"Succession," "Watchmen" and "Schitt's Creek" were big winners Sunday at the 72nd Emmy Awards. But the biggest story was the ceremony itself, a mostly virtual celebration of an industry thrown into disarray by the COVID-19 pandemic, one that replaced the usual glamorous awards show trappings with a sense of intimacy, uncertainty and, above all, surreality.
Hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, it was the first of the major industry awards shows to contend with the complicated logistics of a remotely produced live broadcast. But perhaps an even greater challenge was striking the right tone in a year of dire news, including not only the pandemic but widespread racial justice protests and devastating wildfires that filled the skies of Los Angeles with hazardous smoke days before the ceremony.
In a monologue edited with audience reaction shots from previous Emmys ceremonies, Kimmel addressed the depressing elephant in the room and made the case for celebrating arts - and especially TV - during "a year of division, injustice, disease, Zoom school, disaster and death."
"What's happening tonight is not important. It's not going to stop COVID it's not going to put out the fires, but it's fun. And right now we need fun. My god do we need fun," he said. "We've been quarantined and locked down, we've been confined to our homes like prisoners and a dark and lonely tunnel, and what did we find in that dark and lonely tunnel. I'll tell you what we found. A friend who's there for us 24 hours a day. Our old pal television."
Jennifer Aniston joined him onstage and, in a bit spoofing the extreme safety measures required at an awards show during a viral pandemic, set the envelope on fire - an apt metaphor for the entire evening.
Winners - watching at home, in hotel suites or at small, distanced gatherings in unnamed locations - were handed trophies by ushers in hazmat suits styled like tuxedos. Many laughed at the strange circumstances; still more urged viewers to make a plan for voting this election year. Most nominees opted for relatively casual attire, and many covered their faces in masks. At least two - Regina King and Uzo Aduba - wore Breonna Taylor T-shirts.
In lieu of presenters awkwardly bantering at lecterns before introducing a new category, stars such as Zendaya and Tracee Ellis Ross appeared solo. For several categories, essential workers around the country were given the honor. There was a DJ instead of an orchestra. And for some reason, there was also an alpaca.
A historic sweep by "Schitt's Creek," the warm-hearted sitcom about a once-wealthy family forced to relocate to a small town, showed the appeal of TV comfort food - and also Canada - at a time of unrest. The series, which airs on cable network Pop but became a binge-watching favorite once it became available on Netflix, dominated the first hour of the telecast. It won for comedy series, directing and writing and also clinched all four acting prizes (becoming the first show to win all seven categories in a single year), with father-son duo Eugene and Daniel Levy won the lead and supporting actor awards.
"Our show is about the transformational power of love and acceptance - and that is something that we need more of now than we've ever needed before," said co-creator Daniel Levy as he accepted the series prize at a cast gathering in Toronto.
He also urged viewers to vote - one of many urgent calls to political action throughout the night.