Let’s face it: The Emmys are weird. One minute you’re watching host Kenan Thompson do interpretive dance to television theme songs; the next, Pete Davidson shows up in sunglasses and admits he didn’t go to the presenter rehearsal. Then there’s the déjà vu of seeing The White Lotus’s creator, Mike White, walk up to the stage to accept his third award of the night, not to mention Jean Smart, Jason Sudeikis, Zendaya, Julia Garner, and Brett Goldstein all winning Emmys for the second year in a row.
This year’s show was full of high points as well as a few bizarre lows. Here, a rundown of the show’s best moments — and some that jumped the shark.
High: Sheryl Lee Ralph winning an Emmy
Abbott Elementary’s Sheryl Lee Ralph won her well-deserved Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series, and I fully expect her acceptance speech to win a Tony and a Grammy next year. Her speech was an emotional roller coaster: First, she was so shocked that her co-stars Quinta Brunson and Tyler James Williams had to help her to the stage. Then, when she got there, she burst into song, earning a rousing standing ovation from the crowd.
Low: The opening dance number
For reasons that are still unclear, the show started with an opening dance number to famous television theme songs. Dancers gave their all to numbers inspired by Friends (a show not on the air), The Brady Bunch (also not on the air), Law & Order (a sequence in which a Black man was fake-arrested), Stranger Things, and Game of Thrones (again, a show that is not currently on the air). The dancers were great, but the entire sequence felt offbeat and out of place.
High: Squid Game making history
Squid Game walked into the awards on Monday having already won four Emmy Awards — for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series, Outstanding Production Design, Outstanding Special Visual Effects in a Single Episode, and Outstanding Stunt Performance. Over the course of the night, the show took home two more Emmys. First, creator Hwang Dong-hyuk won Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series for his work behind the camera on “Red Light, Green Light.” Then Lee Jung-jae won for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, making him the first South Korean actor to win as well as the first Asian actor to win — period.
In his speech, Hwang downplayed his epic win, thanking the entire audience for making history with him. “They keep saying I made history, but I don’t think I made history by myself. Because it was you who opened up the door for us at Squid Game … we made history together,” he said, adding, “I truly hope Squid Game won’t be the last non-English-language series here at the Emmys, and I also hope this won’t be my last Emmy, either.”
High: Jennifer Coolidge winning an Emmy
Jennifer Coolidge won her first Emmy for her iconic performance in The White Lotus. It was a well-deserved, hard-fought win, and, of course, she gave the most Jennifer Coolidge speech you could imagine, starting with her reveal that she took a lavender bath in preparation for the evening and ending with a little jig.
Low: The Emmys playing Coolidge off the stage
Coolidge got through maybe ten seconds of thank-yous before the Emmys started playing her off. Rude! She tried to fight it but eventually just gave up and danced along. Yes, it was one of the funnier spontaneous moments of the night, but it also never should have happened to such a legend.
??? : The thanks banner
This is a strange one. Some acceptance speeches were accompanied by extra thanks in a banner on the bottom of the screen, presumably allowing them to keep the speeches short and tight.
The banner increased accessibility for the audience watching at home — kind of. Unfortunately, the writing on the banner didn’t correspond with what the winners were actually saying. It also wasn’t consistently used by every winner, which made it a confusing addition.
High: Lizzo’s speech
After winning two Emmys last weekend, Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls won the Emmy for Outstanding Competition Program, which gave Lizzo the opportunity to celebrate with one of the most heartfelt speeches of the night. The artist celebrated all the “big girls” on the show and beyond. “When I was a little girl, all I wanted to see was me in the media: someone fat like me, Black like me, beautiful like me,” she said. “If I could go back and tell little Lizzo something, I’d be like, ‘You’re going to see that person, but, bitch, it’s gonna have to be you.’”
Low: The television “tributes”
Peppered throughout the show were “tributes” to genres of television. The first: drama, which featured clips from A Million Little Things, The Equalizer, Grey’s Anatomy, FBI, NCIS, and plenty of other network dramas the Emmys didn’t nominate. To add salt in the wound, the drama tribute even included a clip of Mandy Moore in This Is Us, arguably one of the year’s biggest snubs. The audacity!
High: The Kenan and Kel reunion
Who loves a reunion at the Emmys? Kel loves a reunion at the Emmys! Kel Mitchell, Thompson’s Kenan & Kel co-star and longtime collaborator, popped up for a quick bit during the Emmys, pretending to order “a Good Burger” at the bar. The comedic duo took the opportunity to hype up the long-awaited sequel — currently in the works — to their hit Good Burger.
Who asked the Emmys to edit together a minute-long tribute to cop shows that weren’t even nominated? Truly an unnecessary moment of copaganda, which was only made worse by a joke about how detectives Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler are “two cops no one wants to see defunded.”
The excessive pro-cop sentiment was especially disappointing given the show’s complete silence on many other political issues. Aside from a few “Bans Off Our Bodies” pins on the red carpet, not a word was uttered about the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the current climate crisis, or the threats to American democracy.
High: Jerrod Carmichael winning an Emmy in this outfit
Jerrod Carmichael won the Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Variety Special for his deeply personal special, Rothaniel. And he did it shirtless and wearing a fur coat. Backstage, he told reporters that the coat was a vintage fox coat and that “Puff Daddy wore it in a music video.” He said he was happy he won in this outfit because “it goes well with gold.”