Arts and Entertainment

The Virtual Emmys: New, but Not Improved

A look at where the Primetime Emmy Awards succeeded, where it failed, and everything in between.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

While quarantining since March, I’ve found myself with more time than I usually would during the school year. And, among other things, I’ve spent a good portion of my time watching television. Constantly rotating between Netflix, Hulu, and regular cable TV, I reminisced on reruns and laughed during a time when it was hard to find joy. So you could imagine my delight when it was announced that the Emmys were happening this year. Though it would be run differently, I was elated that the awards show was still happening. As an avid viewer of award ceremonies, I wondered how the producers would pull this off. And, after watching the night, I can confidently say that despite their best efforts, the Emmys was underwhelming and paled in comparison to the in-person event.

The night began at 8:00 p.m. with Jimmy Kimmel, the night’s host, walking up to the front of the stage. Cameras panned to what seemed like a surprisingly full house cheering for him from the seats. Yet, after a few comedic one-liners and some comments about the impact of television in his monologue, Kimmel saw himself in the “audience” and revealed that he was essentially the only one there. The Staples Center was dark and empty, and the seats were only filled by select cardboard cutouts (and Jason Bateman). The clips that were expertly inserted seconds ago were actually clips from previous Emmys. “Of course we don’t have an audience,” Kimmel responds. “This isn’t a MAGA rally; it’s the Emmys!” With the exception of a few celebrities who came to present awards, the majority of the nominees were sitting on their couches at home accepting awards via Zoom.

The night featured a few celebrities who came to the venue and either presented awards or were part of the script. Jennifer Aniston, Zendaya, and Laverne Cox attended the actual event on Sunday. Each celebrity had unique segments in which they performed their own little skit. Aniston, for one, made an appearance twice, with her first appearance attempting to make fun of the disinfection we have consistently been doing due to the pandemic. Jason Sudeikis, who presented the Outstanding Comedy Series Emmy, even took a COVID-19 test while reading out the winner. Even without face-to-face interaction, these celebrities tried to keep the Emmys as fun and engaging as possible.

Unfortunately, the Emmys didn’t live up to the expectations that most hoped for. Looking at the nominations, it didn’t help that “Schitt’s Creek” (2015 - 2020) swept the comedy series category, making the category reveal very predictable and anticlimactic. “Succession” (2015 - now) was another big winner of the night, taking many awards in the drama category. The biggest mistake of the Emmys, in my opinion, was the jokes involving the coronavirus in some way. In his opening monologue, Kimmel made the valid point that throughout quarantine, watching more television was almost mandatory for many, including myself. But my favorite part about the Emmys used to be being able to sit there for “television’s greatest night” and laugh. And after hearing excessive COVID jokes, I wasn’t having fun. And a quintessential part of the Emmys is the views of the audience and the nominees, waiting in anticipation to see who gets the award. Though the Emmys were virtual, it would have been nice to see everyone, even the people nominated for smaller categories. Some moments felt rushed, while others felt excessively long, so by keeping things more consistent, it could have been a more interpersonal experience.

Don’t get me wrong—I didn’t hate the Emmys. There were, indeed, some moments that were really nice to see. After Aniston’s appearance at Staples Center, she rushed back home in time for her own category. While talking to Kimmel on Zoom, two familiar faces came to the screen: Courtney Cox and Lisa Kudrow, who starred with Aniston on the sitcom “Friends” (1994 - 2004), and the three swore that they were roommates, just like they were 26 years ago. And Zendaya, the winner of the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series Emmy for her performance in “Euphoria” (2019 - now), made history as the youngest winner of the category at 24. The “In Memoriam” segment of the Emmys was also very touching, paying respect to the many actors, producers, and directors who passed away this year, including Naya Rivera, Regis Philbin, and Chadwick Boseman. And the Governor’s award was bestowed upon Tyler Perry, whose work as an actor and producer (think the “Madea” movies) was revolutionary yet consistently excluded from other award shows. He shared a powerful anecdote from his childhood in his speech, which was a great addition to the night.

The Emmys was a night full of mediocre jokes, repetitive themes, and tons of inconsistencies. Since they are the first of the four big awards ceremonies to conduct their awards show with serious adjustments due to the pandemic (with the Oscars and Grammys in January and February and the Tonys postponed to a later date), I will cut them some slack. “A for effort,” as the saying goes. But if there were one phrase I would use to describe the experience, it would be okay but not memorable. I’m just hoping that the next time the Emmys comes around, we will be watching a full Staples Center with a live audience, really applauding.