By Darren Franich and Kristen Baldwin
September 18, 2018 at 02:17 AM EDT
Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

EW’s TV Critics Kristen Baldwin and Darren Franich watched the Emmys, just like you, and they have thoughts, just like you! They discussed the big awards show.

KRISTEN: If an awards show gave out a bunch of trophies and no one was around to gripe about how they did it, would it even make a sound? Fortunately for us, Darren, the 70th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards gave us plenty to gripe about — first and foremost the hosts, Saturday Night Live’s Colin Jost and Michael Che, whose low energy and vague befuddlement intensified as the evening dragged on; it’s as though they absorbed and internalized the audience’s disappointment during every commercial break.

But for everything that went wrong with the Emmy Awards (that Fred Armisen-Maya Rudolph bit, oy!), there was plenty that went right. Henry Winkler — a.k.a. The Nicest Man in Hollywood™ — winning his first Emmy after a 40-plus year career! RuPaul’s Drag Race dethroning The Voice in the reality competition category — yes, Ru, you can get an amen! And that proposal! God bless director Glenn Weiss for giving us that gift of humanity and pure joy — and a nice reminder for everyone, famous and anonymous alike, that we’re all just people looking for someone to help us get through this bumpy awards show called life. That happy moment (she said yes!) was a wonderful high that made this year’s Emmy lows a little more bearable. Darren, what stood out to you this year — for better and for worse?

DARREN: Jost and Che were bad enough to give me horror flashbacks to David Hyde Pierce and Jenna Elfman interpretive-dancing TV show titles in purple leotards. “At least they weren’t just standing there awkwardly clasping their hands saying unfunny jokes!” is something I’ll forever say in Pierce and Elfman’s defense now.

But you know what really wasn’t funny? FX’s Atlanta — a show that conjured hilarious-sad-scary TV wonder every episode of its magnificent second season — going winless in the big show. Now, I go woozy thinking about the stacked talent in every comedy category. (I won’t even get into my beloved GLOW walking away emptyhanded, since I consider Betty Gilpin’s “Bwahhh?” post-proposal cutaway a win for Liberty Belle.) So I don’t begrudge any specific non-Atlanta victories. Except for the Best Directing in a Comedy. Maisel’s Amy Sherman-Palladino is a talent, no doubt, but Hiro Murai’s direction of the hauntingly hilarious “Teddy Perkins” episode was astounding in its tone of gothic comedy chaos. Teddy himself showed up to the Emmys, and his presence started to look like avant-garde protest art with every category Atlanta lost.

The opening monologue made light comedy out of the splendid diversification of the nominee lineup. But the winners, in aggregate, felt a bit dispiriting. The victorious subject matter was very ’90s Academy Awards: Actors playing performers and royals, big-budget brainless battle epics (Game of Thrones‘ ice dragon-iest season!), even an unexpected Dances With Wolves-ian western fetish thanks to the wins for Godless.

But I feel some strong EW TV Critic pride, Kristen, because at least one of our #1 favorite shows from the first half of 2018 had a good night!

KRISTEN: Limited series – man, did that category send me on a proverbial roller coaster of emotions this year! Having loved The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story so deeply, I started physically tensing up as it lost in category after category: Supporting actress, supporting actor, writing… by the time we got to Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie, I was literally holding my breath and silently vowing to burn Los Angeles to the ground if Darren Criss didn’t win for his astounding performance as charming conman killer Andrew Cunanan. Fortunately for the City of Angels, Criss won, and so did the series — I only hope this spurs more people to watch it now. (Same goes for Maisel, by the way.)

Perhaps the most painful snub to me was Sandra Oh, who did not take home the Lead Actress in a Drama award for her brilliant and unpredictably hilarious performance in Killing Eve. It made her joke during the opening number — a quippy ode to TV diversity called “We Solved It” — more poignant in retrospect: “It’s an honor just to be Asian.” I appreciate how the Emmys are willing to take the piss out of their industry more than any other awards show, but it’s unlikely that Che and Jost knew their “We Solved It” song would prove so accurate in its irony. (When James Corden mocks a show for being too white, something has gone seriously wrong.)

My favorite trend of the night was all the jocular self-deprecation — whether it was Michael Douglas urging “the losers” to “carry that rage… until your cold dead body is in a pine box six feet deep,” or Chappelle’s Show co-creator Neal Brennan telling the assorted luminaries, “Let’s be honest—everyone in this room has emotional wounds that no amount of money or prizes could ever fix.” Hey, Hollywood types are roiling cauldrons of insecurity and crippling feelings of inadequacy, just like us!

Sorry… what were we talking about? Oh, yes, the Emmys. To end things on a happier note, Regina King won another award — in this case for her excellent performance in the ok Netflix drama Seven Seconds — and a world that recognizes Regina King’s greatness cannot be all bad. What will be your break-glass-in-case-of-emergency takeaway from this year’s Emmys, Darren?

DARREN: I treasured Thandie Newton’s acceptance speech, “I don’t believe in God but I’m gonna thank her tonight.” (Now maybe Westworld season 3 won’t strand her in a listless daughter-hunting subplot.) The part of my subconscious I love most looks like Rick & Morty presenting an Emmy to RuPaul’s Drag Race. And Betty White, wow, stay onstage forever! Did they just play the last five seconds of Twin Peaks in a nomination clip reel? You’re crazy for that, Emmys, I dig it.

SNL god-emperor Lorne Michaels loomed over the awards show, a producer, a constant reaction shot, the discoverer of seemingly half the people onstage. In accepting his SNL trophy he became an avatar of broadcast dominance, recalling a distant 70s era when pundits declared networks wouldn’t last. “Here we are,” he said, “It’s 2018. We’re at the Emmys. And we’re. On NBC.”

Sure, but, broadcast’s scripted series went home emptyhanded. Netflix and Amazon slithered through the night eating cable’s lunch. All those Versace losses were Godless gains. The Americans won a few big prizes — but not for Keri Russell, the spy drama’s bleeding heart and bloody soul, who lost to Claire Foy for Netflix’s The Crown. In both of his acceptance speeches, Versace producer Ryan Murphy thanked John Landgraf, the CEO of FX. Murphy, of course just signed a Thanos-sized deal with Netflix, which means he’ll be thanking Ted Sarandos in his next acceptance speech. (I’m platform agnostic, of course, and anyhow we all know the year’s best drama is on CBS All-Access.)

Despite some political rumblings, our current President was the Emmys’ He Who Shall Not Be Named, literally mentioned less often than Steve Urkel. But I perked up with the arrival of Hannah Gadsby. “What are jokes these days?” she asked rhetorically. “We don’t know. Nobody knows what jokes are. Especially not men.” She was referring, broadly, to the various conversations swirling around her Nanette special, which launched various thinkpiece-y conversations about the state of humor. All heavy stuff, which Gadsby threw off with some devil-may-care riffing. I have a minor proposal to settle this whole “What is Comedy Now?” question. Gadsby should host next year, tell no jokes, and specifically try not to make anyone laugh. Guarantee she’d still be funnier than this year’s hosts.