highs and lows

The Highs, Lows, and Whoas of the 2022 Emmy Awards

Photo: Getty Images, Shutterstock

Even the Emmys seem to know there’s too much TV. It was in the very text of the ceremony, with the president of the Television Academy telling viewers he knows they can’t keep up with all the great shows available on networks and streaming services. And so what we saw onstage tonight was more of a light skim of the surface of TV, a curated collection of winners mostly from shows that had already wiggled their way to the surface of the attention economy. Not that there weren’t a few surprises and some incredible speeches. But overall, there was a breathless quality to the whole affair: The audience was scattered at tables throughout a vast, awkwardly designed open room. The cameras seemed to skip between jarring angles. The speeches were rushed, and the music was … unexpected. Why was Zedd in charge of interrupting and playing off the best of TV? There’s no time to think about it, we have to get to the next thing, and the next thing, and the next.

WHOA: Jerrod Carmichael’s outfit. Was that actually Puff Daddy’s fur coat Rothaniel nominee Jerrod Carmichael wore to the Emmys? Regardless of its original owner, the chest-baring jacket made for the night’s most appreciably daring look, especially when contrasted with a certain ivory-suited sameness from nominees Andrew Garfield, Seth Rogen, and Nicholas Braun. They all looked nice enough! But Carmichael’s outfit was unapologetically swaggy in a way that felt appropriate after the sly boldness of his standup special and completely different from what anyone else wore. And you know what? Why not leave after you win, as Carmichael said he was going to do after accepting the award for Writing for a Variety Special? Ghosting after such a career high might be the ultimate power move.

LOW AND ALMOST HIGH BUT ULTIMATELY LOW: Someone thought, Hey, should we open with interpretative dance? Incredibly, everyone agreed! Kenan Thompson kicked off the night with a short stroll through the room’s cavernous audience space, declared himself the mayor of television, then walked onto a thin platform mid-room to perform a variety of interpretive dances set to TV theme songs. In some moments, it was strange enough to become wacky — the Law & Order theme was kind of fun? But starting with Friends was a tonal misfire, and as a whole, the opening segment needed to be about a million times weirder to make it actually work.

HIGH: Jennifer Coolidge behind Thompson, not quite getting his jokes. The decision to embrace club-style seating has the benefit of letting the host work the crowd more easily, which really played to Thompson’s strengths. He’s so good at making everyone in the giant disparate TV club feel as though they’re all friends hanging out! It also meant you could see all the celebrities sitting around him, appreciating his jokes to varying degrees. Notably, just behind him: Jennifer Coolidge, blissfully unaware of what was transpiring. A mesmerizing presence.

LOW: The continued neglect of Reservation Dogs and We Are Lady Parts. Before handing out Outsanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series to the incredibly deserving Sheryl Lee Ralph, the Emmys presented a montage of various comedy series both nominated this year and not, including Hacks, Ted Lasso, Bob’s Burgers, The Afterparty, and Girls5eva. And yet no acknowledgment for FX on Hulu’s Reservation Dogs or Peacock’s We Are Lady Parts, two of the best comedies of 2021 per our rankings? What must we do to get the Emmys to pay attention to our favorite little shows? And then Television Academy chairman and CEO Frank Scherma had the nerve to mention both series in a speech he gave about the importance of showcasing various perspectives in our current “platinum” age of TV? Sir, the hypocrisy!

LOW: The aggressive play-off music. It seemed the guiding directive to the nominees was to keep things snappy at the podium, so much so that some of the winners (including Julia Garner) could pre-submit thank yous to agents, etc. We support keeping the show speeding along, but you’re really going to cut off Matthew Macfadyen in the midst of shouting out his wife, Keeley Hawes? The Keeley Hawes?

HIGH: Pre-submitted speeches so the winners could thank all their people via chyron without having to read the whole list out loud. It took some getting used to, but on balance the idea worked well: Winners could get right to the emotion without worrying they’d left out some crucial producer or publicist.

LOW: Not everyone submitted information for their winner chyrons. It made the people who did do it look chintzier, which was the opposite of what the plan seemed designed to do. It’s a nice idea, but with such inconsistent application, it made an already scattered show feel more uneven.

WHOA: Holy shit, Sheryl Lee Ralph. If the point of pre-submitted thank yous was that Ralph could get up on the stage and deliver a moment like this, then the chyrons were worth it every time. Every time! Ralph appeared stunned at her win and took a moment behind the microphone, when it seemed as if she’d deliver a speech in the nice but familiar “shocked and humbled” awards ceremony vein. Instead, Ralph began belting Dianne Reeves’s “Endangered Species”: “I am an endangered species,” she sang, “but I sing no victim’s song.” At the end, Thompson attempted to throw back to Lizzo to continue the show, but for a moment, she could only sit there in awe.

HIGH: Selena Gomez joining her plus-twos Steve Martin and Martin Short onstage. No, Gomez (wrongly) didn’t get a nod for her work on Only Murders in the Building despite being as key to the trio as nominees Martin and Short. The three presenting the award for Outstanding Variety Talk Series offered a charming reminder of how much Only Murders relies on the chemistry between all of them.

HIGH: Jennifer Coolidge going full Jennifer Coolidge during her speech. Obviously, she did not submit a list of names for the chyron, obviously she was flustered, obviously she started with a joke about getting recently bloated from a lavender bath, and obviously she turned her attempt to rush through her thank yous into high-comedy art. She even danced while they started to play her off. Which …

LOW: The Emmys playing off Jennifer Coolidge: How dare you, Zedd!(He was the DJ. Why was he the DJ?)

