Did “The Masked Singer” host the 2019 Emmys, or did it just feel like it? Chaos, after all, is the guiding force on Fox’s Emmy-nominated reality show, but it shouldn’t be when it comes to a prestigious awards ceremony. Less hubbub was made about the Emmys’ decision to go without a host than when the Oscars did it seven months prior, but while the Film Academy salvaged an entertaining telecast from the trash heap that was its lead-in (and winners’ list), the TV Academy couldn’t follow suit. Though plenty of surprise wins helped keep things interesting for die-hard Emmy fans, this year’s show didn’t feature enough personality, uniformity, or orchestrated highlights — you know, the things a host typically provides.
Even if you disagree, this much should have been clear to everyone: Going without a host for the start of the Emmys is hard enough, but drawing attention to the choice in a bit that involved dropping an animated piano on an animated character is a doubly bad idea. (RIP Homer Simpson?) It took Anthony Anderson a few beats too many to get up out of his seat and actually acknowledge to the audience he was their entertainment, and then, while frantically searching for a replacement host, he didn’t really have any jokes.
Using said replacement (Bryan Cranston) to segue into the show could’ve worked, but if the crux of your Emmy opening is a video segment about the power of television, well, you’re in trouble. Montages usually don’t work, especially vague montages that incorporate clips from shows that aren’t even nominated. (Hello “Stranger Things”?) I get that Fox wants to attract viewers with popular shows, but you’ve got “Game of Thrones” and “Barry” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and “Chernobyl” — you don’t need to reach outside the nominees.
Thankfully, those shows came through during their time in the spotlight. The Emmys can be an especially grueling marathon, given just how many awards have to be handed out. But upsets — Phoebe Waller-Bridge (three times)! Jodie Comer! Jesse Armstrong! — kept things lively, and a dearth of forced bonus segments helped move things along. As for the presenters, Ben Stiller’s opening wax figures bit was… fine. (Bob Newhart saved it, but only because he’s Bob Newhart.) Ken Jeong bombed, mainly because it took too long to make the video and then get it up on screen, while Maya Rudolph saved an iffy runner about not being able to see the prompter. (“Nicky Two Times!” = Michael Douglas)
Jon Hamm proved he always belongs on the Emmy stage with a funny, if simple, joke about showing the entirety of “Chernobyl” to get a few extra laughs. But the winners, even more than the speeches, were the saving grace. Billy Porter delivered with his historic win for “Pose,” shouting, “The category is love!” to the delight of everyone. Jodie Comer’s honest confession about not inviting her parents played through the roof, and Michelle Williams delivered another stellar awards speech for her “Fosse/Verdon” win. Honestly, I missed plenty of the winners’ words because I was still getting over the shock of who won, but that’s an even trade for Emmy producers.
As for what Fox’s folks cooked up on their own, well, it worked out all right. The farewell gathering for outgoing series “Veep” and “Game of Thrones” were mercifully short — obviously, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Peter Dinklage can stay on stage as long as they want, but the scripts written for each of them weren’t as funny as the sincere applause from the audience was moving — as was the video montage to other final seasons, including “Jane the Virgin,” “House of Cards,” and “The Big Bang Theory.” While the brevity led to a feeling of inconsequence, it also didn’t overstate the value the TV Academy placed on each show. “Veep” and “Game of Thrones” were former winners nominated again in major categories this year, so they deserved their own stage time. (Excluding “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” and “Catastrophe” from the video, both of which had as many nominations as “Jane the Virgin,” is pretty rude, though.)
The final round of winners — Jason Bateman, Jodie Comer, “Fleabag” — kept everyone guessing, and the TV Academy should be commended for spreading the wealth. (Thank goodness the final season of “Game of Thrones” doesn’t stand alone as the most rewarded season ever.) But all of that is out of the producers’ hands. You can hope for exciting winners, but you have to plan for the worst.
What makes an awards show memorable can be grouped into three tiers: the opening segment (usually, a monologue), the speeches, and the surprises. While Thomas Lennon’s commentary was solid and the music escorting winners onstage dumbfounding, the 2019 Emmys came up short on the first and last metric. The opening was a forgettable mess, and the surprises only came with the winners. Adam Devine’s musical number was fine, as was Halsey’s In Memoriam performance. But the 2019 Emmys felt all over the map. There were few unifying principles beyond what was built into the show already (the dominance of “Game of Thrones,” a farewell to old shows, plus the winners), and Fox’s most prominent addition was pure, nauseating self-promotion. You could tell me tomorrow that “The Masked Singer” hosted the 2019 Emmys, and I’d believe you. While, yes, there should be a host in future years, it shouldn’t be corporate-sponsored.
The 2019 Emmys were held Sunday, September 22 at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles, CA and broadcast on Fox.