Critic’s Notebook: Big Grrls and Empowered Women Triumph at 2022 Emmys

Lizzo on 2022 Emmys
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Before we get too deep into the weeds of the 2022 Emmys — not that there was much depth to be had during another mostly predictable and uninspired ceremony — let’s thank the winners who had the foresight to list their nearest and dearest on screen so as not to clutter up their often-rushed acceptance speeches.

Top of that category, and the highlight of the night, was Sheryl Lee Ralph’s euphoric reaction to winning the comedy supporting actress award — one of the night’s very few delightful surprises — for ABC’s wonderful Abbott Elementary. After a dramatic pause, she burst into song, declaring: “I am an endangered species, but I sing no victim’s song. I am a woman, I am an artist, and I know where my voice belongs.” After a rousing ovation, she added, “This is what believing looks like. This is what striving looks like. And don’t you ever, ever give up on you.”

This show-stopper of diva divinity occurred around 45 minutes into the three-hour ceremony, and I could have stopped there and been satisfied. I wish I had. Because while there were other worthy honorees, it can’t help but feel like a drag when so many past winners get rewarded, again and again, making the Emmys feel like that most feared of TV relics: the repeat. And when a series like HBO’s The White Lotus (enjoyable as it was) sweeps its field so commandingly, there’s precious little suspense.

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From Sheryl Lee Ralph's showstopping moment to Brett Goldstein's bleeped curses and Jennifer Coolidge's dance moves.

True, Netflix’s South Korean phenomenon Squid Game made Emmy history as a non-English-language series with its wins for directing and for lead actor. But it couldn’t quite pull off the Parasite-style upset that galvanized the 2020 Oscars as Succession retook the top prize. And Abbott Elementary creator Quinta Brunson’s well-deserved win for comedy writing made you wonder if a network miracle was in the offing. But no. Five of eight acting awards for drama and comedy series went to those who’ve won before, and the shows named top comedy (Ted Lasso) and drama (Succession) had an all-too-familiar ring.

Sheryl Lee Ralph Wins Emmy

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Again, this doesn’t suggest these shows and stars aren’t worthy, but as genial host Kenan Thompson quipped in his monologue: “Tonight we celebrate the hundreds and hundreds of shows that were produced this year, and then we give awards to about five of them.” And with the exception of Saturday Night Live and Abbott, none represent the world of broadcast network TV.

Thompson scored with a couple of jokes aimed at Netflix and its recent financial setbacks, and he kept the tone inoffensively if forgettably light throughout, but he couldn’t do much with time-wasting comedy bits like kibitzing with fellow SNL star Bowen Yang and “honorary bartender” Kumail Nanjiani. And he was ill-served by the opening dance montage adding hip-hop riffs to iconic TV theme songs, which felt like a misplaced half-time show that ate into an already overstuffed broadcast.

Maybe if the braying announcer had cooled it a bit, the producers wouldn’t have had to panic so many of the winners into rushing through their perfunctory speeches. So bless The White Lotus’ hilarious Jennifer Coolidge in her lavender-bath daze for deciding to boogie along with the DJ’s beat as it drowned her out.

Ditto to Lizzo for her genuine glee upon winning the competition series award for Watch Out for the Big Grrrls. Like Abbott’s Ralph, she savored the moment in a profound expression of empowerment: “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. If I could go back and tell little Lizzo something, I’d be like, ‘You gonna see that person, but b—h, it’s going to have to be you.’”

These women made this year’s Emmys special. How fitting that no less an oracle than Oprah Winfrey prefaced the night’s first award with a pep talk about self-belief, and that the Governor’s Award went to Geena Davis on behalf of her Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. (The motto: “If she can see it, she can be it.”)

Ladies, we saw you. We heard you. And when all else has faded from Emmy night, we’ll remember you.