HIGH: Lizzo breaks the Competition Program hegemony with a win for Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls. In the past decade or so, the Competition Program winners have exclusively been a few series: The Voice, The Amazing Race, Top Chef, and RuPaul’s Drag Race. It’s gotten monotonous — a larger issue with the Emmys overall — but Lizzo’s Prime Video series, about a group of women trying out to be her touring backup dancers, is joyful and legitimately fresh in its refusal to eliminate competitors in the traditional week-to-week sense. The recognition here is a welcome change of pace.

LOW: Not letting announcer Sam Jay be herself. Sam Jay is remarkably good at connecting with people. Her HBO series is all about her ability to be weird and charismatic in delightful, unexpected ways. Her voice alone is so fun to listen to! She’s a great choice for announcer! But sticking her way up in the rafters where she can’t interact with anyone is not the best use of her talents.

WHOA: Zedd’s music choices throughout this ceremony. Nothing has divided the Vulture slack more than Zedd’s fully unhinged selections. “Baby Love” as a choice to introduce Mindy Kaling and B.J. Novak — shady, Zedd! Letting the Ernst & Young accountants say exactly two words before playing “Hit the Road Jack”? Pretty good! But sometimes you want gravitas — Kool & the Gang makes that pretty hard. Then you get picks like “Whatta Man” for Jason Sudeikis. Did you have to lay it on that thick, Zedd?

HIGH: Mike White, now terrified of being voted off the island. The man has watched and participated in too much Survivor to not be aware of his threat level after this much acclaim. Congrats on the self-awareness about the amount of pressure you’ve put on season two.

HIGH: It’s a Good Burger reunion! Kumail Nanjiani doing a bit about being the award show’s honorary bartender was fine and probably could’ve been cut a little. But Thompson turning to a guest at the bar and discovering Kel Mitchell, his co-star from Kenan & Kel? Thompson’s entire face lit up! It was the best.

LOW: “Here’s two cops nobody wants to see defunded.” A copaganda skit incorporating the Law & Order and Chicago franchises, The Rookie, and NCIS but no Emmy nominations for George Pelecanos and David Simon’s limited series We Own This City, which actually dared to interrogate how their prior series, The Wire, engaged in these same tropes? All so Benson and Stabler could, for the millionth time, pretend to kiss? Dick Wolf can’t keep getting away with this! (He will keep getting away with this.)

HIGH: Regina Hall sneaking a “shit” past the FCC. Further evidence of the sort of masterful comedic timing that made her a highlight of this year’s Oscars telecast (hint, hint, Emmys).

WHOA: There are that many Hughs in Hollywood? I hadn’t thought about it until Paul Walter Hauser listed them while mocking Taron Egerton’s accent, but Hugh Dancy and Hugh Grant and Hugh Laurie and Hugh Jackman? Hauser didn’t mention Hugh Bonneville, but Papa Paddington / Daddy Downton is part of this Commonwealth realm crew, too. No more Hughs, please! We are full up!

HIGH: Okay, fine, it is funny to play “(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty” while Jesse Armstrong wins an Emmy for Succession. You win this one, Zedd.

HIGH: Lee Jung-jae wins for Squid Game. It’s nice to know that in some cases, we do live in a world where a fantastic non-English-language performance from a surprise-sensation show can win Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series.

WHOA: For Severance and Yellowjackets, an honor just to be nominated. Two of the buzziest new series of last year collected an array of nods — 14 for Severance and seven for Yellowjackets — but no wins. That doesn’t dampen our excitement for their respective second seasons as long as there is more defiant jazz and adolescent cannibalism. Until then, maybe more people will be inspired by Thompson to figure out how to watch Showtime!

HIGH: Pete Davidson’s sincerity. “This is just like SNL: Kenan’s doing all the work, and I’m refusing to say what the writers want.” Bless Pete with his bleached hair, in sunglasses he refused to take off, for knowing exactly who he is and also for knowing that Thompson has been a TV treasure for many decades. We are lucky!

LOW: After a lively show, the final awards feel lackluster. Hacks? Ted Lasso? Zendaya? Florals for spring? Groundbreaking. It’s hard to ask the closing half-hour of any show to live up to the highs of Ralph or to right the ship after “two cops nobody wants to see defunded.” Still, it did feel like an awards show full of pleasant surprises and occasionally bizarre energy eventually reverted back to safe, predictable choices for the biggest awards of the night. At this point, the dominance of Jean Smart is a foregone conclusion, and yes, she certainly deserves to be celebrated. But wouldn’t it have been more fun to give that award to Issa Rae? Or Elle Fanning for The Great? Yes, we all love Succession. (Have you seen what Vulture looks like during Succession weeks?) But Better Call Saul is just out there. Abbott Elementary should have swept more of the comedy awards. Predictable Emmy wins are hardly a shock, but we continue to live in hopes of a brighter future where more Emmys voters have a chance to watch Yellowjackets and Reservation Dogs and shower awards on Rhea Seehorn.

LOW: Give What We Do in the Shadows an Emmy. Have you not been watching, Emmy voters? Do you need a Hulu login? We can lend you one!

LOW: Aside from the briefest of red-carpet appearances, no Matt Berry the entire night. Very disappointing.

The Highs, Lows, and Whoas of the 2022 Emmy Awards