Mondays, right? It’s a rough day to try to do anything, period, and an even rougher day to throw a major awards show. But that didn’t stop NBC from airing the 70th Annual Emmy Awards a day later than is traditional, to make way for Sunday Night Football, the only thing American viewers eat up even more eagerly than hot red-carpet goss.
Whether it was beginning-of-week malaise or something else that was afflicting the ceremony, there’s no denying that this year’s Emmys felt more than a few steps off its game. Hosted by SNL “Weekend Update” co-anchors Michael Che and Colin Jost, the 2018 edition looked and sounded like the mutterings of an exhausted industry — especially in the wake of last year’s fired-up broadcast, presided over by an energetic (and actually funny) Stephen Colbert. And though the ceremony quite literally made a production number out of its commitment to honoring diversity, 22 of 26 Emmys were snatched up by white performers, creators and producers — proof positive that lip service only goes so far.
Top honors this year went to HBO’s Game of Thrones for Outstanding Drama, Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel for Comedy and FX’s The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story for Limited Series. Meanwhile, national treasure/light of our lives Betty White was honored for her decades in the industry, and critical darling The Americans took home a long-awaited pair of statuettes for its final season (Matthew Rhys for Lead Actor in a Drama and showrunners Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields for writing).
But even a surprise marriage proposal — or Leslie Jones’ fabulous opalescent pantsuit — couldn’t do much to liven up a ceremony that seemed to be simply going through the motions. We may still be in the Peak TV era, but this year’s Emmys made us wonder if we’ve started the long downhill climb.
From the moment they walked out to deliver the opening monologue, Che and Jost looked vaguely uncomfortable, as if someone had just farted and they were standing in the stink-cloud. Their low-key, above-it-all “Weekend Update” formula didn’t translate to the Emmys stage; everything was delivered with an air of bored detachment as they plodded through stilted jokes about the #MeToo movement, the primacy of Netflix and Roseanne Barr’s self-immolation. “With the amazing contributions from everyone in this room tonight, I think we can keep television going for another five, six years tops,” Jost quipped at the end of the intro. It didn’t reallllly sound like a joke. JS
Kate McKinnon and Kenan Thompson took aim at Hollywood’s diversity problem by cheekily announcing “we solved it!” during the spirited opening number of an otherwise largely apolitical ceremony. Of course, the solution mainly amounted to tokenism and self-congratulation, a sly undermining of last night’s boast regarding the most diverse group of nominees in Emmy history. “You see, there were none, and now there’s one,” Thompson said, referring to Killing Eve‘s Sandra Oh, the first woman of Asian descent to be nominated for a lead in a drama series, who sportingly chimed in, “It’s an honor just to be Asian!” But this scathing criticism was delivered like a blow from a velvet hammer, with fan favorites like Titus Burgess, Kristen Bell and Sterling K. Brown shimmying to the beat while lone white man Andy Samberg was sent packing. PR
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel‘s title heroine would be the first to tell you that being a woman in comedy is frequently a thankless business, but last night’s ceremony proved there are at least a few things that have improved since the 1950s. Amy Sherman-Palladino‘s period piece about housewife-turned-stand-up comedian cleaned up, nabbing five wins including Best Comedy and Best Actress in a Comedy for its uber-talented star, Rachel Brosnahan. Remarkably, Sherman-Palladino became the first woman to net a double Writing and Directing win in Emmy history. (“My panic room’s gonna be so pretty!” she declared, hoisting her twin statuettes.) Though it’s only one season old, Mrs. Maisel came out of the gate a fully-formed spitfire of a show — and it more than earned this freshman sweep. JS
Donald Glover and Co. walked away empty-handed, despite a second season that arguably improved on the first and certainly doubled down on its idiosyncratic, at times surrealist point of view. Brian Tyree Henry could have handily won best supporting actor in a comedy series, especially considering his breakthrough performance in an episode that dealt with the death of his character’s mom (and was inspired by Henry’s real-life loss). And Hiro Murai was a favorite to win for his stylish direction, particularly in “Teddy Perkins,” the much-discussed bottle episode about a disturbed recluse played by Glover in whiteface (a possible nod to Michael Jackson). Worst of all, Atlanta’s shocking shut-out meant that we were deprived the strange spectacle of Glover giving an acceptance speech in character, since Teddy Perkins was sitting right there in the front row. PR
Ever since the 2016 election rocked the world on its foundations, pretty much every major awards show has worn its politics on its sleeve (or pinned to its lapel, as the case may be). But with a few exceptions — like Ryan Murphy citing hate crime statistics in his American Crime Storyspeech, Evan Rachel Wood rocking a blur ribbon and Rachel Brosnahan encouraging women to vote in the midterms — politics and social issues were not a major point of discussion. The #TimesUp movement, which is currently making major waves in the TV industry, was barely mentioned; diversity, while it was much joked about, was never seriously grappled with. The T-word (you know the one) wasn’t uttered once all night. All of which isn’t to say that awards shows have to get political. But in the wake of Oscars, Golden Globes and past Emmys ceremonies that were charged with moments of awareness, the 2018 ceremony felt a little toothless. Are we all just really tired? JS
