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Mary McNamara: Jimmy Kimmel skipped the Trump jokes for the first (and, please God, only) 'pand-Emmys'

By Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

What do the Emmys and COVID-19 have in common? You can't have either without a host.

Apologies to Jimmy Kimmel, who made a similar joke as he opened this year's first (and please, dear God, only) "pand-Emmys."

Also, as long as we are addressing the Almighty, let's be clear that Kimmel hosting the one does not in any way require him to host the other. In fact, in a just world, the chutzpah involved in taking on the task of hosting these awards - often a thankless burden even in the best of times - would somehow generate its own set of coronavirus antibodies.

Kimmel was the no-brainer choice for the audience-free, digital-dependent gig. Not only does his show "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" air on ABC, purveyor of the Emmys, but he also has, successfully, without fault or fallout, hosted both the Emmys and the Oscars twice.

More importantly, Kimmel has been on vacation since June! Which means he, and possibly only he, could look at the giant wall of screens through which nominees were "joining" him from far-flung locales and make a joke - "I feel like I'm in Best Buy, this is wonderful" - instead of simply collapsing in a heap at the sight of yet another Zoom meeting.

Before going on hiatus, Kimmel, like other late-night hosts, was shooting his show remotely. This new sort of direct-TV demands an even greater intimacy and flexibility than traditional live TV - performing without an audience is tough, especially if you're trying to get jokes to land. Kimmel's ease with the new format was obvious, and very welcome, from the first moments of the Emmys telecast.

 

So obvious that, for a Hollywood minute or two, it felt like there was no pandemic.

Determined to establish some normalcy to the proceedings, the show's producers resurrected old Emmy and Oscar audience footage, which they threaded through Kimmel's first few jokes so perfectly that some of us (OK, me) thought for an entire "Wait, what?" minute that everyone involved had lost their minds and decided to attend the show as if there were no pandemic.

For an Emmy host appearing in the midst of multiple crises, many of them political, Kimmel was relentlessly upbeat - "Right now we need to have fun" - and surprisingly brief. There was the requisite dig at the Emmys itself: "It might seem frivolous and unnecessary to do this during a global pandemic. But you know what else seems frivolous and unnecessary? Doing it every other year."

He acknowledged all the various grim realities - "This has been a year of division, disease, Zoom school, disaster and death" - but there was really only one hint of the politics that many viewers love/loathe about awards shows.

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