Hooray, Abbott Elementary! Yay, Squid Game! Dance numbers, noooooooo!

A dance remix of the Brady Bunch theme song: Who asked for this, why did they want it, where can we imprison them? The 74th Emmy Awards were a special shambles immediately, when the night started with (sigh) dance numbers set to (sigh) classic TV theme songs. "That's the Game of Thrones, bitches!" declared host Kenan Thompson, closing out the unfunny choreography in a Daenerys wig. Targaryen hair as a punch line would've felt late in 2012, when Game of Thrones was only two seasons old and Thompson had only been on Saturday Night Live for 78 years. His whole thing is longevity, so maybe you're inclined to forgive all the ring-a-ding one-liners. Zendaya is 26, which is "too old to date Leonardo DiCaprioooooo." Oof. "Put a little Ice-T in your lemonade." Oof oof.

Host Kenan Thompson performs onstage during the 74th Primetime Emmys
Emmys 2022 host Kenan Thompson performs a musical number
| Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

All awards shows are too much lately. Nothing is ever just an auditorium. The big concept here was SCREENS, as in NEVER TOO MANY SCREENS. I lost count of all the stages people spoke from. Some winners would be thanking 10 people while an onscreen chyron would show 13 other people they wanted to thank. Those chyrons are bad, all new ideas about speeches are bad, let speeches be speeches! And the producers did that horrible thing with the In Memoriam, filming with roving cameras that buried some deceased faces behind the musical performance. The audience was often visible behind the winners — which meant I kept seeing Natasha Rothwell, so great on Insecure and The White Lotus, constantly turning around over the back of her chair toward an acceptance speech. Things looked awkward. Lorne Michaels thanked the SNL people "standing here tonight," and a long-shot camera angle showed a jumble of faces and bodies. It was impossible to tell who was on stage, who was sitting elevated behind the stage, and who was Zedd.

The de facto Emmys mood is triumphalist lately, which is a tad delusional given the evaporating viewership. Some amazing shows and wonderful artists won on Monday, but the TV Academy always overstretches. Two montages celebrated Doctor Shows and Police Shows, coincidentally all Shows That Barely Get Nominated Anymore. Thompson often felt less present than poor Sam Jay, a funny comedian who has to live down announcer patter like "These two go together like Hennessy and Tupac!" and "Here are two cops no one wants to see defunded!" Bart prank-called Moe about Botox: Ay caramba! And Lizzo had to tee up one category by describing "the Emmy, who is, in her own way, a really big girl." God love her, she made about four distinct surprise-disgust-baffled-apology faces before continuing: "I didn't write that, they did."

US actor and host Kenan Thompson speaks onstage during the 74th Emmy Awards
Kenan Thompson hosts the Emmy Awards 2022
| Credit: PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images

The show got better when it got out of the way. Sheryl Lee Ralph turned her Abbott Elementary victory speech into a victory song. During her own raucously emotional acceptance, Lizzo kept demanding the Watch Out for Big Grrrls girls come down to join her — which would've been possible if this year's Emmys didn't take place in a labyrinth. Jennifer Coolidge danced to the play-off music. Her White Lotus creator Mike White sensed his many victories were turning him from a perpetual underdog into the internet's next villain: "Don't vote me off the island, please!" Jerrod Carmichael waltzed up shirtless and fur-coated to accept a prize for Rothaniel. Jean Smart's Botox joke was funnier than Bart's. And second funniest moment of the evening came when Abbott creator Quinta Brunson (an Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series winner) commanded comatose Jimmy Kimmel to hold her phone. She set the device on his stomach — and it thudded off him onto the floor. That's a perfect mockumentary visual gag Brunson conjured on the fly. Some people are just in the zone.

I really thought Abbott would pull out Best Comedy. And this is usually when I would say things about actual winner Ted Lasso, a very nice show I can't stand. But Lasso's Supporting Actor winner Brett Goldstein ended his own thank-you chyron with a Twin Peaks line: "We are like the dreamer who dreams and then lives inside the dream. But who is the dreamer?" If Ted Lasso can embed David Lynch arcana into the Emmys, I guess that damned show really can do anything. And though I was bummed by Better Call Saul's clean non-sweep, it was fun to scan a potential Squid Game upset through a couple of history-making wins before Succession's inevitable victory in the Outstanding Drama category. (Respectfully, no table looked more fun than the Yellowjackets table.)

Host Kenan Thompson speaks onstage during the 74th Primetime Emmys
Host Kenan Thompson dances during the 74th Emmy Awards
| Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

The funniest moment came when Vanessa Bayer and Molly Shannon presented the Emmy for Outstanding Directing in a Comedy Series. They made a great show of praising each other, and then Bayer turned smiling toward the camera: "Look at us, the two biggest bitches in Hollywood." I will never tire of Bayer's poison-sweet delivery, and I wonder if her eyes-are-screaming cheerfulness would be a better hosting attitude for the modern Emmys, which now seem too unwieldy to easily exist. "Here are the nominees for Lead Actor in a Limited Anthology or Anthology Series or Movie," said Oprah Winfrey, and since Oprah is Oprah, I had to rewind a couple times to catch her accidental word jumble.

You can't blame her. Old hazy notions of category fraud have become existential boondoggles, so now Jennifer Coolidge won a "Limited Series" award for the role she's reprising next month in White Lotus season 2. There have to be stormtrooper jokes because Star Wars is TV now. There has to be a viral-baiting Friends gag, because Friends seems to be the one reference everyone definitely understands.

Considering how vibrant the current TV scene is, all the nostalgia felt like time poorly spent. Maybe the Christopher Meloni-Mariska Hargitay near-kiss did it for you. This SNICK kid got at least half a thrill from Kel Mitchell ordering a Good Burger with Kenan. But the 2022 Emmys were mostly their own worst enemy, striving for mass appeal in ways that obscured the exciting nominees while annoying everyone aged Selena Gomez to Steve Martin. Lame skits, dead-air laugh lines, a brutal speech clock for everyone besides Michael Keaton? As Kel used to say: Awww, here it goes. Grade: C

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