The best and worst moments of the 2020 Emmys
The 2020 Emmy Awards were destined to be an entity unto themselves, with Jimmy Kimmel hosting from inside the empty Staples Center in Los Angeles and nominees streaming in from at-home setups around the world. But still, it was an opportunity to escape into a celebration of what has been a salve and distraction for many in a difficult year: the art of great television. Here are the best and worst moments from the 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards.
Best: Jimmy Kimmel's socially distanced monologue
Kimmel is a master of the awards show monologue at this point, and he knocked the opening to the “Pandemmys” out of the park with quips about viruses needing hosts and a celebratory air. Kimmel championed how during the pandemic, “through the good times and the Breaking Bads,” TV has been there to entertain, provoke, and inform. He struck an appropriately warm, tongue-in-cheek tone and paired it with a unique solution to the issue of what to do without an in-house audience: cut in old footage from previous awards shows. It helped avoid the awkward punchlines with no laughs that plagued SNL’s at-home editions while lending the show a sense of normalcy. Kimmel ended the opening with a reveal of an empty Staples Center complete with cardboard cutouts and a bit with a very real Jason Bateman. Some of it stretched on a hair too long, but it was a strong start to an awards show unlike any other.
Worst: Jennifer Aniston’s presenting is on fire
Jennifer Aniston was the first presenter of the night, the sacrificial lamb on the altar of social distancing jokes. Things got really weird when Kimmel led her through an elaborate disinfecting of the winner’s envelope, including setting it on fire and putting it out with a fire extinguisher. But despite Aniston’s vigorous use of the fire extinguisher, the flames kept raging, leading to audible calls of dismay from the off-camera crew as the scene became a literal garbage fire. Pretty great metaphor for 2020, though.
Best: Essential Workers get a moment in the spotlight
There’s always plenty of bellyaching about Hollywood awards shows being full of elitist back-patting. And whether that’s a fair criticism or not, the Academy used the evening to put a spotlight on some of this year’s biggest real-life heroes: our essential workers. Everyone from teachers to UPS drivers to doctors to farmers and ranchers to lady truck drivers got to shine. Several of them even got to present awards.
Best: Kimmel throws hockey shade
Schitt’s Creek made history tonight, sweeping all seven of the top comedy categories and bringing lots of Emmy love to our northern neighbors in Canada. But Kimmel got the last laugh when he brought out the Stanley Cup to poke fun at the fact that a Canadian hockey team hasn’t won it since 1993. He joked that if Schitt's Creek had one more Emmy, they could've traded it for the Cup. But alas, no. It may have been a great night for Canada, but Kimmel got them pucking good.
Worst: Jason Sudeikis gets a live COVID test
We appreciate the effort to make COVID testing less scary. But the last thing we needed to see tonight was the lovely Jason Sudeikis get a swab jammed up his nose on live television.
Best: Thank your therapist
It’s hard to understate the benefits of therapy and receiving the mental health care one needs, which is why it was refreshing to see Cord Jefferson, who won for his work on Watchmen in the Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series category, take the time to thank his therapist Ian during his acceptance speech. “I am a different man than I was two years ago. I love you, you have changed my life in many ways,” he said. “Therapy should be free in this country.”
Worst: Tracy Morgan stands in for Tracey Ullman
Checking in on the nominees at home allowed for a lot of potentially fun spontaneous moments. But planned bits like Tracy Morgan standing in for Tracey Ullman — who was nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie — were decidedly uninspired. Morgan made some jokes about all Tracys needing to stick together, but it just seemed to unfairly detract from the other nominees and drag out that particular category for no reason.
Best: In Memoriam
It’s been a very tough year when it comes to loss. And the Emmys rose to the occasion with one of the most wonderful In Memoriams in recent memory. Kicking things off with a tribute to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Kimmel then introduced H.E.R. who delivered a stunning rendition of “Nothing Compares 2 U.” They took care to honor every featured fallen member of the TV community with carefully designed images that situated the honorees in the visual context of their work. It was thoughtful and all beautifully tied together by concluding remarks from the late Chadwick Boseman. A cathartic moment in an evening just doing its best to restore some normalcy.
Worst: Courteney Cox and Lisa Kudrow are there for Jennifer Aniston
The pandemic may have postponed the HBO Max Friends reunion indefinitely, but we still kind of got one at the Emmys. When Jennifer Aniston picked up her bit from earlier in the evening from the comfort of her “home,” she was joined by old pals Courteney Cox (her roommate since 1994, natch) and Lisa Kudrow. Jason Bateman also popped in to say hello, with Kimmel dubbing him the Ross of the group. They were undoubtedly taking massive safety precautions, but we didn’t love this endorsement of hanging out with your “friends” in such close quarters given the optics. Plus, it’s not anything we haven’t seen on Instagram already. You can be on a break, guys — it’s okay.
Best: Lots of family love
One of the highlights of awards shows is getting to see winners thank their loved ones. But this year gave those moments new meaning since they were often happening at home with the winners surrounded by the people who mean the most to them. Often, they’re only allowed to bring one or two guests, but watching from home throws that out the window. From Uzo Aduba exclaiming “Mommy!” at the end of her speech as she rose to tell her mother the good news to Zendaya’s immense cheering squad getting raucous behind her, we loved getting to see the winners share this joy with their families on camera and in the moment.
Worst: Running down the categories in order by genre
It’s not the first time they’ve chosen to organize the evening by genre, but it’s never a choice we love. It’s problematic in the ways it seems to assign value to categories, leaving the all-important work of serious drama for the final run of awards and knocking the comedy categories out early, suggesting they’re more lightweight. But to boot, it makes things a bit boring as we sit with the same run of shows for a run of several awards. Particularly when one show sweeps a category, like Schitt’s Creek did tonight, it becomes harder to celebrate the spurts of joy throughout the evening instead of being worn down by the feeling of it being enough already.
Best: Succession's winning un-thank yous
HBO’s Succession was a heavy favorite to win Best Drama, and it delivered. But what wasn’t expected was how much delight came with their win — from Sarah Snook’s DIY tin foil Emmy to creator Jesse Armstrong’s list of “un-thank yous.” Instead of thanking the Academy and his gifted team (which all got named in a previous speech), Armstrong instead used his time to “un-thank” everything from the virus to Donald Trump and Boris Johnson’s responses to the pandemic. It was a fitting 2020 spin on an acceptance speech, one that spoke truth to power with a tongue-in-cheek approach befitting this searing series.