For months I have been kept awake at night, completely stressed out by trying to figure out how we're going to do the Emmys and whether it will feel underwhelming if we give Regina King her Watchmen Emmy over FaceTime or something. And I say "we" despite the fact that I have nothing to do with Emmy adjudication or production, but I do care deeply. Well, I have good news and bad news. The good news is we figured out how to do the Emmys live but virtually on September 20th. The bad news is now we have to figure out how to create a whole separate Emmy ceremony for Regina King and the rest of the cast from the one-night-only Zoom reading of an episode of The Golden Girls called "The Flu." Our work never ends.
In the half-hour live reading that was broadcast over Zoom on Tuesday night, King played Dorothy Zbornak, Tracee Ellis Ross portrayed the pride of St. Olaf Rose Nylund, Sanaa Lathan vamped it up as Blanche Devereaux, Alfre Woodard invited us to "picture it" as Sophia Petrillo, Jesse Williams played a variety of male snacks, and I portrayed myself ascending directly to heaven. Over the course of quarantine, I have watched many Zoom readings, I have participated in many Zoom readings, I have heard about even more Zoom readings; I am not yet certain that I like Zoom readings of TV shows, movies or plays. That said, Zoom readings are the thing that brought me the inimitable Alfre Woodard in a silver-white Kris Jenner-cut wig, telling a ridiculous story about the invention of pesto so I think it's fair to say I love Zoom readings.
I loved the Zoom Where It Happens. And my man Aaron made THEEE Most outta his appearance. pic.twitter.com/NDXcllx39a
— Jojo Pada (@ignitionPR) September 9, 2020
The event, which narrator Lena Waithe was quick to point out was not a reboot of the series and would not be a weekly thing, alas, was part of an initiative by a group of civically engaged Black women working under the moniker Zoom Where It Happens. Normally, I am opposed to using Hamilton references for non-Hamilton purposes (John Bolton, please report to the principal's office), but I will allow it in this case. The evening, though free to watch, benefited Colors of Change and included pre- and post-reading informative segments on the 2020 Census. My favorite part of those segments was when Tracee Ellis Ross spoke directly to Black members of the audience and assumed us the Census would not adversely affect us despite the fact that "we've been duped by the government before." Apparently we've reached the point of quarantine where we just fire up the webcam and tell the truth! As much as I loved the Golden Girls episode, I'd watch half an hour of Tracee and Alfre shouting out strategies for circumventing government conspiracies.
Maybe next time. The reading, directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, found the women preparing for an awards banquet for volunteerism when Blanche, Dorothy, and Rose are felled by a flu virus. They spend much of the episode convalescing while a still-well Sophia prepares to go solo but then they rally late in the game when news comes that one of them is likely to receive the award. It's your standard, funny Golden Girls episode full of those actions immortalized by Blu Cantrell in "Breathe": breaking up and making up.
What made the episode great, however, was a deft marriage of a solid sitcom script, seasoned artists, and the utter freewheeling chaos that comes from trying to do a reading over Zoom. Some highlights:
Despite a random Dr. Fauci reference, the episode didn't go to great lengths to place us in a time period. From the sound of things, it could have been happening in the late-1980s or today. But from the look? We were treated to full Dynasty-era realness with a collection of wigs straight from the Diahann Carroll collection. Each wig was a masterpiece that brought together character specificity with the performers' own style. Sanaa Lathan giving Southern belle in a breezy sandy brown blowout and an animal print top is the stuff of dreams. Give her an Emmy!
Speaking of the animal print top, the costumes worked just as hard as the wigs to bring the reading to life while also nudging it a little closer to the present. A highlight of the night occurred just after the first scene, which found the foursome in bright patterned tops (I was a little sad not to see Regina King in a Dorothy-brand caftan, but I suppose I'll live). In the break, the flu takes over and the next scene finds them all in bathrobes, convalescing. Lathan, King, and Ross didn't quite have enough time for their costume change during the speedy blackout, which produced what can only be described as panicked squeaks from the un-muted actresses. I deeply love the commitment to craft that comes from spiraling about not getting into a bathrobe in time. Extra credit goes to Lathan who also made sure to wipe off her lipstick and take off her earrings as the scene progressed, fully committing to "ill but still fresh-to-death" Blanche.
Later, when the women rally and attend the banquet, all four cast members changed again, this time into evening wear. EVENING WEAR FOR A ZOOM READING! Hello Emmys? We're dressed and already started; please log on whenever you can.
These amazing actors took on a classic episode of the #GoldenGirls and they nailed it. How awesome was it that @LenaWaithe could barely keep from laughing?? ❤️❤️❤️#ZoomWhereItHappens #2020Census #ThankYouForBeingAFriend pic.twitter.com/khl7P2mnqq
— Jim Slattery 🏳️🌈 🇺🇸 🦄 (@JimSlatteryDC) September 9, 2020
Ross's Zoom screen was supposed to go off before the scene so that she could make the change and when it didn't, the actress, who seemed to be having the time of her life, just leaned over slowly until she was out of the frame. Give her an Emmy for physical comedy in a virtual forum!
Sophia Petrillo has always been a near-perfect character, a comic foil to her trio of younger roommates and a zany raconteur with enough Old World stories to go toe-to-toe with Rose. Estelle Getty's Emmy-winning take on the character needs no improvement, but somehow fellow Emmy winner Alfre Woodard brought something totally new to the familiar role. Now why was I surprised by this? This is THE Alfre Woodard who is going to serve it to you hot, fresh, and innovative every single time. While she's adept, and possibly best known, for dramatic roles like Eunice Evers in Miss Evers' Boys and Mariah Dillard in Luke Cage, Woodard has shown brilliant comic chops for years in Heart and Souls, the Lifetime remake of Steel Magnolias, and again last night, wrapped in a thick fur stole and an even thicker New York accent. She is a treasure. A TREASURE, I SAY. Give her the Emmy for this and at the ceremony let her also pick up the Oscar she's owed for Clemency.
No all-Black Golden Girls evening would be complete without Aaron Scott's gospel-infused, riff-heavy remix of the classic theme song and Zoom Where It Happens didn't disappoint, broadcasting a video of Scott belting to open and close the reading while the cast danced along.
— Wʏɴᴛᴇʀ Mɪᴛᴄʜᴇʟʟ (Rᴏʜʀʙᴀᴜɢʜ) (@wyntermitchell) September 9, 2020
If you had said to me six months ago "The only redeemable part of the summer will actually happen after Labor Day when four of our best Black actresses will get on a virtual platform you've never heard of and giggle their way through an episode of The Golden Girls in an effort to get you to fill out the Census," I would have said "Okay, sure," because I don't like conflict. But I would not have known it was exactly what I wanted and needed until I was actually in the Zoom where it happened (Oh! I get the reference now!).
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