The camera pans between numerous celebrities sitting in the audience as Jimmy Kimmel goes through his opening monologue. From Keegan-Michael Key to Meryl Streep to even Kimmel himself sitting in front of Ted Danson, all laughing along with Kimmel’s jokes. The host then feigns confusion as to why he sees himself in the audience only for the camera to zoom out to a wide shot to reveal a hollow auditorium vacant of attendees.
“Of course we don’t have an audience,” Kimmel said. “This isn’t a MAGA rally.”
The 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards is the first of its kind, in the fact being that it is the first award show to feature nominees and other audience members alike to attend virtually. With only select celebrities such as Jason Bateman and Jennifer Anniston physically attending the show as part of a skit to squeeze out a few laughs. Even with the assistance of two celebrities Kimmel’s attempt at banter falls short due to a lack of a real audience and his earlier attempt when feigning audience laughter using pre-recorded cuts.
Awards were set up so the nominees would receive their awards within the comfort of their homes by a designated carrier standing by. That, of course, did not prevent the Canadian sitcom “Schitt’s Creek” from completely dominating the comedy category of the awards with the show setting a record for the most Emmy awards won in a single year for a comedy series, taking home a total of nine awards. The show tied up its ends with its series finale back in April which would serve as the main force behind the show’s stream of accolades.
The show is also the first to feature its four principal cast members, Catherine O’Hara, Eugene Levy, Annie Murphy and Daniel Levy, who all received awards in the acting category. Murphy in her role as Alexis Rose, daughter of Johnny Rose played by Eugene Levy actually beat out Alex Borstein, the two-year incumbent for best supporting actress in a comedy series for her role as Susie Myerson in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”
Murphy’s character Alexis has gone through drastic character development throughout the show. Having evolved from a vapid socialite with an obsession of having great social media influence to a driven entrepreneur with lucid vision on her career goals. Murphy’s performance breathed greater nuance and complexity into her character with the final season being the high point of her character’s journey as she finally attains complete independence from relying on her parents as a crutch with New York being her next destination to pursue her ambitions.
Murphy’s biggest competitor was Alex Borsetin in her role as Susie from “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” Borstein’s character path is slightly less linear than that of Alexis. Susie went from an apathetic club employee to a determined manager with a hardened resolve for the sake of her friend Midge Maisel, a rising star in comedy. In the latest season of the show however it is shown that Susie is slowly being afflicted with a gambling addiction eventually leading to a catastrophic loss. While Borstein definitely did not disappoint with her performance as Susie’s comedic abrasiveness and exceptional chemistry with Midge was an absolute joy to watch, the actress unfortunately did not introduce any new complexity or nuances that wasn’t pre-established from the previous seasons. Therefore her performance did not reach a point high enough to win over Murphy.
Creek was not the lone alpha of their Emmy pack, as two other shows dominated their respective categories in dramatic series and limited series. HBO’s satirical comedy-drama series “Succession” took home seven awards while it’s limited series peer superhero drama “Watchmen” earned the crown for most award wins this year at a total of eleven Emmy awards, just two awards from beating out “Game of Thrones” record of twelve wins in a single year.
The record breaking however was not only made by “Schitt’s Creek” and “Watchmen” but none other than former Disney princess Zendaya Maree Stoermer Coleman for her Emmy win in her lead role as teen drug addict Rue Bennett in the HBO dramatic series “Euphoria.”
Zendaya made history becoming the youngest at the age of 24 to win an Emmy as well as the second Black woman to win an Emmy award for a leading role in a dramatic series. Zendaya out bested her fellow nominees Jennifer Aniston, Oscar award winning actress Olivia Coleman, and even last year’s incumbent Jodie Comer who set the previous record for youngest winner at the age of 26 for her role of the stylish and sociopathic hitwoman Villanelle in the BBC drama series “Killing Eve.”
Zendaya’s biggest competitor was no doubt last year’s incumbent, Jodie Comer. Comer’s breathtaking range shows, being able to switch identities with the mere change of an octave while maintaining the same character is magnificent. However Comer suffers the same disadvantage and criticism Borstein does. Amazing performance, but didn’t add on to preexisting or introduce enough fresh material.
Zendaya had two powerful advantages. The first being the element of surprise. Here we have an actress with a record of cheesy and corny performances on tame Disney shows and short lived limited series. An actress who has only recently reentered the limelight of Hollywood in a supporting role in the Marvel Studios film “Spiderman” series as the superhero’s romantic interest as well as a musical role in “The Greatest Showman.” Nothing compelling or spectacular as of yet. Then all of the sudden pulls off a phenomenal performance giving accurate manifestations of all the demons involving narcotic addiction and mental health struggles. From withdrawal, to depression, to manic episodes and finally to a devastating moment of awareness. This is where the second advantage activates. Relatability.
A teenager struggling with addiction, its effects on their ability to interact socially and especially romantically, as well as feelings of blame, guilt, frustration, anger and anxiety. These are concepts more relatable to the average viewer compared to a sociopathic Russian assassin slowly becoming self-aware. And it is these two advantages that Zendaya’s performance earned her the Emmy.
“This is pretty crazy,” Coleman said about the news as she is seen shaking with surprise and excitement while celebrating her historical win.
While joy and enthusiasm flooded during the awards, this year was unsurprisingly not lacking in political sentiment. Regina King, while accepting her award for her lead performance as Angela Abar in “Watchmen,” rogue comic series turned a dramatic dissertation on system racism and police brutality, called action to vote while sporting a Breonna Taylor shirt. She was joined in solidarity with the creator of the limited series, Damon Lindelof’s whose shirt read “Remember Tulsa ‘21” in reference to the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre of Black residents and businesses of the Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Anthony Anderson, nominated for his lead role in “Black-ish,” shared an especially ardent speech citing the “record number of Black Emmy nominees this year.” During his speech, Anderson urged Kimmel to chant “Black Lives Matter” with him, even encouraging the host to chant it loud enough “so that Mike Pence can hear it.”
Tyler Perry also gave his own piece during his acceptance speech for one of the Television Academy’s top honors, the Governor’s Award for lifetime achievements in the industry. Perry gave a symbolic speech comparing the story of a quilt gifted to him by his grandmother. Perry’s late epiphany on the true significance of the quilt illuminated his vision allowing to fully understand the broad scope of the Black experience in America.
“I stand here tonight to say thank you to all of the people who are celebrating and know the value of every patch, and every story, and every color that makes up this quilt that is our business, this quilt that is our lives, this quilt that is America,” Perry said. “Because in my grandmother’s quilt, there are no patches that represent Black people on television. But in my quilt, her grandson is being celebrated by the Television Academy.”
Acceptance speeches trembled with bubbly gratitude and delight coupled with passionate reminders of political responsibility. This year’s Emmys are a rare breed, virtual in nature. Hopefully it will be the last of its kind.