The Emmys Telecast Was a Cringe-Worthy, Tone-Deaf Embarrassment
From lackluster hosts Colin Jost and Michael Che to an unearned demand to be applauded for meager steps toward diversity and inclusion, this was the worst award show in years.
“Let’s give ourselves a hand!”
He really said that! It made me laugh.
He wanted accolades for this disaster. It made me laugh—and wonder just how tone-deaf this award show could possibly be. The answer presented itself, repeatedly, and with much unearned self-congratulation: very tone-deaf.
He is chairman of the Television Academy Hayma Washington, who came on stage right before the last act of a miserable Emmy Awards telecast, and repeated the night’s running theme: This, the 70th Emmy Awards, features the most diverse and inclusive group of nominees ever. Yet the tepid response he received—he had to literally cajole the crowd to applaud itself, a rarity for this industry—underscored everything woefully misguided about this Colin Jost and Michael Che-hosted outing, perhaps the worst-produced award show since James Franco and Anne Hathaway co-hosted the Oscars.
At a time when television and the entertainment industry possess a pulsing immediacy and more cultural and social value than perhaps at any time in recent history, how unfortunate for an award show celebrating TV to fail to produce any moment of perceptible value outside of letting us know that Betty White is doing OK. And there’s no more potent catalyst for the need to know that Betty White is alive and well than watching three hours of comedy’s new regime produce that Emmy Awards telecast.
It was a show that treated its progress in nomination diversity as a finish line, expecting the telecast to function as a victory lap, cheering for a job well done when it should have fired a starting gun for the work just getting started. Most confusingly, however, is how the show opened with what was supposed to be a self-aware joke about the fallacy of that exact attitude, the one it then seemed intent on parading around like a proud peacock.
The telecast began with a musical number featuring Kate McKinnon, Kenan Thompson, Tituss Burgess, Kristen Bell, Sterling K. Brown, Ricky Martin, John Legend, RuPaul, and Sandra Oh singing and joking that “we solved it,” the “it” being the TV industry’s lack of diversity.
The song wasn’t particularly sharp or tuneful, but it was mildly amusing and appealingly in on the joke. Sandra Oh, the first Asian Best Actress in a Drama Series nominee, was toasted by Thompson. “There were none, now there’s one!” he sang. “So we’re done!” McKinnon responded. The “One of Each Dancers,” checking every demographic box, performed.
Who knew that the middlingly successful bit would be the high point of energy and material for the show.
Making the entire opening and every presenter's banter about race and diversity became a more and more misguided decision with each passing category. It was 75 minutes into the show by the time the first person of color won, Regina King for the Netflix limited series Seven Seconds. By the end of the night, only one more performer of color would win, Thandie Newton for Westworld. Darren Criss, who is part Filipino, also won for his performance in The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story.
A near-sweep for the empowering Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and a big win for LGBTQ representation with RuPaul’s Drag Race’s first-ever Best Reality Competition victory deserve celebration. In fact, it might have been easier to swallow Atlanta’s shutout or the lack of diverse winners had the night not repeatedly begged to be patted on the back for its inclusivity, or had Jost or Che had a modicum of insight or energy in their otherwise lifeless and lazily written hosting bits.
There were bright spots. I counted exactly three of them. One of them, though—a surprise marriage proposal—was unplanned, so technically it may not count.
There were some good winners. Thandie Newton! Matthew Rhys! RuPaul’s Drag Race! But while I liked almost everyone who won an award, almost nobody I wanted to win or who I felt deserved to win actually won their categories.
That’s fine. That’s how these things go. Claire Foy is certainly award-worthy on The Crown, even if she is not Killing Eve’s Sandra Oh, just as it’s impossible not to love Godless’ Merritt Wever and Jeff Daniels, or Barry’s Henry Winkler and Bill Hader, or Game of Thrones and Peter Dinklage, even if they’re not Judith Light and Edgar Ramirez, or Tituss Burgess and Donald Glover, or The Americans and Matt Smith. (My picks in those categories.)
It’s not just about the awards, though. It’s about putting on a show. What a mistake, then, to rely on Jost and Che, whose shtick is a lackadaisical shrug, as the night’s emcees. By the time Saturday Night Live won the award for Best Variety Sketch Series by the end of the night, you couldn’t help but cringe. The telecast wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement for the talents of its head writers.
They weren’t popular choices to begin with. The duo tends to operate in a constant state of foot-in-mouth, and unapologetically at that.
