We've got some burning questions about this year's Emmys as hosts Michael Che and Colin Jost prepare for the TV award ceremony's first rodeo in the #MeToo era.
There are plenty of burning questions that will be answered at the 2018 Primetime Emmys ceremony Monday, most of which concern who might win closely contested categories. But while trophies are usually serious and meaningful business in Hollywood, this year's show also must grapple with two new and very urgent questions.
First, how can you evaluate and reward nearly 500 scripted television series with any degree of fairness or authority? And second, what's the real purpose of an awards show right now, anyway?
To answer that first new question, we have to dig into the second one.
It was shortly after last year's Emmys broadcast that Hollywood was rocked by a long-overdue existential crisis that has slowly rearranged its reality. Brave women defied the code of silence that had propped up the industry's horrible culture of sexual assault and exploitation, and in the months that followed, the #MeToo movement exposed prominent producers and celebrities as prolific offenders. At the Oscars, nominations rightly took a back seat to accusations, and red carpet questions turned from “who are you wearing” to "who are you protesting?" And any chance that the topic would cool by the time this year's Emmys telecast arrived was torpedoed by the swift downfall of former CBS boss Les Moonves just days before the show.
Into that turmoil step this year's hosts, "Weekend Update" anchors Colin Jost and Michael Che. NBC's goal is to attract viewers, while pundits and activists will likely be looking for a strong statement about the industry's troubles, so Che and Jost are tasked with creating a show that is equal parts funny and sensitive. They must somehow turn what has long been an evening of ephemeral bits into some kind of memorable and meaningful congress, all while still honoring the hard work of the nominees and entertaining the people at home, whose views on social justice and gender rights don't always align with the espoused politics of "liberal" Hollywood.
With the caveat that it would have been smartest to have a woman host the Emmys this year, Che and Jost are in some ways optimal candidates for this difficult task. They've already spent nearly a full year on TV attacking the worst of Hollywood's predators on a near-weekly basis; as soon as Harvey Weinstein was hit with the first of the many allegations of assault against women, they went to town on the fallen mogul.
In an early October edition of "Update," they said he looked like "chewed bubblegum rolled in cat hair" and "a well-dressed skin tag," calling the accusations against him "a full season of 'Law and Order.'" They were unsparing as the year went on, and so it would do no damage to their precious brands if they gave the industry the sort of holy roasting that Ricky Gervais once offered at the Golden Globes, but with more social justice justification.
At the same time, both hosts have run into trouble with women and activists on the internet. Che in particular has been willing to voice unpopular opinions about social issues (he thinks catcalling women is a compliment) and comedy-related news stories, most recently expressing some support for Louis C.K. after the disgraced comedian's return to stand-up. Jost, meanwhile, caught heat last month for saying he'd prefer to see "good, fun" shows win awards over only "good, artsy" shows. That may seem less misogynistic than basic, but with so many female-focused prestige dramas nominated this year, it's not hard to detect subtle bias.
So which Che and Jost will show up on Sunday? The outspoken duo that uses comedy to roast predators, or the bros who make boneheaded comments often designed to trigger outrage? And which presenters will make their own statements? Actresses like Taraji P. Henson, Issa Rae, Patricia Arquette, Tina Fey, Elisabeth Moss, Sarah Paulson, Ilana Glazer, and Abbi Jacobson are all good bets to say something powerful.
Whichever version of the “Update” team appears, they'll be joined by fellow SNL and NBC stars. Lorne Michaels is producing the show for the network for the first time in 30 years, and he's already hinted at a cabaret of late night personalities and comedy icons. It stands to figure Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers will do bits —- it's great cross-promotion, after all -- and you'd think Fey and Amy Poehler, no strangers to awards show entertaining, could also pop up.
Will Women Make History?
It will be a big night for a number of funny women, as this will mark the first time in eight years that Julia Louis-Dreyfus will not win the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy -— "Veep" was pushed back this year due to her battle with cancer, which has proven to be the only thing that could stop her historic run of well-deserved victories. In other categories, at least, voters haven't been afraid to reward newcomers, so don't be surprised if Rachel Brosnahan ("The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel") takes home the prize. Issa Rae, the auteur behind HBO's "Insecure," is a solid candidate to surprise here, too.
There's a chance that history will be made in the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama category, as well. Sandra Oh, who was nominated five years in a row for Supporting Actress during her run on "Grey's Anatomy," is nominated this year for her lead role in the spring sensation "Killing Eve," a breakout hit for Lifetime. She would become the first actress of Asian descent to win the top category.
Even though JLD deserved her trophies, her dominance was still emblematic of the Emmy tradition of focusing just on a few major networks (remember how many times "Modern Family" won?). Now, with streaming networks popping up by the dozen, there are more shows than ever for voters to consider, and without a significant expansion of categories, it's hard for viewers to fully trust the Emmys as true arbiters of quality.
Still, last year's surprise sweep for Hulu's "Handmaid's Tale" signaled that streaming had truly arrived on the awards stage. And this year, Netflix, which puts out more shows than most cable networks combined, took the top spot for most overall nominations. Even if the sheer numbers suggested it was inevitable, that still proved a shock to HBO, which had held that title for years.
HBO will insist it cares more about quality than quantity, and that the biggest categories are where it wants to compete. And indeed, the Best Drama Series is a heavyweight title fight this year, with HBO going toe-to-toe with insurgent streaming networks.
Hulu won last year with "The Handmaid's Tale," which returns to the final round again in 2018. Netflix, meanwhile, has "Stranger Things" and "The Crown," two of its most acclaimed series, in the game this year. On the comedy side, Netflix has "The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" and "GLOW" up for the top award, while Amazon, shut out of drama, has "Mrs. Maisel" up for Outstanding Comedy.
Not that "The Handmaid's Tale's" win last year deserves any kind of asterisk, but it couldn't have been hurt by the absence of HBO's "Game of Thrones," which will not be the case this year. The epic fantasy, which returned this past season, is joined by its fellow expensive HBO series "Westworld." The network is well-represented on the comedy side too, with "Barry," "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "Silicon Valley," though to be honest, "Atlanta" seems like a lock for another win in that series.
By the end of the ceremony, it may be that HBO wins back the biggest prize and scores some major acting wins, too. But it's looking more like a holdover from an earlier time, no matter what happens on Monday night.