Commentary: Essential workers saved the Emmys from being completely out of touch

By Lorraine Ali, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

LOS ANGELES - The weirdest Emmy Awards ever provided the perfect forum for television to let loose about the weirdest year ever.

The 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards ceremony, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel on Sunday from the nearly empty Staples Center in downtown L.A. and attended by nominees via video conferencing, was a mix of dark quarantine humor, requests for kindness and humanity, jokes about lack of representation, pleas to get out the vote and poignant commentary about social justice and racial reckoning.

Essential workers, including a USPS delivery person, a rancher, two doctors, a teacher, a truck driver and a nurse practitioner, served as presenters. But before introducing categories such as supporting drama and comedy actor, they spoke about what they've been doing in their respective jobs to keep the country running during the COVID-19 pandemic. When Kimmel used hand sanitizer onstage, the dispenser was the coveted gold statue repurposed for the pandemic. And many of the winners accepted their awards from their living rooms, in clothing that real humans might wear.

These changes-by-necessity grounded a celebration that might otherwise have had the potential to appear totally out of touch. Giving out awards during a viral plague has "disaster" written all over it. Throw fabulously beautiful celebrities into the mix and you risk appearing like the captain of the Titanic. "Keep playing and maybe no one will notice the rising water ... "

But a funny thing happened on the way to the television industry looking like total self-centered jerks. The Emmys used the opportunity to do what television has done for stir-crazy Americans since March: entertain the masses with whatever you have - an empty theater, video-conferenced acceptance speeches, jokes and meaningful comments about the chaos of 2020.

"Of course, I'm here all alone," Kimmel joked during the show's opening. "Of course, we don't have an audience. This isn't a MAGA rally - it's the Emmys."


There were, however, plenty of social distancing challenges, which red state Twitter likely seized upon as examples of Hollywood's hypocrisy.

"I've just touched my face and hugged you like three times, so from a COVID perspective, this is terrible," "Schitt's Creek's" Andrew Cividino said to Dan Levy when they won for directing a comedy series. Members of the cast of the quirky comedy, which won seven primetime awards, were all seated in their own socially distanced party room.

Other timely issues that made their way to the forefront of the live broadcast were familiar subjects on the Emmy stage.

"This was supposed to be the Black-est Emmys ever, but because of COVID, we can't even get in the damn building," Anthony Anderson of "black-ish" joked in a pre-scripted part of the show. He was one of a handful of nominees - plus an alpaca - who showed up in person onstage to help Kimmel keep the three-hour show going. But when Anderson called it a "llama," and Kimmel corrected him, he snapped, "Don't whitesplain to me, Jimmy! It should have been a pit bull. But no, not tonight!" Then he led Kimmel in an awkward #BlackLivesMatter chant.


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