Outstanding Direction for a Variety Special might sound like a bathroom-break category, but pity anyone who missed Glenn Weiss’ acceptance speech, clearly the best of the night. After his win for helming the Oscars, he opened on a mournful note, missing his mom, who passed away two weeks ago. Then, when he proceeded to surprise his girlfriend Jan Svendsen with a marriage proposal, there couldn’t have been a dry eye in the house. Normally, public proposals are, frankly, tacky — but this was pure, uncomplicated bliss. It shook the somewhat muted audience out of their torpor as the auditorium erupted in shock, applause and wide grins. Best of all, Svendsen accepted. Leave it to the director of the Oscars to figure out a way to blow past his allotted time at the Emmys. PR
With the exception of trophies for guest star Margo Martindale, The Americans has been largely overlooked by Emmy voters during the course of its six seasons. It figures that now, after the FX series has taken its final bow, fans have something to celebrate. Welsh actor Matthew Rhys earned some long overdue recognition for his nuanced portrayal of a KGB operative — not an easy feat under all those preposterous wigs. (It would have been great to see Keri Russell win as well, but we’ll take what we can get.) Also, creator Joe Weisberg and executive producer Joel Fields scored an outstanding drama writing win for the show’s stunning, solemn finale, marking a triumphant end to this smart, suspenseful show. PR
Look. We’ll be the first to say that when Game of Thrones is running on all cylinders, full dracarys ahead, it’s one of the most thrilling things on the small screen — a full complement of gut-wrenching dramatics, whizbang action sequences and Queen of Thorns side-eye. But this latest truncated season was D.B. Weiss and David Benioff’s water-cooler fantasy series at its worst, resting on the good faith the show has built up over six previous seasons to trot out a series of episodes that were, frankly, just kind of dumb. So we rolled our eyes a bit when the series nabbed the most Emmy noms this year (22!), and even more when it won Outstanding Drama in a year when there are much more interesting things going on (many of which weren’t even nominated). Even the show’s creators looked nonplussed as they accepted Thrones‘ third win in the category since 2015. Yawn. Wake us up when the ice dragon gets to Winterfell. JS
In an attempt to rectify Hollywood’s oversight of black actors and actresses, Che pre-taped a clever segment in which he handed out Reparations Emmys, allowing him to catch up, however briefly, with The Jeffersons‘ Marla Gibbs, A Different World‘s Kadeem Hardison and Family Matters‘ Jaleel White. If anything, this bit should have gone on longer: White trotting out Urkel’s “did I do that?” catchphrase only just scratched the surface of our collective nostalgia. But perhaps the best part was Che griping to Superior Donuts star Jermaine Fowler that nobody from The Wire ever received an Emmy while Bryan Cranston won five for Breaking Bad. The camera then pans to Cranston, within earshot, looking suitably stricken … like somebody who just learned that Wallace is out of pocket. PR
What appeared at first to be clumsy and overly rehearsed instead turned into one of the evening’s most delightful recurring skits as so-called Emmy experts Rudolph and Armisen failed to furnish hosts Jost and Che with any credible information whatsoever. The Forever stars fully committed to the bit, from their deadpan facial expressions to the random, erroneous trivia that came so naturally to them that it hardly seemed scripted. An off-kilter, laugh-out-loud highlight was Armisen referring to the statue as “Mrs. Johnson” while Rudolph insisted that she’s holding aloft her “famous ball of ribbons.” Only these seasoned SNL alums could pull off a joke so slight and seemingly bizarre, which makes you wonder what they could do with an entire ceremony. Hint, hint. PR
Writer-director Scott Frank’s subversive feminist Western wasn’t favored to win big, but the seven-episode Netflix miniseries, executive produced by Steven Soderbergh, stayed faithful to genre tradition and often featured dialogue that bordered on pure frontier poetry. The best of it was delivered by the under-sung Merritt Wever: As the de facto protector of an all-female mining town, her courageous wiseass is easily the best part of Godless. Jeff Daniels, who also won in the supporting actor category for his Bible-thumping villain, is a distant second. PR
Last night’s ceremony was produced by Lorne Michaels, hosted by Saturday Night Live head writers Jost and Che and featured a steady rotation of current cast members and alums — so was there any doubt the award for outstanding variety sketch series would go to the NBC mainstay? No, but it still felt like a shameless gimme. A better case could be made for Drunk History or At Home With Amy Sedaris, both of which are pioneering new, hilarious formats. Meanwhile, SNL struggles for consistency, reduced to its best sketches but rarely executing a satisfying episode from start to finish. And let’s be honest: “Weekend Update” hosts Jost and Che are simply no Seth and Amy. PR
