The 2024 Emmys Had Heart and Soul, but Few Surprises

The January awards season got off to a very rocky start at the Golden Globes last Sunday, during which comedian Jo Koy delivered the worst awards show emceeing this critic has maybe ever seen. But then Koy’s former romantic partner Chelsea Handler restored balance with her solid (and slightly Koy-skewering) stint hosting this Sunday’s Critics Choice Awards. And thus the awards carnival marched on to tonight, for the long-delayed 2024 Emmys—honoring the best television of the roughly defined 2022–2023 season. It was another improvement on the mess that was the Globes.

This year’s ceremony, the 75th, was hosted by TV mainstay Anthony Anderson. He opened the show with a musical medley, riffing on sitcom theme songs of the 1980s. So, not exactly timely, but charming in its nostalgia, an earnest, goofy appreciation of the medium. Anderson then did a funny bit with his mom—announcing that she would essentially act as the play-off music for speeches that went too long—and that was it! Anderson kept it short, sweet, and totally alienating to Gen Z, a cohort I’m sure advertisers were hoping to court, but who were probably never going to tune in anyway. 

Anderson’s brevity was matched by much of the speeches, which were heartfelt but efficient. Perhaps it was the threat of Anderson’s mother, who did occasionally make good on her promise, or it was just Fox trying to hurry through the show to get to the local news. Maybe other winners could have availed themselves of comedy-actress winner Quinta Brunson and Beef creator Lee Sung Jin’s interesting invention: As they gave their speeches, a text bar appeared at the bottom of the screen displaying the names of the people whom they also wanted to thank. That was a nice gesture—insular, certainly, but who is this show for but the industry people who make it possible?

The broadcast had other appealing gimmicks. Throughout, presenters from classic shows—The Sopranos, Martin, Cheers, All in the Family—were reunited to pay homage to their series, sometimes on recreated sets. It was, sure, the Academy celebrating itself. But, again, who else is this show for? The Emmys is fighting an interest slump, and tonight the ceremony tried its hardest—though not too aggressively—to prove to its dwindling audience why the whole thing matters. I’m not sure this particular campaign will win many hearts and minds, as that would require certain hearts and minds bothering to watch at all. But after a bruising six months for the business, I’m sure the “what wonderful things we’ve made” energy was appreciated in the room.

There were certainly meme-worthy moments, comedic and stirring, that might penetrate the membrane between the devoted few who watch the Emmys and the rest of the world: Niecy Nash Betts’s stirring speech about speaking truth to power, Christina Applegate’s wry humor about her MS and long tenure in the business, perhaps Pedro Pascal (in an arm sling) explaining facetiously that Kieran Culkin had beaten the shit out of him. Those clips, or others, will make their way around the internet, thus ensuring that this Emmys broadcast makes some cultural impact beyond its glittery echo chamber. 

As well it should, I suppose, when you look at the strong array of winners—many of them from zeitgeisty hits like Beef and The Bear and Succession. It was a diverse group, perhaps most notably highlighting the stellar work of women of color on the small screen this year. (Or, last year. Or the year before. The timeline of this particular ceremony remains disorienting.) The Emmy Awards are famous for picking a horse and sticking with it year after year, so maybe we will eventually get sick of something like Beef picking up prizes. But for now, such wins seem novel, exciting, reflective of a television industry in productive dialogue with itself. Even if, yes, category sweeps like the ones enjoyed by the three aforementioned shows make for a slightly less than thrilling evening. 

All told, it was a respectable, pretty traditional Emmys: A show that liked shows. The broadcast didn’t try anything too fancy, though Anderson’s occasional interludes and interjections endearingly kept the momentum going. The pressure on the Emmys has always been less than that of the Globes—where TV is something of an afterthought—or, certainly, the Oscars. Those ceremonies exist precariously at the center of studio campaigns that cost millions upon millions of dollars. The Emmys, while no stranger to costly lobbying, are usually pretty safe (and smaller in scale) in their usual September slot. The awards are a big deal for those who care, sure, but they are entirely free of the hard, culture-defining associations of Oscar season.

That wasn’t the case this year, when a strike placed them right in the furnace. But the Emmys nonetheless held their own. The small screen isn’t so small these days, after all. Though I’m still not sure we needed that sad In Memoriam cover of the Friends theme.

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