Emmys 2022: Varietys TV Critics Break Down the Best Speeches, Rushed Jokes and Deserved Winners

The 74th Primetime Emmys came sparklingly alive thanks to speeches by a strong slate of winners. The production seemed eager to bring back the grand-scale awards show after a dialed-back COVID era, with a booming pop soundtrack and a packed house. Variety’s TV critics were divided on some elements of the show, from the hosting to the speeches to the wins themselves. The morning after the ceremony, they had some coffee and hashed it all out.

Daniel D’Addario: Sometimes I wonder if the Emmys, specifically, need a host. The show appeared insecure that people might not recognize the nominees, many of them legitimate zeitgeist hits, and so larded the broadcast with montages of other, more self-consciously “mainstream” shows. And the show was committed to coming in at three hours — so much so that they played off, for instance, winner Jennifer Coolidge, for whose crowning moment fans of the hit “White Lotus” had been waiting for all year. Surely a minute or two more of her vamping would have been more memorable than host Kenan Thompson stumbling through choreography to the “Brady Bunch” theme song in the opening; her doing a jig to the play-off music proved she’s a better dancer, too.

But in seriousness, a show with as many categories as the Emmys rises or falls on the caliber of its winners, and I thought the speeches were nicely done across the board, from the genial humility of “Succession’s” Matthew Macfadyen to the triumphant song of “Abbott Elementary’s” Sheryl Lee Ralph — whose glittering regalia and sense of herself as worthy of a serenade stood out in a ceremony that, too often, seemed vaguely embarrassed by the nominees and winners on the show. 

Caroline Framke: Whew, coming in hot! I absolutely agree that Coolidge — as well as Macfadyen, “Squid Game” winners Lee jung-jae and Hwang Dong-hyuk, among others — deserved a less stressful moment in the spotlight to celebrate their incredibly well-earned wins. Still: I liked Thompson’s handling of host duties quite a bit more than you, I think.

So many Emmy and Golden Globes hosts have come in over the years with, as you say, a palpable sense of embarrassment that they’re having to stoop to the level of the medium they’re ostensibly there to celebrate. But Thompson’s been a TV pro for decades, and once that bizarre dance was out of the way, it showed. I laughed at many of his later punchlines, which managed to straddle the line between friendly banter and Golden Globes disdain (those Showtime and Netflix jabs!). There’s always plenty of room for improvement, but I’m not quite ready to give up on Emmy hosts just yet. 

D’Addario: I’ll grant you that very fair point — Thompson’s jokes were good. It’s just that his bits, from dancing to reuniting with Nickelodeon co-star Kel Mitchell left me cold, and were part of an evening that elsewhere felt breathless and rushed. Maybe what I’m antsy for is a back-to-basics approach — Thompson clearly has the ability to tell a crisp, clean joke. Why bother dressing up like Daenerys for a production number?

That confusion over a reinvented Emmys extended to the room itself, back at full scale for the first time since 2019. The table-seating arrangement made the audience look uncomfortable and strained, as did the many shots in which attendees’ faces were visible behind the podium. And even the most upbeat viewer would surely concede that the playing of random pop songs as winners approached the stage was an offbeat choice. 

But let me be positive. Some of Emmy’s innovations were good! The dedication of a sizable chunk of time to honoring the work Geena Davis has done promoting equity in media was genuinely interesting — Davis has had a fascinating career — and well-intentioned without feeling hollow. And, though cuts were made later, the early decision not to play off Michael Keaton as his speech for “Dopesick” moved circuitously was the right one. 

I was happy to see Keaton win, which was expected, and even more delighted by something that surprised me: Zendaya for “Euphoria,” taking home her second trophy against very stiff competition and giving a heartfelt, lovely speech honoring those who’ve struggled with substance abuse. The lurching, offhanded wit of Keaton’s speech and the poise of Zendaya’s were a reminder of the pop of contrast an awards show can provide.

Framke: Agreed. For as much as we can (always!) complain about nominees we’d have loved to see become winners, I have to admit that I’m not too mad about the winners themselves, in the end. 

I might have been pulling for Melanie Lynskey’s ferocious “Yellowjackets” turn to land her some much-overdue hardware, for instance, but it’s indeed hard to argue the force of the “Euphoria” performance that won instead. Repeat winners became a story of the night, and yet when I really think about them, I don’t know that I would’ve voted much differently. (The one exception may go to Julia Garner, the winner who seemed most shocked to be onstage, and whose victory I’d probably swap for Sarah Snook’s calibrated “Succession” performance or Christina Ricci’s perfectly unhinged take on Misty in “Yellowjackets.”)

Whether “Ted Lasso” should have kept its best comedy title from “Abbott Elementary” is definitely up for debate, but Brett Goldstein and Jason Sudeikis did excellent work in the second season, anyway. A la Julia Louis-Dreyfus in “Veep,” Jean Smart will likely win every year she gets to submit her “Hacks” performance, and the choice will be impossible to argue every time. Honoring Ralph’s grounding performance in “Abbott” was the right call, as was acknowledging the canny writing of her co-star and showrunner Quinta Brunson. While there was an argument for “Squid Game” taking the final drama prize, it feels right, to me, that the show’s lynchpins (its magnetic lead actor and acute directing) were honored while “Succession” — a show firing on all cylinders at all times — ultimately won out. And as much as I can keep side-eyeing the blatant category fraud of “The White Lotus” remaining in the limited series category when it is, in fact, returning with Coolidge in the same role, I’m still thrilled she and the singular Murray Bartlett got the recognition they deserved. 

So, yes: there’s always something to complain about, or wish for more of, or scratch our heads over until next year’s show. But looking back at the swath of shows and talent recognized, it’s hard for me not to feel hopeful about what else the Emmys might recognize going forward.

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