2018 Emmys: The Revolution that Wasn’t

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When it comes to the Emmy Awards, I’ve long held two mindsets. The Jekyll in me wants to root for the nominees I love, and cheer whenever a lesser-known gem takes home the gold. But the Hyde in me is urged to snark my way through the ceremony, mocking the self-important Hollywood types who’ve devoted a dry and often artless night to congratulating themselves.

Never before has the war between these two personas been waged as viciously as it was at this year’s ceremony. There were lots of surprising wins, and more than a few of them put a smile to my face. But the ceremony itself – hosted by Weekend Update staples Colin Jost and Michael Che – was among the most forgettable to be broadcast in years.

Not all the blame can be shouldered by Jost and Che (who have developed a watchable rapport on their years together at SNL), although their opening monologue provided dispiritingly few laughs. More finger-pointing should be aimed at the Academy itself, which continues to try filling network time constraints in increasingly corner-cutting ways. This year, their efforts led to nominations being announced before presenters were, and briefer clips to spotlight the various series and actors.

These were not necessarily bad choices, but they helped underscore the hurriedness of the ceremony, making a supposedly grand evening feel rote and pedestrian. (And even then, the show still ran a minute long, a fact for which Jost apologized in the closing monologue.)

Still, perhaps the biggest error in this year’s Emmys was an unanticipated one, delivered right from the top. The program opened with a three-minute musical number (led by Kate McKinnon and Kenan Thompson, with several non-SNLers joining in) about the increased diversity that recent years have brought to Hollywood. Kenan noted that the 2018 Emmys featured more minority nominees than any year before, though he later jokingly realized that they still “didn’t fix” the problem.

Turns out the joke was on the Emmys. The opening number was perhaps inspired by last week’s Creative Arts Awards, where all four of the Guest categories went to black actors (Katt Williams, Tiffany Haddish, Ron Cephas Jones, and Samira Wiley). But despite all the early hype, diversity was not, apparently, the strength of the night. Of the 26 awards handed out during the evening, only three had nonwhite winners.

It would perhaps be easier to ignore the disparity if the show itself hadn’t drawn so much attention to it in those opening minutes. But Hollywood’s been on a hot streak lately in trying to please Twitter’s intersectional crowd, not realizing (as recent events, like the inane Ruby Rose/Batwoman controversy, have attested) that said crowd prefers complaints over compliments. Even before James Corden appeared onstage and cracked an #EmmysSoWhite joke, the hashtag was already popping up on Twitter, with many noting the hypocrisy of the show’s opening number.

Still, once you get past that hypocrisy, there were a lot of surprising and well-deserved wins. While I’m sad that Atlanta didn’t get any honors for its excellent second season, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is a delightful series, and a couple of its awards were well-deserved. I don’t typically cheer while watching the Emmys, but I let out a spontaneous whoop when Amy Sherman-Palladino, after years of Gilmore snubs, finally scored a double hit for both writing and directing. (Especially noteworthy as she’s the first person to win both awards in the same year.)

Other wins were also worthy of applause. John Mulaney took the Writing for a Variety Special gold for his hilarious Kid Gorgeous production. The Americans finally received some Emmys for people not named Margo Martindale, including one for series star Matthew Rhys. There was also a surprising, but not necessarily problematic, upset in the highly competitive Lead Actress in a Drama field, when Rhys’ costar Keri Russell, as well as previous winners like Elisabeth Moss and Tatiana Maslany, were beaten by Claire Foy. (I’m lukewarm on The Crown in general, but Foy’s performance has been remarkable.)

There were also a few surprises not related to the awards themselves. Chief among these came courtesy of Glenn Weiss, winner of the Outstanding Directing for a Variety Special for his work on the Oscars, who used his acceptance speech as an opportunity to propose to his girlfriend onstage. It was a stunning and heartwarming moment that made up for some the evening’s general banality.

And there was one white celebration that everyone seemed pleased with – the celebration of Betty White! (I know, I know… you can yell at me in the comments.) The 96-year-old actress has been in the business since TV’s earliest days – her first Emmy nomination came in 1951 for Life with Elizabeth – and she received a standing ovation during her surprise appearance. She neither gave nor received any awards tonight, but it was a nice little tribute to TV’s original Golden Age.