Despite being an indelible part of pop culture, Winkler never took home a trophy for his iconic portrayal of the Fonz on Happy Days. How fitting, then, that after 43 years in the business and five previous nominations, he should be singled out for best supporting actor in a comedy for his role as the deeply committed acting coach on HBO’s Barry. The actor was no less enthusiastic than his character Gene Cousineau while accepting the award, repeating advice he received early in his career: “If you stay at the table long enough, the chips come to you.” His class act continued as he heartily thanked series creators Bill Hader and Alec Berg, and while it was disappointing to see Brian Tyree Henry lose, how can we not give Winkler the thumbs up, aaaaay? PR
Plenty of actors talk about their costars at length in their speeches — but Jeff Daniels took it to a whole other level. When he accepted the Supporting Actor in a Limited Series statuette for his turn in Netflix western Godless, the actor didn’t care so much about making sure to thank all the right people as he did about … talking about horse stuff? Yeah, we were also confused. He spent most of his time at the podium descanting on all things equine, encouraging young actors not to lie about their horseback-riding abilities at auditions and recalling his harrowing experience with his steed Apollo. “He was Jeff Bridges’ horse on True Grit, and I felt he was making unfair comparisons,” Daniels quipped. Apollo apparently threw him three times, breaking his wrist in the process, to which the actor responded by hoisting his Emmy with the now-healed joint. Living well is the best revenge, we suppose. JS
The Reality Competition Series category has historically been one of the Emmys’ dullest, with the same few shows (The Amazing Race, The Voiceand Top Chef) winning year after year since its inception in 2003. It’s about damn time that the statuette went to VH1’s (formerly Logo’s) genuinely groundbreaking RuPaul’s Drag Race, after a whopping 10 seasons and counting on the air. Reality shows aren’t generally a space known for enacting anything like positive change, but with its fabulously inventive queens and policy of radical acceptance, the show has proven itself to be a force for genuine good in the world — not to mention a plain ol’ good time. RuPaul accepted the award “on behalf of the 140 drag queens we have released into the wild,” and, we’d like to think, the generation of LGBTQ kids who have 140 high-profile role models. Can we get an amen? JS
In general, last night’s presenters were a parade of enjoyable, if occasionally odd, couplings. Their stage patter was pithy and amusing: Tracy Morgan informed Jimmy Kimmel that he was only rooting for black nominees, like Millie Bobby Brown. Samantha Bee told Taraji P. Henson that she’s watching a “shocking dystopian drama called ‘the news.’” Broad City‘s Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, Dirty John‘s Eric Bana and Connie Britton — these are all lovable people that we like watching. The only problem was that their scripted banter followed the roll call of nominees. On one hand, the clipped pace kept the ceremony moving as celebrities didn’t waste time struggling to pronounce one another’s names correctly (for the most part). Yet the format was awkward, forcing a weird delay of the big announcement. PR
For our money, there wasn’t a more fierce category this year than Lead Actress in a Drama. The field boasted past winners Elisabeth Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale) and Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black), repeat nominees Keri Russell (The Americans) and Evan Rachel Wood (Westworld), plus fierce category newcomer Sandra Oh (Killing Eve). And while pretty much any of these heavy hitters deserved the win, we’re quite chuffed it went to Claire Foy for her nuanced, luminescent star turn in Netflix’s The Crown. All depth and no flash, Queen Elizabeth II isn’t an easy role to take on — but Foy’s performance is painterly in its precision. “I dedicate this to the next cast,” she said in her speech, passing the royal vestments on to Elizabeth-in-the-wings Olivia Colman. To which we say: Long live the Queen. JS
“Oooh! Regina King!” presenter Leslie Jones exclaimed with delight when she announced the winner for Lead Actress in a Limited Series in Netflix’s Seven Seconds. King may already have two Supporting Actress Emmys under her belt (for American Crime in 2015 and 2016), but that didn’t stop her from being endearingly shocked and flustered over her win for her searing turn in Veena Sud’s crime drama. From the look of total disbelief on her face when the winner was announced to her dumbfounded admission that she’d just cleaned lipstick off her dress, King provided one of the night’s rare emotional moments. “Thank you. This is amazing. I wanna curse right now,” she declared, and we don’t blame her. Sadly, the systemic racism that Seven Seconds tackles was reflected in the fact that King was one of only a handful of non-white honorees (along with Thandie Newton and RuPaul). Take note, Emmys. JS
You could almost hear the yawns both onstage and in the audience last night, in a ceremony that proved to be as high-energy as a bag of Quaaludes. Hell, there was one part where Will Ferrell ran up to the mic in slow motion just to … kill time, we guess? Blame Che and Jost’s lethargic hosting, blame some less-than-inspiring nominees, blame Monday, blame a television industry rocked by scandals and exhausted by its own self-mythologizing. Whatever it was, it’s clear that the Emmys needs a bracing shot to the heart before it’s too late. And that starts with shaking up its own clearly tired formula. JS
This article was originally writing by: Rolling Stone