Thank God for the winners at last night’s 71st Primetime Emmys, who could be relied upon to inject all the humor, charm and entertainment value to a Fox telecast that might represent a nadir point for awards shows unwitnessed since Rob Lowe sang a song with Snow White at the Oscars. Wouldn’t you have rather watched that number again than endured Maya Rudolph and Ike Barinholtz’s completely excruciating LASIK gag? This year’s hostless Emmys misfired whenever they weren’t handing out trophies. No wonder the ratings are circling the drain. Here are some of the high- and lowlights.
Best Use of an Awards Show Podium
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Before get to the lowlights, let’s start with a note of positivity. While the speeches were, for the most part, a parade of thank-yous, last night’s show did, at least, have the good grace not to play off any of the winners midstream. They would have struggled to anyway — there was no live orchestra — but the show proved that drowning out a winner’s moment of triumph with loud music really doesn’t do much to speed up its runtime — a lesson the Oscars really needs to learn.
Instead, then, we were treated to a stirring speech from Michelle Williams, who gave a masterclass in how to be grateful for a win, appreciative to the people who put her there and determined in making a point. “The next time that a woman — especially a woman of color because she stands to make 52 cents on the dollar compared to her male white counterpart — tells you what she needs in order to do her job,” Williams said, “listen to her, believe her, because one day she may stand in front of you and say thank you for allowing her to succeed because of her workplace environment and not in spite of it.”
Most Bizarre Red Carpet Interview
Terrence Howard was expected to take a bow for the final season of Empire. However, rather than talk up the Fox drama, the actor revealed that he has made some of his own personal scientific discoveries. On the red carpet, he said that he was “able to open up the flower of life properly” and said that on Tuesday, when he receives his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, he’s going to “be able to prove that gravity is only an effect and not a force … going to build the Milky Way galaxy without gravity.” Yeah, we have no idea either.
Worst Attempt to Cross-Promote
Given its Season 1 finale scored in the ratings, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Fox saw last night’s show as a great opportunity to spotlight the impending return of The Masked Singer, its how-did-we-get-to-this-dark-place reality competition in which semi-famous chanteurs compete in anonymity beneath colorful masks. But Fox redefined the phrase “heavy-handed” with a sweep of promo for the show that must have put off as many viewers as it turned on.
It started on the red carpet, with panellist Jenny McCarthy co-hosting the preshow (and, for reasons best known to Ms. McCarthy, wearing two belts). They then paraded the costumes for the show down the carpet, and given the temperatures hit the 90s on Sunday, it was hard not to wonder whether any human rights had been violated for the poor souls inside the sweltering suits. It was only downhill from here, as more and more references made their way into the telecast. It was as graceful as a steamroller in a kitten sanctuary.
Best Recognition of British Superiority
As Deadline’s international ranks bolster with the hiring of ever more Brits — just today we added another — it would be hard not to salute the fact that half of last night’s awards went to British talent. “This is getting ridiculous,” said Phoebe Waller-Bridge, of the haul of gold she had accumulated by the evening’s end. There were four awards for her Fleabag and one for Jodie Comer’s turn on Killing Eve, a show also created by Waller-Bridge, as well as a cadre of prizes unrelated to Waller-Bridge’s clear dominion over television in 2019.
Of course, it was all extremely British. Ben Whishaw, collecting for Best Supporting Actor in a Limited Series for A Very English Scandal, apologized for being hungover. Charlie Brooker bemoaned that his win for Black Mirror’s interactive episode would make him a hypocrite for telling his kids to put away their devices.
As if Whishaw’s hangover apology wasn’t enough, the Brits really leaned into the constant cultural need to say sorry. Comer shouted out her mom and dad, who she hadn’t brought to the show because she didn’t think it would be her year to win. Meanwhile, Fleabag director Harry Bradbear, joining the gang onstage again for the Comedy Series win, apologized for forgetting to thank his wife when he won the Directing prize. “We’ve had a very difficult hour,” he quipped.
Most Nuclear Performance
As the Brits cleaned up, and Fleabag grabbed most of those headlines, there was a nod to British producer Jane Featherstone, who produced Chernobyl through her Sister Pictures firm. She was over the moon that such a European story could break through at the Emmys. Meanwhile, writer Craig Mazin used his speech to recognize the “value of the truth and the danger of the lie,” and Johan Renck, who previously was a popstar under the moniker Stakka Bo, gave props to the team. “Phoebe, you are not the only one who has a family, because I have the Chernobyl family and my family is better than your family, OK?” he joked.
Worst Use of the Bleeper
Under the guise of bleeping a swear word, the Fox telecast managed to cut the mic from Succession victor Jesse Armstrong, who made a rare political gag last night when he said, in reference to his win, “Maybe you should have a think about immigration restrictions on [shithole countries].” Given Succession draws thinly veiled inspiration from the travails of the Murdoch family, it was hard for viewers not to wonder if there was an ulterior motive at play.
There was much competition in this space, given RuPaul’s Drag Race win, but Billy Porter was the fiercest as he accepted his acting award in the lead series category for his performance on Pose. Becoming the first openly-gay black man to win in the category, Porter, clad in a sparkly outfit with a massive hat, quoted James Baldwin, saying, “It took many years of vomiting up all the filth I’d been taught about myself, and half-believed, before I was able to walk on the earth as though I had a right to be here.”
Worst Moment of Self-Reflection
With an opening skit that leaned into the absence of a host with an evolving string of attempts to find one, the actual hosts in the room spent the evening making gags about the lack of an emcee. The trouble was, as moment after scripted moment fell totally flat, the bruised-ego back-and-forth between Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel about the importance of hosts read more like commentary than comedy. “I’m sorry,” said Kimmel, “but this show sucks.”
James Corden, meanwhile, offered the audience a chance to vote: Did they want to see him get straight to the winner, or read the pre-roll gags he had been provided. It was the greatest landslide for the former since James Monroe was re-elected president without contest in 1820.
Even Voice of God Thomas Lennon got in on the show-baiting action, but few noticed. We were too busy trying to drown out his cringeworthy one-liners as winners tripped down the aisles to reach the stage.
Broadest Emmy Win Speech
A salute to the two acting winners from The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Tony Shalhoub went on a bit in which he pretended to forget the names of creators Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino. Alex Borstein, meanwhile, picking up her award for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series, went from revealing she had gone commando in her dress to urging women to “step out of line” like her grandmother did during the Holocaust.