And while there were quite a few repeat winners (“Ted Lasso” won best comedy for the second time; Julia Garner continued her “Ozark” reign; “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver” may never lose an Emmy again), some newcomers had pretty good nights, as well.
A stale 2022 Emmys show is saved by — get this — the speeches
1. ‘Succession’ won the top drama prize
At 25 nominations, “Succession” was primed to do well — and it did. In addition to winning best drama, the HBO series landed an Emmy for supporting actor Matthew Macfadyen, who beat co-stars Nicholas Braun and Kieran Culkin, and a writing win for creator Jesse Armstrong.
Armstrong, who is British, delivered some spicy remarks criticizing the monarchy while accepting the Emmy for best drama. The writer called out King Charles III, still referring to him as a “prince” just days after the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II.
“Big week for successions: New king in the U.K. This for us. Evidently a bit more voting involved in our winning than Prince Charles,” Armstrong said. Emmy-nominated actor Brian Cox, who is Scottish, jokingly nudged Armstrong to “keep it royalist.” Armstrong quickly responded by clarifying that he was “not saying we’re more legitimate in our position.”
“We’ll leave that to other people,” he concluded.
Complete recap of the 2022 Emmy Awards
2. A song-and-dance number opened the show
Hosting an award show is probably atop the list of Hollywood’s least desirable jobs these days — all those mean tweets! — but Kenan Thompson was a good sport, opening the ceremony by wearing a top hat and declaring himself the mayor of television. Given his lengthy run on “Saturday Night Live,” he may as well be. (His pal Pete Davidson showed up later in the ceremony to call him “an absolute treasure.”) Thompson helped kick off the show with a song-and-dance number like we’ve never seen, joining some backup performers to show off interpretive dances to famous TV theme songs including “Friends,” “The Brady Bunch,” “Stranger Things,” “Game of Thrones” and … “Law & Order.”
3. Sheryl Lee Ralph had the best acceptance speech of the night
Sheryl Lee Ralph finally got her flowers (and an Emmy trophy) for her supporting role on the ABC sitcom “Abbott Elementary.” The veteran actor, who garnered a Tony nod in 1982 for her role in Broadway’s “Dreamgirls” and later endeared herself to the fan base of the beloved UPN sitcom “Moesha,” took the stage to a standing ovation. She opened her speech by singing a few lines from “Endangered Species” by Dianne Reeves.
“I am an endangered species,” she belted. “But I sing no victim’s song / I am a woman, I am an artist / And I know where my voice belongs.”
Ralph, 65, understood the power of the moment, urging “anyone who has ever, ever had a dream and thought your dream wouldn’t, couldn’t come true, I am here to tell you that this is what believing looks like,” she said. “This is what striving looks like!”
“Don’t you ever, ever give up on you,” she continued, “because if you get a [show creator] Quinta Brunson in your corner, if you get a husband like mine in your corner, if you get children like mine in your corner, and if you’ve got friends like everybody who voted for me, cheered for me, loved me …” Ralph trailed off before raising her trophy in the air. “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!”
Judge all the looks from the Emmys red carpet
4. Kenan Thompson zeroed in on Netflix in his monologue
After he was done dancing, Thompson returned for a more classic monologue a little later in the show, taking shots at some of the expected targets. He remarked of “Euphoria” star Zendaya’s recent birthday: “26 is a weird age in Hollywood. You’re young enough to play a high school student, but you’re too old to date Leonardo DiCaprio.” He also spent time dunking on Netflix’s financial woes, reminding everyone that “Abbott Elementary” used its Emmy marketing money to buy supplies for public school teachers. “That’s what it’s all about! It’s about helping those in need,” he said. “That’s why all my salary from tonight’s show is going straight to Netflix.” Later, Bowen Yang appeared as his “backup co-host,” joking that something crazy could happen and Thompson “could vanish into thin air like a show on HBO Max.”
And of course, the SNL stalwart appealed to the hearts of millennials everywhere when he coordinated a surprise reunion with his former Nickelodeon co-star, Kel Mitchell of “Kenan & Kel.”
5. ‘The White Lotus’ and its stars won big
This year, five-time Emmy winner “The White Lotus” was the show that couldn’t be stopped. Creator Mike White won two awards — for writing and directing — while stars Murray Bartlett and Jennifer Coolidge won in the supporting actor categories, which were stacked with fellow “White Lotus” stars. The show itself also won best limited series. (We’ll pretend that at least one of those awards actually went to “Enlightened,” the HBO series White co-created with Laura Dern years ago that was canceled much too early for our liking.)
The most memorable speech of the bunch was certainly Coolidge’s, during which she noted that she took a lavender bath earlier in the night that “made me swell up inside my dress.”
“I’m having a hard time speaking,” she continued. “But anyway, this is so thrilling.”
Soon enough, producers gave Coolidge the cue to wrap up. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing!” she exclaimed before dancing to the music playing her off.
6. Jimmy Kimmel refused to move during Quinta Brunson’s speech
While presenting the award for best writing for a comedy series, Jimmy Kimmel pretended to be passed out on the stage next to Will Arnett, who quipped that it was the “13th time in a row” the late-night host lost best variety series and that Kimmel “just got into the skinny margaritas back there.” It was your standard, if corny, awards show gag, but viewers were left unimpressed when Kimmel continued the bit after Quinta Brunson was announced as the winner for “Abbott Elementary” and after she quipped “Wake up, Jimmy. I won!”
