Most exciting 2022 Emmy winners show TV biz how to change

It’s no secret that the Emmys have historically resisted change, and in many ways this year’s awards drew heavily on previous winners, returning series, and familiar themes.

But Monday’s live broadcast from LA’s Microsoft Theater was also an example of television’s biggest night, attempting to keep up with the seismic shifts in the medium it celebrates, often with mixed results.

Between all the nominations and wins for TV Academy favorites “Ted Lasso,” “Succession,” “Ozark,” and “Saturday Night Live,” it was the triumph of new shows like “Abbott Elementary,” “Squid Game,” and Lizzo takes care of the big grrrls” that gave a pulse to the ceremony and pointed the way forward.

Abbott Elementary star Sheryl Lee Ralph memorably celebrated her first-ever Emmy win for a supporting actress in a comedy for her breakthrough role as a veteran elementary school teacher who learns to loosen up in the ABC mockumentary. In her acceptance speech, the former “Dreamgirl” belted out a song that encouraged radical belief in herself: “I’m an endangered species. I am a woman. I am an artist. And I know where my voice goes,” she sang, borrowing the lyrics from Dianne Reeves’ ‘Endangered Species.’

Ralph is only the second black woman to win the category, decades after Jackée Harry’s 1987 win for NBC’s 227. “Anyone who’s ever had a dream and thought that their dream wouldn’t, couldn’t come true, I’m here to tell you that’s what faith looks like.” Freshman comedy creator and star Quinta Brunson , also won for comedy writing. Her nominations, including Comedy Series and Lead Actress, made her the first black woman to receive three Emmy nominations for the same comedy series in a single year.

Despite all the excitement such newcomers create, the Academy has a record 754 shows to choose from – 83 more than last year! – also often went back to the well. “Succession” won for drama series, “Ted Lasso” comedy series and “SNL” for sketch comedy; Julia Garner repeated for “Ozark” and Jean Smart for “Hacks”. Overall, these awards represented a striking lack of imagination and risk on the part of voters, especially given the extensive and creative television programming now.

Even in the limited series category, an annual opportunity to eschew the tried and true, the Academy members picked a familiar theme: another HBO show about wealthy people abusing the aid and generally misbehaving. Network’s tourism satire White Lotus was pitted against the masterful Hulu drama series Dopesick, which chronicled the greed of big drug companies by showing the deadly consequences of opioid addiction in rural America. But the one prime time award that “Dopesick” won – against three alone for “White Lotus” creator Mike White – was for its male lead, Michael Keaton.

Two men in suits hold their Emmys.

Lee Jung-jae, left, and Hwang Dong-hyuk, the storied Emmy winners for “Squid Game.”

(Allen J. Cockroaches / Los Angeles Times)

The predictability of winners in performance categories stacked with three to four contenders from the same show was punctuated by standout moments that showcased just how far television has come. When singer Lizzo accepted the reality competition series award for her Amazon show, she said, “When I was a little girl, all I wanted to see in the media was me. Someone fat like me, black like me, beautiful like me. If I could go back and say something to little Lizzo, I’d say, ‘You’ll see that person, but bitch, it has to be you.'”

For his part, Korean writer and director Hwang Dong-hyuk made history when he won the Drama Series Directing Award for Squid Game, the first non-English language show to be nominated for and win a major Primetime Emmy. (He was joined by his star Lee Jung-jae, who won Lead Actor in a Drama Series.) “Ever since ‘Squid Game’ was nominated at the Emmys, people have kept telling me I made history, but I don’t think so I made history on my own,” Hwang said in his acceptance speech, expressing hope that his milestone was just the first. “I think I have to say we made history together… I really hope ‘Squid Game’ won’t be the last non-English series to be featured here at the Emmys.”

The awards’ tension between tradition and novelty, future and past, was reflected in the Academy itself, which seeks to grapple with a world where a brutally violent Korean survival drama is one of the most popular shows of all time on US Netflix.

In a 2021 study commissioned by the Television Academy and published by ReadySet, as The Times reported last week, the authors specifically pointed to “a deep-seated resistance in the academy’s culture to progress, a change in the way things have always been done, and creating a new future for television.”

For all the excitement this year’s newcomers were causing to the Emmy Club, the winners were still mostly white and from white-majority shows; A number of landmark shows such as We Are Lady Parts and Hulu’s Indigenous comedy Reservation Dogs have been eliminated from the competition altogether.

Host Kenan Thompson kept criticism of the Emmys and the medium to a minimum, but he hit the nail on the head when he mocked one honoree: “‘Succession’ is a show about brothers, without brothers.” Perhaps more revealingly, he opened the ceremony by dancing and singing the theme songs from shows like Friends, The Brady Bunch and Game of Thrones — shows that were mostly or entirely white until he blended into their universe. Still in 2022 as a joke. Most exciting 2022 Emmy winners show TV biz how to change

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