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Seven Takeaways from the 2022 Emmy Awards

The sweeps weren't as sweepy as expected, but the production let everyone down.
  • Matthew Macfadyen, Zendaya, and Sheryl Lee Ralph were among the big winners at Monday night's 74th Primetime Emmy Awards. (Photos: Chris Haston and Evans Vestal Ward/NBC)
    Matthew Macfadyen, Zendaya, and Sheryl Lee Ralph were among the big winners at Monday night's 74th Primetime Emmy Awards. (Photos: Chris Haston and Evans Vestal Ward/NBC)

    Joe Reid isn't just Primetimer's managing editor. He's also an awards expert and one half of the popular podcast, This Had Oscar Buzz, so who better to break down this year's Emmy broadcast?

    Despite the fact that recent world events would have made last year's Emmys — dominated as they were by The Crown — the most fitting ceremony, Monday night instead brought a Primetime Emmy Awards that was led by one powerful family's bid for succession, a deconstruction of the privilege of the wealthy as they vacation in a colonized paradise, and a comedy about how out of touch Americans are when it comes to British customs and sporting enthusiasms. So maybe this was the perfect Emmy Awards to be held while the world mourns Elizabeth II, after all.

    The 74th Emmy Awards ceremony was, to put it bluntly, not a good show. Irrespective of who walked away with trophies, this was a production that felt rushed, unsure of itself, scattered, and chintzy, leaving its host stranded (when he wasn't entirely absent), winners frazzled, and viewers frustrated. So what were the big takeaways of a ceremony that ended right on time for all the wrong reasons?

    They Are Who We Thought They Were

    To start, all three shows that everybody expected to win big won big. The White Lotus, Ted Lasso, and Succession won the awards for Outstanding Limited Series, Outstanding Comedy Series, and Outstanding Drama Series, respectively. All three awards aligned with the vast consensus about which shows would win, making for an anticlimactic end to the night, even as (Ted Lasso backlash notwithstanding) most people would agree that they were among the best TV shows of the year.

    In addition to the Limited Series trophy, The White Lotus took home awards for series creator Mike White in writing and directing (he referenced his time on Survivor during his second acceptance speech, noting that his strategy there was to reduce his threat level, something that's now impossible as a double Emmy winner), as well as supporting performers Murray Bartlett and Jennifer Coolidge.

    Ted Lasso picked up trophies for Outstanding Comedy Series, lead actor (Jason Sudeikis), supporting actor (Brett Goldstein), and directing for MJ Delaney for the episode "No Weddings and a Funeral." Succession, meanwhile, took Outstanding Drama Series, Outstanding Supporting Actor for Matthew Macfadyen, and Outstanding Writing for series creator Jesse Armstrong for the Season 3 finale.

    These Weren't Quite the Sweeps We Expected

    With the exception of The White Lotus, which won every category in which it was nominated on the evening — leaving the Lead Actor and Actress categories open for wins from Michael Keaton (Dopesick) and Amanda Seyfried (The Dropout) — the night didn't feature the kind of single-show sweeps that benefited shows like Schitt's Creek and The Crown in recent years.

    In Comedy, Jean Smart repeated her Lead Actress win for her performance as Deborah Vance on Hacks, the only award her show won Monday night. The bigger contender to the Ted Lasso supremacy was ABC's Abbott Elementary, which picked up two major awards, with Quinta Brunson winning for writing the show's pilot and Sheryl Lee Ralph a surprise winner in Supporting Actress. Ralph made the most of her moment, taking the stage to belt out some of jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves's "Endangered Species," followed by a passionate speech that felt like exactly what it was: the culmination of a four-plus-decade career that has finally placed her on the Emmy stage. Perhaps the greatest Emmy speech of all time.

    For its part, despite racking up a record-setting 14 acting nominations, Succession walked away with merely one acting award, an incredibly deserving Supporting Actor win Matthew Macfadyen's performance as Tom Wambsgans. Succession has been the dominant TV drama for the last three years, but in that time it has only managed three acting wins (Jeremy Strong and guest actress Cherry Jones in 2020 were the other two). Instead, the drama categories were a mix of repeat winners (Euphoria's Zendaya won her second Emmy, Ozark's Julia Garner her third), and two surprise wins for Netflix's Korean drama Squid Game (Lead Actor Lee Jung-jae and Hwang Dong-hyuk for directing the series premiere).

    Speed Kills

    If one thing characterized the 2022 Emmys ceremony, it was the palpable sense that the show was being hustled along, keeping a breakneck pace to make the 11:00 PM call time on the east coast. This torrid pace was felt not so much in the show's production — which found time for dance breaks, comedy bits, and several montages — but in the acceptance speeches. Nearly every single winner was goosed off of the stage by music, with many winners noting the unforgiving nature of the prompter's clock bearing down upon them.