It was a historic accomplishment for Brunson, who became only the second Black woman to win the category (Lena Waithe won in 2017 for a standout episode of Netflix’s “Master of None”) and the third Black person overall (Larry Wilmore won the award for “The Bernie Mac Show” in 2002). Brunson pulled off the feat as star, creator, executive producer and showrunner of the ABC series — the only network comedy in the nominee mix this year. (Wilmore was among the people Brunson thanked “for teaching me to write television as well as he did” during her moment onstage.)
Some social media users did not appreciate the optics of the White late-night host lying prone while Brunson received one of their industry’s highest honors for her work. Asked about the moment backstage, the “Abbott Elementary” creator told reporters she knows Kimmel personally and that the late-night host has been supportive and encouraging of her career. At the same time, Brunson — a comedian of the social media era — acknowledged that she hadn’t yet seen what Twitter had to say about it.
“Tomorrow maybe I’ll be mad at him,” Brunson joked to reporters backstage. “I’m going to be on his show on Wednesday, so I might punch him in the face.”
7. ‘Squid Game’ won several historic awards
The Korean-language Netflix drama, which became a global phenomenon immediately after bowing on the streamer last year, was nominated in several major categories (and 14 overall). Despite steep competition (from “Succession” and “The White Lotus” in particular), the series — which follows financially desperate people as they compete in deadly games in hopes of erasing their debts — pulled off historic wins at Monday’s ceremony.
Star Lee Jung-jae became the first actor from a foreign-language series to nab the top acting prize in the drama category. Writer-director Hwang Dong-hyuk, who earned the best directing trophy, teased the show’s upcoming second season during his acceptance speech. “People keep telling me I made history, but I don’t think I made history by myself,” Hwang said of his big win. “I truly hope ‘Squid Game’ won’t be the last non-English series here at the Emmys. And I also hope this won’t be my last Emmy either.”
8. Oprah reminded everyone that the Emmys are a big deal
Excuse me, anyone who is complaining that the Emmys don’t matter: The producers know you exist, so they brought out none other than Oprah Winfrey to set the record straight. Before presenting the lead actor in a limited series trophy to Michael Keaton for “Dopesick,” Winfrey reminded everyone how exclusive the Emmy statues actually are. Calling the trophy “the most coveted television accolade on the planet,” the consummate host said that with 8 billion people on Earth and only 25 Emmys awarded on Monday, the chances of winning were about 300 million to 1.
She turned that into a classic Oprah inspirational speech about never giving up: “It starts with a dream, a dream strong enough to endure the knockdowns and rejections. You can lose a role or lose a whole series, but there is one thing you can’t lose — and that’s the belief in yourself.”
9. Lizzo gave a moving acceptance speech
Emmy producers didn’t dare play off Lizzo, who delivered an emotional speech while accepting best competition program for “Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls,” on which women vied to become the pop star’s backup dancers. The Grammy-winning performer took the stage with other women who worked on the show: “The stories that they share, they’re not that unique — they just don’t get the platform,” she said.
Amid several shout-outs to her “big girls,” who cheered her on from their balcony seats, Lizzo reflected on what the competition show’s win would have meant to her years ago.
“When I was a little girl, all I wanted was to see me in the media,” she said. “Someone fat like me, Black like me, beautiful like me. If I could go back and tell little Lizzo something, I’d be like, ‘You’re gonna see that person, but b—-, it’s gonna have to be you.”
10. Zendaya won her second Emmy for ‘Euphoria’
Even before Zendaya won her second Emmy for playing a teen struggling with drug addiction in HBO’s “Euphoria,” she was a hot topic at the ceremony as presenters, nominees and even host Thompson shouted her out from the stage. The actress, who won the same category at the virtual 2020 ceremony, is the first Black woman to win the Emmy for lead actress in a drama series more than once and is the youngest two-time Emmy winner ever.
In her acceptance speech, which she gave following a standing ovation from her peers, Zendaya thanked fans of the show for sharing their own addiction and recovery stories with her. “My greatest wish for ‘Euphoria’ was that it could help heal people,” she said. “I want you to know that anyone who has loved a Rue or feels like they are a Rue … I am so grateful for your stories, and I carry them with me and I carry them with her.”
11. The ‘Only Murders in the Building’ trio was everywhere
Hulu’s breakout comedy “Only Murders in the Building” went 0-for-6 during the show, but starring trio Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez spent plenty of time in the spotlight — mostly for a bunch of “she’s so young, they’re so old!” jokes. Thompson noted that the actors were seated right in front, so if they won, “it should only take [Martin and Short] 15 minutes to walk up here”; Yang said their dynamic was “like watching Lady Gaga take care of two Tony Bennetts.” (In reality, Short helped several people up the steps to the stage himself.)
More charitably, announcer Sam Jay described them as “two legends and an actress who has more Instagram followers than there are people on this earth.” Although the three poked fun at one another when they presented the award for variety talk series (Gomez: “You know what I love about working with these guys? No paparazzi, ever.”), they made it clear that they get so much attention because they actually like one another.
12. Mindy Kaling and B.J. Novak reunited … again
Is it just us, or does it seem like Kaling and Novak appear together at every award show? The real-life best friends and former stars of “The Office” presented best writing for a limited series, once again setting Twitter ablaze with theories about a potential romance between them.
Kaling has previously expressed that Novak, her ex and the godfather of her two children, is just a friend — but that didn’t stop her from joking onstage about forming “insanely complicated” ties to colleagues. Kaling also poked fun at the “lazy” nominees for how few episodes they were tasked with writing, whereas network writers like her and Novak had to write 22 episodes a year that “would take up your whole life.” Bet the “Abbott Elementary” team appreciated that one.