Four months late and coming off the heels of two strikes, an awkward Golden Globes and the Critics Choice Awards, there perhaps weren’t many expectations leading into the 75th Primetime Emmys. When actor Anthony Anderson was announced as the host, it seemed like a safe albeit humdrum choice — until news of past sexual assault allegations against the actor began to resurface and go viral, and what had seemed tame became something more unsettling. Yet despite the Anderson controversy, the Television Academy surprised viewers and attendees by delivering a delightful Emmys, honoring classic TV and its legends, while celebrating the shows we love and revere now.
Anderson opened the Emmys with a clever spoof of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” and honored several shows and their iconic theme songs — practically a lost art in television today. The “Black-ish” and “Law & Order” alum hit the nail on the head in a pleasingly brief and to the point seven-minute opener that included singing, references to the late Norman Lear and a quick drum set by Travis Barker. It would have been flawless except for a joke between Anderson and his mom, which was used as a “wrap-it-up” bit that got increasingly cringy as the show pressed forward.
Still, the mother-son banter was one of the only genuinely unappealing aspects of the Emmys. Presenters included everyone from Christina Applegate to the incomparable Carol Burnett. There were well-curated, beautifully staged celebrations of acclaimed shows, including “The Sopranos,” which celebrated its 25th anniversary this year and “Martin,” a show that never got the recognition it deserved. It was fabulous to see these distinguished casts reunite all these years later.
The Emmys also boasted a few brilliant intergenerational connections as presenters, such as Joan Collins and Taraji P. Henson. Quinta Brunson and the legendary Marla Gibbs even discussed the wage gap before presenting the Emmy for a actress in a limited series. The award went to Niecy Nash-Betts, who took the time to honor unheard brown and Black women, naming Breonna Taylor and her “Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” character, Glenda Cleveland. Nash-Betts also thanked herself for persevering in a notoriously challenging industry for Black women.
When it came to acceptance speeches, most winners kept it short, quippy and sweetly emotional. “Abbott Elementary” creator Quinta Brunson, who won for actress in a comedy series, was so overwhelmed she could barely speak. However, Fox and the producers thought far enough ahead to use a title screen to list the people Brunson wanted to thank on the screen. During RuPaul’s acceptance speech for reality competition for the long-running “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” he referenced book bans and the attacks on the LGBTQ community, which continue to permeate across the country. Paul Walter Hauser, who won for supporting actor in a limited series for his role in “Black Bird,” delivered his speech in a perfectly flowing rap.
The show moved swiftly along, almost as if folks were hurrying to get somewhere else. (Considering the shot of the many empty seats in Los Angeles’ Peacock Theater, quite a few people seemed to be milling around.) Despite the affable nature of the crowd, the Writers Guild and SAG-AFTRA strikes that brought the film and television industries to a halt for months last year were not overlooked. Just over an hour into the program, “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver” writer Sofia Manfredi referenced the strikes during one of that show’s wins, and thanked the WGA for sticking beside the writers and getting them a fair deal.
Hollywood has historically received backlash for its lack of diversity and inclusivity. However, during its 75th year and on what would have been Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 95th birthday, the Emmys and the Television Academy showcased how distinct and multifaceted our society is. More than just the “Chocolate Emmys,” as Anderson said in jest, the program not only honored a plethora of non-white producers, writers, directors and performers, but the Governers Award went to GLAAD, the non-profit organization focusing on ensuring fair and accurate representation of the LGBTQ community in the media.
Beautifully paced and well thought out, with Elton John achieving EGOT status, there weren’t many surprises in the ceremony — though “The Bear” did prevail over “Ted Lasso” for comedy series.
Still, the heartfelt tone and attention to detail made the 75th Primetime Emmys a joy to watch. If Jesse Collins Entertainment wished to produce a flawless awards show, they got pretty damn close.