    Nominees had been asked to provide lists of the people they wished to thank, a tactic that has in the past been tried out by the Oscars, which has posted laundry lists of thanks on its web site, leaving the winners with more time to make heartfelt, moving speeches. At the Emmys, the lists of names scrolled across the lower third of the screen, like a stock ticker or the NFL scores on ESPN. Award show producers have internalized the idea that nobody watches an award show to see people rattle off a list of producers, agents, and publicists' names, and while that may be true, there is now a pervasive sense that the producers of these shows think nobody wants to watch the winners speak at all.

    The crawl of thank-yous and the hasty music cues made the ceremony feel rushed and embarrassed of itself,robbing the show of most chances at a heartfelt speech, with one grateful exception. The producers didn't dare pull the plug on Sheryl Lee Ralph, thank goodness, but when The White Lotus's Jennifer Coolidge — delivering a meandering speech in her own inimitable, delightful way — pulled out a piece of paper and began to read names, the producers showed no mercy in playing her off the stage. It was a galling and frankly embarrassing moment, and at some point the networks who put on these award shows are going to have to decide whether they even want to show people accepting awards, because the way things are going, it sure doesn't seem like it.

    A Bizarre Production

    The eye-on-the-clock acceptance speeches wouldn't have been quite so objectionable if they weren't accompanied by a production that was scattershot and unsure of itself. Host Kenan Thompson was funny when called upon, but the night got off on a regrettable note with a bizarre dance routine to the theme songs of shows like Friends, Law & Order, The Brady Bunch, and Stranger Things that went over like a lead balloon.

    The rest of the night's pre-planned segments weren't much better. Comedian Sam Jay — a super talented stand-up and writer in her own right — was left to twist on the vine in an oddly deployed announcer role that called upon Jay for too many interjections that were too wordily assembled, and the end result was this huge opportunity on a national stage for a talented comedian instead turned her into an annoyance.

    Some ideas came from intuitive places but were executed clumsily. Seemingly in anticipation of sweeps for the big three shows, where the audience would get sick of the same three theme songs over and over, the producers opted for popular music needle drops as the winners made their way to the stage. But the song choices were either bizarrely impersonal ("Viva La Vida" for Dopesick) or pointed (CeCe Peniston's "Finally" for Jennifer Coolidge).

    Other decisions, like the short-film where the same dialogue was depicted differently in four genres that turned out to be an in-show ad for Kia vehicles, made the ceremony feel as chintzy as a QVC marathon.

    It's Still Very Much HBO's World

    With 26 total wins, HBO maintains their dominance over the TV landscape. The White Lotus, Succession, and Euphoria were responsible for 20 of those wins, and all three of those shows will be returning for new seasons, so despite the ongoing drama that's accompanied the Warner Discovery merger, the future still looks awfully bright.

    Squid Game Makes History

    Netflix finished with a surprisingly robust 23 Emmy wins, despite being far behind HBO in total nominations. Two of its three major wins on Emmy night managed to make history, with Squid Game being the only non-English language show to win in the Acting and Directing categories. After many months of terrible publicity and plummeting subscriber numbers, Netflix managed to stay competitive in the prestige game, which will be essential going forward if they want to continue to project strength as the preeminent streaming platform.

    The Late Night Category Is in Crisis

    This is not news. The rut that the late-night and reality categories find themselves in is so well-worn that complaining about it counts as a rut of its own. But the facts remain: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver has won the Outstanding Variety Talk Series award every year since 2016. This is as predictable an outcome as there is in the awards game, and it means that this category is a reliable dead spot in the broadcast as a result. Everybody knows Oliver is going to win, there's no element of surprise, Oliver himself seems abashed by his show's dominance in the category, and worst of all, there is absolutely no sense that voters are even watching all of the nominated shows rather than just blindly checking a box for the most prestigious show (i.e. the one that's on HBO).

    There is hope, however, that a turgid category can get interesting. RuPaul's Drag Race had won Outstanding Competition Program for the past four years in a row, in a category that saw The Amazing Race win in ten of the first twelve years of the category's existence. The top reality category has been the most predictable on the show for years. But this year we got a genuine surprise, as Lizzo's Watch Out for the Big Grrrls shocked everyone by upsetting Mama Ru and taking the award in its very first season. Emmy voters would do well to note the injection of energy the show got from something different happening in this category, as Lizzo took the stage for an exuberant and extroverted speech that (accidentally, most likely) echoed the memorable Camryn Manheim speech from 1999 ("this one's for all the fat girls!").

    The Lizzo win ought to remain as a lesson for future Emmy telecast producers as well as all the other award show producers who seem so obsessed with streamlining the life out of these shows. We come to watch for those great and spontaneous moments that come without ticking clocks or overzealous music cues. The 2022 Emmys were a bust not because of who won the awards but because the producers' lack of faith in the audience to care.

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    Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: 74th Primetime Emmy Awards, Abbott Elementary, Lizzo's Watch Out For The Big Grrrls, Squid Game, Succession, The White Lotus, Jennifer Coolidge, Kenan Thompson, Lizzo, Sheryl Lee Ralph