awards, I wound up doing better at Emmy predicting than I generally am at Oscar predicting, forecasting correctly in 15 categories and (not that I have published proof of this, but I've got witnesses, so trust me) my second choices winning in six additional categories. The only victors I didn't have among my top two guesses were the directing wins for Schitt's Creek and Succession – which, given how well those programs wound up faring overall, was totally stupid of me. And speaking of me … .
12) Voters Were Clearly Feeling Blue: Not only did Abdul-Mateen win for playing Watchmen's Dr. Manhattan, but the Emmy for Supporting Actor in a Drama Series went to The Morning Show's Billy Crudup … who played Dr. Manhattan in the 2009 Watchmen movie. So, obviously, I now have a new dream role.