Elsewhere, though, much of the window dressing fell flat. Jost and Che tried to punctuate the ceremony by bringing in Fred Armisen and Maya Rudolph (fresh off their Amazon series Forever) as a pair of “Emmy experts,” but their jokes quickly wore thin. Better faring was Jost starring in a “Reparations Emmys” skit that saw him handing Emmys to snubbed black actors of years past.

That skit would probably have been even better if not for the racial discomfort surrounding the ceremony itself. Yes, Hollywood has made great strides in diversity in recent years, and will continue to do so as time goes on. But the 2018 Emmys was probably not the ideal time to call attention to it.

Some scattered thoughts:

Game of Thrones won its third Outstanding Drama award, once again the beneficiary of the revamped voting system (in which all Academy members may vote for top categories, regardless of their own). It’ll most assuredly win again in its final season, whether the eligibility window places it in 2019 or 2020. I didn’t say everything was unpredictable.

– In total, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel won a record-breaking eight Emmys this year, the most of any comedy in its debut season. (In terms of overall freshman shows, it still lags behind The West Wing, which won nine Emmys in 2000.) It’s also the second hourlong series to win the Outstanding Comedy award, after Ally McBeal in 1999. Never underestimate the power of a nostalgic, show-bizzy, overtly Jewish comedy on a group of Hollywood voters.

– Rick and Morty (who just won Outstanding Animated Program at last week’s Creative Arts Emmys) had a fun little cameo presenting the Reality-Competition award. But Rick’s Atlanta joke is an unfortunate byproduct of the segment being animated before the show aired – in context, airing after the Atlanta shutout, it’s kind of uncomfortable.

– Henry Winkler won his first-ever Emmy for his work on Barry. Been a long time coming, Fonzie.

– The #MeToo movement received surprisingly little coverage at the ceremony (the first Emmys to air after last October’s industry-changing Harvey Weinstein news). Jost got in a Ronan Farrow quip, and there were unfunny half-references by Sherman-Palladino and presenter Hannah Gadsby. But the TV folks, perhaps trying to shake off the recent dismissal of Les Moonves, largely chose to focus its attentions elsewhere.

– This ceremony’s low point came courtesy of Thandie Newton (winning for her role on Westworld). She opened her acceptance speech by saying that “I don’t even believe in God, but I will thank her tonight.” Then she dropped the F-bomb. It was offensive and sacrilegious and I will never watch the Emmys again until next year.

– Jeff Daniels (winning for Godless) thanked his horse during his acceptance speech. That almost makes up for him winning in 2013 for The Newsroom. Almost…

– You could almost feel the relief in the room when, after ten white winners in a row, Regina King won a Limited Series Emmy for her work on Seven Seconds. (On the one hand, hardly anyone in the world has watched Seven Seconds. On the other hand, Regina King has won two Limited Series Emmys for her work on American Crime, so this wasn’t a total shock.)

– Donald Glover dressing up as Teddy Perkins is pretty funny. Then you realize he probably did it under the impression that he wasn’t going to lose to Bill Hader, and it becomes less funny.

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2 thoughts on “2018 Emmys: The Revolution that Wasn’t”

  1. You highlighted the supposed hypocrisy (perhaps just flat tastelessness) of the opening number and then went on to describe lots and lots of well deserved winners. It can’t be both ways.

    There were plenty of deserved winners, and several of them were black. It’s very dangerous to start talking about X numbers of black winners since another step down that road is award quotas. How many ‘non-white’ winners is acceptable? How many isn’t? Is it half? A third? When a ‘non-white’ person wins, is that somehow automatically racist (the answer is no)?

    Or perhaps…it’s going to be more likely that ‘white folk’ win since in most categories, the majority of candidates are. It’s similar with the outcry that no female directors are winning Best Director Oscars…but as a percentage, how many are there and how many even get nominated, much less stand a chance of winning?

    That’s not to say snubs don’t exist, or even that racism in the industry doesn’t exist. It’s saying that it’s also not right to treat EVERY ‘white winner’ as a racially-motivated winner.

    Like

    1. I wasn’t saying that all (or even any) of the white winners were racially motivated. Many of them were indeed well-deserved. I was pointing out how bad the optics looked for the Emmys last night. Had they made it the centerpiece of the first three minutes of the show, I wouldn’t be bringing it up now.

      It can in fact be both ways: A lot of the winners were well-deserved, and the Emmys made a bad move in calling special attention to the year’s diversity.

      I agree with most of what you’re saying, incidentally.

      Like

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