In an interview previewing their hosting stint, for example, both Jost and Che dismissed the value of award shows. “I think most of the time they’re way too self-serious and focused on things that 99 percent of the country doesn’t care about,” Jost said. “At the end of the day, it’s adults getting trophies. Why should that be taken seriously? And remember when movies like Gladiator won Best Picture? Why can’t good, fun things win and not just good, artsy things? They’re both good and the fun ones are sometimes a lot harder to make.”
What if the hosts of a TV award show actually liked TV awards?
To that end, the telecast seemed to double as a persistent taunting of the audience. From that star-studded opening number, every time a new pairing of presenters came out—Tiffany Haddish and Angela Bassett, Maya Rudolph and Fred Armisen, Aidy Bryant and Bob Odenkirk, Leslie Jones and RuPaul, Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, Rick and Morty—it was as if we were being teased with hosts we would rather watch instead.
Since the Pulitzer Prize-winning Harvey Weinstein investigations first published, kickstarting the #MeToo movement, only men have hosted every major award show: the Golden Globes (Seth Meyers), the Oscars (Jimmy Kimmel), and now the Emmys. While we’re railing against tone-deafness, this is a decision that should be at the top of the list. As Buzzfeed’s Kate Aurthur tweeted Monday afternoon, bracing herself for Jost and Che’s emceeing, “Are there not binders full of women who might have been better hosts in this year of our lord, 2018?”
Che and Jost did tackle the #MeToo movement, as well as Trump and Roseanne Barr. Their groaners about #MeToo—the night is celebrating all the men “who haven’t been caught yet,” they joked—lacked the edge or the insight of Seth Meyers’ risky Globes set. Their delivery often bumbled. Their patter lacked any distinct chemistry. The material seemed phoned-in, like drafts meant to be workshopped that somehow ended up on the teleprompter.
Each time the pair came back onstage for another bit, their “we’re back” sounded increasingly like an apology rather than an introduction. And each time a more invigorated celebrity took the mic, you would fantasize about how the night could have gone a different way.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s Alex Borstein sneaking truth-bombs about bathroom etiquette and feminine comfort into the industry’s biggest night. RuPaul transforming the telecast into a rousing sermon about how “if you can’t love yourself then how the hell you gonna love somebody else?” Matthew Rhys spending three hours saying nice things to wife and co-star Keri Russell. Betty White, at age 96, still landing every goddamn punchline, even if she stumbles the set-up.
Or Nanette genius Hannah Gadsby expanding on a miraculous 90 seconds of presenter stage time that packed in more layered comedy and cultural resonance than the entire three-hour telecast. “Hashtag not all men but a lot of them” might be the best award show line of the year.
The evening was such an enraging slog that we’re reflexively bracing ourselves to be let down by the night’s impromptu emotional highlight, Oscars director Glenn Weiss proposing to his girlfriend while accepting his Emmy. It was genuinely moving and joyous, full of love so deeply felt in the room that it practically leaped through the TV. And I’m sure by the time I wake up in the morning something horrible will have been revealed about them and that moment will be ruined, too.
(Apropos of nothing, I love that the guy who made this live proposal was winning his award for directing an award show and therefore knew that he was probably throwing the control room into utter and complete chaos in doing so.)
Even the small details of the show, like the number of presenters who couldn’t properly pronounce the names of the winners, was irking. It’s disrespectful, and the job isn’t that hard. Literally learn to pronounce six names. Learn how to say “Brosnahan” and “Wever.”
The clips chosen to spotlight the nominees were random and bizarre, from moments that were not even jokes for comedy nominees—and too short to land even if they were—to the insane Twin Peaks scream that was literally the last moment of the series, presented with zero context.
More, it is the Emmys’ 70th anniversary and there was little navel-gazing pomp surrounding it, which is fine. But why the decision to instead generally mock and make fun of the ceremony’s history? This is hardly a problem exclusive to the Emmys but, while we’re venting, when will producers realize that live applause during the in memoriam segment is crass and undignified?
There have been lackluster Emmy telecasts before and there will be again. It’s just a disappointment given the opportunity there is now, as other recent award show moments and telecasts have proven, to galvanize, provoke, inspire, and lead the way to change with these shows. It’s not just about a trophy and a speech at a mic stand. It’s about a platform, a message, and representation.
But this year’s telecast seemed more designed to claim credit than it was to rally the work, led by hosts who couldn’t even energize the room enough to do that. We keep hearing how TV is better than it’s ever been. So shouldn’t a ceremony rewarding it be equally as good?