“One hundred different feeds going on all at once, what could possibly go right?” Kimmel joked in his opening monologue. A couple hours in, however, you’d have given anything for a hitch, a glitch, a true panic moment. TV producers have gotten extraordinarily good at surmounting the challenges that the coronavirus pandemic has dealt to live shows. In every way that counts, the 72nd Emmys (“the Pandemmys,” Kimmel called the show) looked a lot like all the Emmy nights that came before it.
If you turned the Emmys on to see a full sweep of the comedy awards by the increasingly beloved Pop TV series “Schitt’s Creek,” a wry but heartfelt story about a rich family that has to reinvent itself in lessened circumstances, then it was a happy night indeed. The first hour of the telecast went completely to “Schitt’s,” which won everything — including best comedy series.
In the drama categories, HBO’s “Succession” won best series. The show’s Jeremy Strong won best actor and Zendaya, the star of HBO’s “Euphoria,” won best actress.
And HBO’s “Watchmen,” a topically provocative take on an alternate-reality America caught between lawlessness and vigilantism, won best limited series, with additional awards going to Regina King (lead actress) and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (supporting actor).
The Pandemmys attempted several different ways to make the most of an awards show that had no audience, no red-carpet buildup, no congratulatory hugs and kisses, little to no in-person banter between the host and presenters and a fashion sensibility in which a T-shirt with the name of Louisville police shooting victim Breonna Taylor on it said more than any designer gown or fancy stay-at-home pajamas.
What the show did have was one big absurd punchline to refer to again and again: This dreadful stretch of time we collectively call 2020.
Kimmel opened the show telling jokes to what appeared to be a star-studded audience (using old clips from past shows). “Why would you have an awards show in the middle of a pandemic?” he asked. “This is the year they decided to have a host?” The crowd roared with laughter; it was a suitable ruse until Kimmel spied himself in the audience.
An early bit between Kimmel and Jennifer Aniston involved the sterilization of the envelope containing the name of the night’s first winner (“Schitt’s Creek’s” Catherine O’Hara, the award many tuned in specifically hoping to see) and a fire extinguisher. For a minute it seemed the two might have set fire — in California — to Staples Center, but Aniston gave it a couple more bursts. That was about it for big laughs for the rest of the night.
The show did throw a bunch of different ideas out there. Real folks, including medical personnel, a rancher, a UPS driver, a teacher and an astronaut on the International Space Station got to present some of the awards, from their working environments.
Some of these stunts faltered (a bit about interns delivering the statuettes to winners at home, getting there in sporty little Kias, turned out to be little more than a shameless plug for Kia), but my hunch is that viewers were in a no-harm/no-foul mood about it — such as when Aniston turned up again via live Internet feed with “Friends” co-stars Courteney Cox and Lisa Kudrow, or when trip-wired boxes were delivered to nominees’ houses, exploding open with confetti (and a statuette) for the winner.
We’ve been desperate for years to see change in the awards show format; Sunday’s show didn’t seem to inspire any permanent ideas — though for a while, it did seem to move a little more swiftly than it does in a live setting.
“Don’t complain about how long the show is,” Kimmel said as the three-hour mark closed in. “What else are you going to do? . . . Play Candyland with the kids for the 9,000th time? We’ve got you right where we want you.” (Was he daring the few remaining Emmy viewers to switch it off?)
“Schitt’s Creek” concluded its run this year after six seasons, but this was the year that it seemed to really take hold (thanks in no small part to its Netflix availability) with viewers stuck at home, looking for a TV show that would make them laugh and make them feel better.
Luckily, the show’s cast and producers rented a swanky tent setup in Toronto for Emmy night and got all gussied up together (creating a kind of Canadians-only Golden Globes vibe, with socially distanced group tables). The awards kept coming during the first full hour. Eugene Levy won best actor for the series, which he co-created with his son, Daniel Levy.
The father thanked the son for helping bring the show to life, then the son won the next category (comedy series writing) and, in his acceptance speech, thanked his dad for giving him a job — even though, he said, he had no writing experience. Then the younger Levy gave a shout-out to Issa Rae and the writers of “Insecure,” who weren’t nominated.
Does anyone want to point out the stunning degree of privilege here (thanks Dad, for the TV job, and hey, while we’re at it, let’s give it up for that brilliant, un-nominated comedy from a Black woman), or nah? Such is our love for “Schitt’s Creek,” that we’ll overlook it.
The Emmy telecast more than met the challenge that the pandemic handed it. The same can’t exactly be said of cable network E!’s attempt earlier Sunday to make something (anything) of an all-virtual, red-carpet pre-show. There are all sorts of signs from the universe that they shouldn’t have bothered.
Pre-show perennial Giuliana Rancic, connected from her computer at home, told viewers that she was missing her first red-carpet broadcast in 20 years because she had tested positive for the novel coronavirus — a screening mandated by NBCUniversal for all its employees working on the production. Rancic said her husband and son had also tested positive. Actress Vivica A. Fox, who was also supposed to help co-host the pre-show, also tested positive and sent a statement of regret, which was read on the air.
The question “Where are you?” took slight precedence over “What are you wearing?” Dylan McDermott, from the Netflix series “Hollywood,” told E! co-host Brad Goreski he was at home (nearly everyone said they were at home) and then asked Goreski, “Where are you?”
McDermott may have asked because it seemed like Goreski — wearing a crisp, white double-breasted jacket, surrounded by Hollywood’s beloved garden hedge walls and network logos — could actually be someplace that was happening, vital.
Alas: “I’m . . . on the Universal back lot,” Goreski said — truthfully, sadly, rather 2020-ly.