"Cynics and realists joined hands together in anticipation of Sunday night’s show," says Kevin Fallon. "There was no way it could be pulled off, they sneered, let alone be entertaining. We all entered the night wondering whether we would be watching an award show, or the world’s most star-studded Zoom meeting. The answer in the end was a little bit of both, and also something more: maybe the most refreshing overhaul of an award show in years. It was a night brimming with spirit and a 'sure, why not?' gumption, an endearing energy that made things both looser in tone and tighter in flow. Buoying matters was that fact that the night’s big winners—Schitt’s Creek, Watchmen, and Succession—were hard to argue with, while the surprise choices were rapturous: Zendaya!!! It was an evening in which a man dressed in a hazmat suit presented an Emmy Award to Catherine O’Hara (a rather perfect Catherine O’Hara moment, if you ask me) and an exploding box blasted confetti and a trophy-bearing fist at RuPaul. Which is to say that it was an evening of lunacy, of corny, total chaos: utterly bizarre, occasionally poignant, never not surreal, and a fraction of the grandeur we tune in for in normal times—and therefore perhaps the perfect award show for right now. These things are a slog, so you have to smile, shrug, and sigh at the Emmys for, even when producing a virtual ceremony, the telecast stretches to three hours. But it was an uncharacteristically invigorating three hours of award-showing. With (Jimmy) Kimmel setting the tone, you got the sense that the pandemic-necessitated extremes forced everyone to realize how silly all the typical pageantry really is."
The weirdest thing about the Pandemic Emmys was how normal they felt: "Nothing sets up disappointment as surely as high expectations," says Willa Paskin. "And thus, before even one minute of the 2020 Emmys had aired, they were in a relatively strong position: No one could possibly have had any expectations for them at all. Taking place, as they did, amid a series of global and national catastrophes—the viral of which had turned the annual soiree into a remote experiment—the Emmys were about as wanted as a plantar wart, as timely as a calendar from 1996, as necessary as a fanny pack on a kangaroo. They had to clear a bar so low it might as well have been buried in the ground. Nevertheless: They did it. By the end of the night, the weirdest thing about the Pandemic Emmys was how normal they felt." She adds: "TV may be our friend, but it’s less and less something we share with our actual friends—or anyone else for that matter. By the end of the night, something I would have thought at the beginning was nearly impossible had happened: The show had been so proficient and technically successful, had so skillfully averted disaster, that it had raised its own bar. I wanted more, and a little better. So in that way, it really was like every other Emmys."
The Emmys delivered normalcy to an abnormal year: "Though Kimmel was careful to acknowledge the Emmys are 'frivolous,' 'unnecessary,' and unlikely to solve any of the pressing issues of 2020, TV arguably has a better claim on high-minded rhetoric than ever," says Alison Herman. "That rhetoric would come soon enough: from Cynthia Erivo and Lena Waithe, discussing the importance of representation; from Academy CEO Frank Scherma, highlighting the power of culture as a connecting force in quarantine; from Tyler Perry, accepting a Governor’s Award for lifetime achievement in the industry. Mostly, though, the broadcast showed rather than told. However choppy, however strange, it was almost soothing to watch a version of such a familiar ritual. The anticipated hiccups, like a phone going off in the middle of Jesse Armstrong’s acceptance speech for Succession’s Outstanding Drama win, were endearing. The typical, usually tiresome clichés—like the in memoriam montage, set to a classic song covered by an up-and-coming artist—were reassuring."
The Emmys deserve praise for its triumph against long odds and considerable challenges, though Schitt's Creek's dominance killed some of the excitement: "After six months in which nearly every living human knows the collective discomfort/embarrassment of That Lady Who Never Remembers to Unmute Herself or The Guy Who Forgets That He Isn't Wearing Pants to the Morning Meeting or The People Whose Wifi Hasn't Worked Properly Since March, every camera set-up here basically worked; every audio hook-up came through reasonably clear; and the precision required to get the right people on-screen at the right time (and then off-screen at the right time) in what was — and this can't be emphasized enough — the first truly and predominantly live awards show of the pandemic was pretty astonishing," says Daniel Fienberg. "Heck, when was the last time you were on a single cyber-meeting that wasn't abruptly interrupted by an attention-starved cat, a boundary-starved child or the UPS guy? So whatever the content was or wasn't and whoever the winners were or weren't, I'm prepared to review this Emmys telecast more generously than almost any awards show in recent memory. Simply because the thing they were trying to do was harder than, like, that year they tried having a group of reality hosts co-host or the latest variation on 'Award shows don't need hosts! Do they?'" Fienberg adds: "I mentioned the need to reexamine the Emmys structure in future years, because the one-genre-at-a-time approach becomes a real drag if the show becomes a series of coronations. Because Schitt's Creek won an unprecedented seven categories in a row on the comedy side, that meant that the telecast was 72 minutes in before something other than Schitt's Creek won. It was bordering on inevitable that Pop TV's little Canadian import, not even on Emmy radars for its first four seasons, was going to win comedy series and one or two other wins (Catherine O'Hara should, in a different year, have been treated to a rousing standing ovation from an assembled crowd). But I'm sure Emmy organizers figured a couple other shows would win in a couple secondary categories. Instead we kept going back to the Schitt'sCreek tent, and Dan Levy was a little bit apologetic by his last acceptance speech.
