2022 Emmy Awards: Review – Deadline


Ariana DeBose was in the house, but the Emmys tonight were no Tony Awards.

Not that the 74th Primetime Emmy Awards were lousy; they were certainly not. However, bereft of the real razzle dazzle of Broadway’s big show back in June and the seemingly inexhaustible exuberance of Oscar-winning host DeBose, the Kenan Thompson-fronted show on Monday made the small screen feel just that bit smaller in its lack of real ambition.

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Already diminished after this year’s broadcaster NBC moved the ceremony to Monday (again) to keep its high-stakes season opener of Sunday Night Football on schedule, the uneven 2022 Emmys never really found its own unique voice or footing, to put it bluntly.

Let’s be clear: Avoiding the glaring mishaps that have befuddled the Oscars and other awards shows of late, tonight’s ceremony was a thoroughly acceptable awards show. Perhaps it is the tone of the times we live in — where every day leaves many of us exhausted — that caused the 2022 Emmys choose stability as its North Star. Unfortunately, in going for the middle of the road, the result ended up simply lacking exceptionalism – which is a missed and opportunity with the quality of talent in the room.

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Having said that, the heart-stopping Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series acceptance song and speech by Sheryl Lee Ralph certainly set a new standard of excellence and passion for award shows across the board. Putting most of the Abbott Elementary actress’ shout-outs on the lower third of the screen and others might not be to everyone’s taste, yet as a method to save time and soothe egos, it was an inspired move to by producers Reginald Hudlin, Ian Stewart and Jen Neal. Why it wasn’t evenly applied is a mystery that gave off an ad hoc taint.

The big victories for Quinta Brunson’s Abbott Elementary, Dopesick’s Michael Keaton, HBO’s The White Lotus and Succession, AppleTV+’s Ted Lasso, Netflix’s Squid Game and Ozark’s Julia Garner, now-two-time-winner Zendaya, Lizzo, Hacks‘ Jean Smart, The Dropout’s Amanda Seyfried, and Jarrod Carmichael had the mix of surprise, anticipation and encores any awards show would hope for. Yet, back in full in-person form for the first time since 2019, for all the smooth moves, the Emmys spent too much time tripping over its own feet tonight.

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A top-hatted and self-described “mayor of television” Thompson started off the show strolling around the crowd, sarcastically praising the medium as the “greatest invention in the history of mankind.” The Saturday Night Live vet also took a swipe at agents’ commissions and needlessly bemoaned the lack of literature consumed by his fellow thespians. Then the high-stepping TV theme songs musical number started, and somewhere between Friends, The Brady Bunch, the latest season of Stranger Things and Game of Thrones — and dressing Thompson up in barely-glimpsed costumes — the show stumbled.

What exactly was the 2022 Emmys trying to be? Because, tying to be all things to all people is spreading yourself way too thin and ands up pleasing few in the end, as many an Oscar, Grammy and past Emmy show has shown.

Now, full points to returning producers Hudlin, and Stewart and newbie Neal for bringing Oprah on as the first presenter, and for once again trying to break down physical barriers with stages and tables set all over L.A.’s Microsoft Theater. For all those bullseyes, there were shots that missed the board altogether. Case in point: You can take all the digs at Netflix’s coffers and Showtime’s placement on the dial you want, but burying an opening monologue by any other name deep into the first portion of the shindig turns off almost all the heat and much of the spotlight.

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Part of the overarching dilemma facing the production is that — just like when NBC had the Emmys back in 2018 — tonight saw a SNL cast member hosting. Another part of the shortchanging tonight was that there was only one SNL cast member hosting.

A past Emmy winner for his SNL work and a 2021 nominee for his now-canceled sitcom Kenan, borderline national treasure Thompson is a quintessential team player, not really a leading man. To play to his many strengths, he needed a foil.

Of course, NBC is going to put one of its own center stage when it is their time to host the Emmys, and, of course, finding anyone to take on the hosting gig of any award show nowadays is a hard slog. So with all that in mind, when fellow SNLer Bowen Yang showed up onstage with Thompson for a beat to mock Will Smith’s infamous on-air slap of Chris Rock at the Oscars, the two-hander that should have been was regrettably clear as day. If only a bit more imagination had been applied.

But maybe that’s for another day.

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All week there have been not-so-quiet whispers from NBC insiders that they expect diminished ratings and viewership for tonight’s Emmys. For a network still weighing whether to get back in business with the hobbled Golden Globes next year, the results from tonight’s Emmys might be a barometer of sorts. Granted, NBC has to wait another four years before it is lumbered with the Emmys again, and who knows if the ceremony will have been bought up by a streamer by 2026 or permanently moved to Wednesday, where it won’t face football. If the Big Four rotation stays the same, tonight could be the inflection point where NBC searches its soul to see if a deeper investment in award shows is in its future or not.

Part of that consideration has to be the general decline in the attraction of awards shows. Specifically to tonight’s show, there’s also the Monday thing, and there’s the fact that the season opener of on ABC and ESPN had a hard-fought NFL battle between the hometown Seattle Seahawks and the nationally followed Denver Broncos, who were for the first time tonight fronted by former Seahawks QB Russell Wilson. Outside of that, there’s the hard fact that with the exception of ABC’s sublime Abbott Elementary, the networks have no skin in the game this year when it comes to the major categories.

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As one wise man said to me earlier today: “NBC is essentially stuck showing a three-hour promo for HBO and Netflix.” Toss in a dollop of Hulu, are and you have the primary food groups of the contemporary small screen.

With all those competing contexts, it wouldn’t be unfair to postulate that the network and the producers of tonight’s Emmys decided to put down a mitigating marker. Hoping to underpromise and thereby overdeliver, its aim appears to be to have put on a decent three-hour show as opposed to putting on an extravaganza.

The 2022 Emmys partially won that award.

Fair enough, but not a ton of fun.


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