Almost everything about an award show is expected. The half-funny hosts, the sticky envelopes, the touching acceptance speeches, the constant montages. Audiences have come to recognize — and perhaps dread — these longstanding traits, which might explain why ratings have plummeted in recent years.
However, on Sunday night, we were given the 2020 Emmy Awards, an evening that not only celebrated the TV series that got us through this wretched year, but also championed diversity, inclusivity and originality. Yes, we were secretly wishing for technical chaos — there were 130-plus remote cameras feeding live into the Staples Center — but this year’s show cleverly provided viewers with unforeseen sights as nominees joined in from their living rooms, rooftops, yards and intimate cast parties amid the coronavirus pandemic and social distancing guidelines.
Deemed “The Pand-Emmys” by lackluster host Jimmy Kimmel, this year’s Emmys were like no other. Ditching the red carpet, it kicked off with the ever-present opening monologue, except instead of performing in front of a live audience, old footage of A-list crowds was interspersed with Kimmel’s dad jokes about COVID-19. Although the recycled laugh shots were oddly unacknowledged for the first few minutes, Kimmel eventually alerted clueless viewers at home: “Of course we don’t have an audience. This isn’t a MAGA rally, it’s the Emmys.”
Jason Bateman showed up in person, followed by Jennifer Aniston, who almost set the stage on fire during a sanitizing bit gone wrong.
It was 2020 in a nutshell.
From there, the show was just fun. It started out with “Schitt’s Creek” completing a historic sweep in the Comedy series section ― winning all four acting categories, as well as writing and directing for creator and star Daniel Levy. It then led into “Watchmen” wins for actors Regina King and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, director Damon Lindelof and writer Cord Jefferson. In the final hour, “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and “Succession” were awarded trophies, as was Zendaya, who, after being crowned the youngest ever Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, took the time to stand behind the youth of our country who are putting in the work.
The speeches were heartfelt, sometimes political and enlightening. King, in a Breonna Taylor shirt, urged viewers to vote, Mark Ruffalo asked people to fight for a loving and compassionate America, Jefferson acknowledged the importance of therapy, and Abdul-Mateen II gave a poignant tribute to all the Black women in his life.
Celebrities were vulnerable, steadfast and authentic. They kissed their spouses, hugged their dads and yelled for their moms. They sipped champagne in pajamas and clapped for their fellow nominees.
In case you missed it, the losers even got the opportunity to watch highly protected trophy runners wave goodbye with an Emmy when their names weren’t called.
The Emmys also provided us with a record number of nominations for Black creatives this year and awarded six of them during the primetime broadcast. King, Abdul-Mateen II, Jefferson, Zendaya, Uzo Aduba, RuPaul Charles and Tyler Perry joined the 15 fellow Black winners from the Creative Arts Emmys as the Television Academy zoned in on representation and inclusive storytelling. Throughout the night, vignettes from talents and storytellers like Issa Rae, Lena Waithe and America Ferrera shined a light on personal journeys and the struggle to make it in the industry. Their viewpoints are exactly what TV viewers need to hear in order to understand why certain stories are never shown on screen.
With the continuing pandemic, producers of the Emmys made sure to highlight and celebrate essential workers, giving them the chance to present awards in varying categories. Throughout the broadcast, $3 million was raised for the organization No Kid Hungry, which aims to end childhood hunger. The event mixed our quaran-times with the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, and it worked.
Maybe because we’ve been in lockdown, craving any sliver of joy and connection, it makes this year’s Emmys feel like a breath of fresh air. Some moments were uncomfortable, like Kimmel’s ICE joke or his awkward Black Lives Matter chant with Anthony Anderson. Others were tear-jerkers, like father-son duo Eugene and Dan Levy’s loving hug or Lindelof’s powerful comment on renewal.
In 2020, the Emmys, as cheesy and celebrity-driven as they are, made us put down our sourdough starters, our books and our burdens — and smile for a while. As an avid TV viewer, nothing felt better.