The Emmys managed to avoid being out of touch: "Essential workers, including a USPS delivery person, a rancher, two doctors, a teacher, a truck driver and a nurse practitioner, served as presenters," says Lorraine Ali. "But before introducing categories such as supporting drama and comedy actor, they spoke about what they’ve been doing in their respective jobs to keep the country running during the COVID-19 pandemic. When Kimmel used hand sanitizer onstage, the dispenser was the coveted gold statue repurposed for the pandemic. And many of the winners accepted their awards from their living rooms, in clothing that real humans might wear. These changes-by-necessity grounded a celebration that might otherwise have had the potential to appear totally out of touch. Giving out awards during a viral plague has 'disaster' written all over it. Throw fabulously beautiful celebrities into the mix and you risk appearing like the captain of the Titanic...But a funny thing happened on the way to the television industry looking like total self-centered jerks. The Emmys used the opportunity to do what television has done for stir-crazy Americans since March: entertain the masses with whatever you have — an empty theater, video-conferenced acceptance speeches, jokes and meaningful comments about the chaos of 2020."
The strangest-ever Emmys ceremony was also surprising, intimate and delightful, too: "Good or bad, there was no way the 72nd Emmy Awards, which went on Sunday from the Staples Center in Los Angeles and living rooms around the country and beyond, wasn’t going to be interesting," says Robert Lloyd. "And it was good, by and large an elegant, intelligent solution to making ceremonial television in light of Our Great Shared Obstacle. That isn’t to say that every joke worked, and latency does make shtick difficult to do remotely, but the telecast, which mixed live and recorded pieces, felt solid enough to accommodate the occasional technical difficulty. Because most every moment was unprecedented, not merely a slight variation of something we’d seen before, it was minute for minute more interesting than these long nights of self-celebration usually are."
The first-ever virtual Emmys was a triumph of producing: "Pieced together with just enough in the way of production value to feel nourishingly of the once-and-future world and with a happy willingness to indulge serendipity that felt brand-new, the first major awards ceremony of the COVID era was imperfect, and knew it," says Daniel D'Addario. "But it met its moment with elán, charm and a level of effort so profound as to seem effortless — the sort of thing live TV at its best, social distancing or no, has always done. That last point feels crucial to emphasize in part because it seems so likely to get lost: A massive passel of winners in various locations off-site were notified of their wins, handed Emmys (either by Hazmat-suited presenters meeting them where they were or automated cuckoo-clock-style boxes opening mechanically), and given the opportunity to speak, all of which went as well as it conceivably could have, give or take the participation of a few major nominees. The literal dispensation of awards went off seamlessly, and the requisite nods to the tension of the moment within the ceremony were done better than they often are. (Enlisting Americans affected by the COVID crisis in many ways, from a rancher to a New York City nurse, to present awards was an on-its-face bizarre decision that ended up injecting charm and a frank bit of reality into the show.)"
Kimmel made the right call in mostly skipping Trump jokes: "Perhaps he realized that, with so much going on in the show logistically — nominees at home, Emmy statues delivered by interns in hazmat suits — that he didn’t need to make it about him and his feelings about the state of the world. Even for a few minutes," says Mary McNamara. "To a certain extent, an awards host owns the telecast. He, or she, appears at least to be the one in control, which means that the show’s success, fairly or not, is often laid at his or her feet."
Zendaya on becoming the youngest actress to win an Emmy: "Just to be mentioned in the category at all was something — and just to have them support me really filled my heart," said the Euphoria star, adding: “I don’t usually cry. I got through it without letting it take over completely. It was obviously a very emotional moment and I still can’t believe it myself — it’s pretty crazy."
Zendaya's Emmy win awarded one of TV's smartest and trickiest performances: "Though written with vicious precision by Sam Levinson, Rue’s only as effective as she is because Zendaya is so incredibly good at portraying her," says Caroline Framke of the Euphoria star. "When Rue’s a jerk, Zendaya lets her be one without softening her edges. When Rue’s afraid, Zendaya lets her practiced smirk fall just enough to let you know it. The character could have been — and sometimes is — a mess of clichéd teenaged angst. Instead, Zendaya digs into every corner of her gnarled psyche to find the terrified kid hiding in the shadows. The show wouldn’t work a fraction as well without an actor who could bring that kind of nuance to its emotional center, a task Zendaya takes on with palpable care and incredible verve."
This year's Emmys failed to showcase fashion: "Without a pre-show strut down the carpet or a crowded program of presenters, skits, and shots of celebrities in the audience, there were precious few opportunities for stars to show off their looks," says Christina Cauterucci. "Unless they won an award or introduced a category from the Staples Center in Los Angeles, where host Jimmy Kimmel presented to a near-empty arena, they rarely got a moment on screen. Forced into the confines of a glorified Zoom meeting, this year’s Emmys could have been a revelation on the fashion front, especially with the loosened-up dress code. Instead, for the most part, it felt like an extra-boring Hollywood social media feed: a series of images of nicely dressed celebrities, seated in blandly well-appointed living rooms, stripped of all spontaneity. The winners of lots of awards got lots of screen time; the others—the bit players, the losing nominees, the big stars who get invited even if they’re not in anything this year—never got to show off at all, even if they wore something smashing. Since men made up half the acting nominees and more than half the writing and directing ones, there were lots and lots and lots of suits. And since most people were sitting down, there were hardly any full-body shots. Won’t somebody think of the gowns?!"
Hazmat suit-wearing Emmy givers were a high *and* low for the ceremony: "There’s something pleasantly bonkers about the Emmy Award winners being handed a statue by a person in a hazmat suit printed to look like a tuxedo? But it’d have been much better if the hazmat-suited award people didn’t have to also appear in a Kia ad about delivering Emmys," according to Vulture, which adds: " The thought of the hazmat people lurking outside the Emmy nominees’ houses, and then promptly leaving if they do not win, is deeply pathetic in a whole 19th-century 'emotion that is too large to process in this time' way."