Host Jimmy Kimmel didn’t mince words with his audience. Conducting a live Emmys telecast during a global pandemic is pretty frivolous. But then again, it’s pretty frivolous every year, so, why not try and have some fun with it? And, at the beginning at least, the 2020 Primetime Emmy Awards did a surprisingly good job pulling that off. In other words, it wasn’t a trainwreck.
That being said, it didn’t all work. Having front line workers present a number of the awards was a great idea, but somehow felt less impactful than it should have been. Lena Waithe and America Fererra‘s stories on discrimination in the industry were noteworthy and needed to be heard, but weren’t presented in a way that called you to pay attention. And some of the in-person presenters were more awkward than expected as the show made it past the first hour. Still, moments such as having Anthony Carrigan reprise his “Barry” character working as a United States Postal Service employee were genuinely bizarre and hilarious at the same time.
Keeping that in mind, here’s a rundown of the best and worst of a very difficult to pull off Emmy Awards telecast.
BEST AND WORST: Jimmy Kimmel’s opening monologue
I mean, kudos to Kimmel and his team for going for it. Having a “fake” audience pulled from recent telecasts at the beginning could have gone sideways very quickly. It didn’t (at first) and it was nice to know that even without a real audience, Kimmel could still bomb a joke. But he had some zingers (“This isn’t a MAGA rally, it’s the Emmys”) and seemed much more comfortable overall than when he opened the Oscars. But the surreal exercise just went on a bit too long making the curtain reveal sort of anticlimactic.
BEST: Jennifer Aniston with a fire extinguisher
It took her three times to put it out, but praise be to Aniston for participating in a bit that saw Kimmel setting an envelope on fire and her standing by with a fire extinguisher. Considering it was “live” (at least that’s what ABC and the Television Academy wanted us to think) it was the sort of slightly horrifying, messy and can’t look away moment any awards show desperately needs.
BEST: Ramy Youssef with the receipts
Kimmel and the Television Academy had hyped their global operation of reps ready to hand Emmys to individual winners around the world and they weren’t kidding. If anything pulling that off is the biggest achievement of the night and, luckily, nominee Youssef proved it wasn’t a joke. After losing Lead Actor in a Comedy Series, Youssef showed his hazmat wearing Emmy rep waving goodbye taking the Emmy he wouldn’t receive with him.
BEST: Catherine O’Hara
The little show from Canada did it taking 7 Emmys, but it was O’Hara’s win, the first of the night, that was the most exciting. O’Hara won her first Emmy as a writer of “SCTV” in 1982, but had never won a major honor for what she’s best known for, acting. That changed tonight as her work crafting the incomparable Moira Rose finally got its due.
WORST: Emmy delivery training
We didn’t need a car commercial integrated ad before the second award was handed out. In fact, we didn’t need one at all. Geez ABC, how desperate for ad revenue were you for this year?
BEST: David Letterman
In a category that was utterly predictable (“Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” won for the fifth straight year), but Letterman was nothing but. He argued with an Uber driver over pronouncing Albany (an in-joke for anyone who has lived in Upstate New York) and then pulled out jokes from 1986 that were shockingly timely. It was a great reminder of how having Letterman is missed as part of the everyday cultural discourse.
WORST (SORTA): Maybe a bit too many “Schitt’s Creek” wins
Listen, we’re massive fans of the Levy family comedy creation, but even we can see that taking every single major comedy category was a bit much for the Pop TV and CBC series. That being said, we’d probably only pull the Directing trophy from their haul. But, we’re guessing the Palladinos, whose Emmy fixation is well known, are not happy tonight.
BEST: Regina King and her “Say Her Name” t-shirt
King, who is now a four-time Emmy winner, used her acceptance speech to tell America, “Have a voting plan. Vote up the ballot, please. Be a good human. RIP RBG.” She also wore a “Say Her Name” t-shirt to remind viewers that Breonna Taylor‘s killers have still not been brought to justice. She was, surprisingly, one of the few winners who took that opportunity.
WORST: All specific categories handed out in a row
In theory, it probably was done to create drama, but having all the Comedy, Limited Series and Drama Series categories one after another did the opposite. Viewers would have been wondering if “Schitt’s Creek,” “Watchmen” or “Succession” were really going to win if those categories were spread out. That’s why most awards telecast leaves a majority of the top honors to the end. Strange that the Emmys producers thought this was a better way to go.
WORST: “What have you been doing in quarantine” bit
This felt a little dated considering how long everyone the pandemic has been going on. And it was a sign that the show was about to go through a major lull of excitement. Although, it’s always good to see Bob Newhart is still going strong.
BEST: H.E.R. and In Memoriam
The Grammy-winner performed a cover of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” during the traditional In Memoriam. What an inspired choice in a year where Hollywood has lost so many. Having Chadwick Boseman close the montage was a surprise, but still moving.
BEST AND WORST: A “Friends” bit in 2020
I mean, it’s impressive Aniston got back home so quickly (with Jason Bateman in tow it seems), but a “Friends” bit? Cute, but, really?
The sheer joy when Zendaya won for Lead Actress in a Drama Series for “Euphoria” was, well, euphoric? The shock of Uzo Aduba taking Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or TV Movie! The double shock of Maria Schrader taking Directing for a Limited Series or TV Movie! Yahya Abdul-Mateen II pulling off Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or TV Movies! Julia Garner unexpectedly winning Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for “Ozark” again! The major surprises weren’t just limited to the “Schitt’s Creek” sweep and when the show was starting to drag, they certainly got the audience’s attention.