“Succession” and “Ted Lasso” topped the Emmy Awards on Monday, in a ceremony that touted the influence of TV and extended honors to global sensation “Squid Game” and winners who delivered messages of empowerment.
The evening's uplifting tone, as voiced especially by Zendaya, Lizzo and Sheryl Lee Ralph, was in contrast to the darkness that pervaded the storytelling of best drama series winner “Succession” and even comedy series victor “Ted Lasso."
“Thanks for making such a safe space to make this very difficult show,” said Zendaya, claiming her second best drama actress award for “Euphoria,” about a group of teens' tough coming-of-age.
“My greatest wish for “Euphoria’ was that it could help heal people. Thank you for everyone who has shared your story with me. I carry them with me, and I carry them with” Rue, her character, Zendaya said.
“Succession,” about a media empire run by a grasping and cutthroat family, split drama series honors with “Squid Game,” the bold South Korean-set drama about the idle rich turning the poor into entertainment fodder.
Lee Jung-jae of “Squid Game,” who played the show's moral center, became the first Asian to win the Emmy for best drama series actor.
“Thank you for making realistic problems we all face come to life so creatively on the screen,” Lee said to “Squid Game” creator Hwang Dong-hyuk, who earned the Emmy for best drama series directing. In Korean, Lee thanked the audience in his native country for watching.
Backstage, Hwang said this was "a major moment for us,” and Lee said he expected the awards to open doors for other Asian actors.
Jason Sudeikis and Jean Smart collected back-to-back acting trophies, but several new Emmy winners were minted, with Lizzo and Quinta Brunson and Sheryl Lee Ralph of “Abbott Elementary" collecting trophies.
Brunson, who created and stars in the freshman series, won the Emmy for comedy series writing. ABC's “Abbott Elementary,” also nominated for best comedy, is a rare bright spot for network broadcasting in the age of streaming and cable dominance.
Sudeikis won his second consecutive trophy for playing the unlikely U.S. coach of a British soccer team in the comedy “Ted Lasso,” with Smart matching that haul for her role as a veteran comedian in “Hacks."
Sudeikis gave a rare awards show shoutout to TV consumers: “Thanks to the people who watch this show and dig it as much as we dig making it."
There was a ripple of reaction in the theater when “Succession” creator Jesse Armstrong mentioned Britain’s new king, Charles III, in accepting the show’s trophy, the cast standing alongside him.
“Big week for successions, new king in the U.K., this for us. Evidently a little bit more voting involved in our winning than Prince Charles,” Armstrong said. “I’m not saying we’re more legitimate in our position than he is. We’ll leave that up to other people.”
Ralph stopped the Emmy Awards show by accepting the best supporting actress comedy award for “Abbott Elementary" with a brief but rousing song of affirmation.
“I am an endangered species, but I sing no victim song. I am a woman, I am an artist and I know where my voice belongs,” she belted out. She then encouraged anyone doubting their dream “I am here to tell you this is what believing looks like.”
The audience, including Lizzo and many of television's biggest stars, leapt to their feet to cheer on Ralph.
When Lizzo herself accepted the award for best-competition series trophy for “Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls,” she offered another emotional pep talk.