Andy Samberg said in advance that he wouldn’t read reviews of his Emmy Awards performance. With the benefit of hindsight, that’s probably not a bad idea – not because the “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” star was bad, exactly, but merely because he felt somewhat miscast for this role, a preconception that was borne out as the night dragged on.
Samberg certainly started on an energetic note, but that was almost a foregone conclusion. A taped song bit in which he locked himself away to watch every show on television (even “Castle”) capitalized on his “Saturday Night Live”-honed strengths and the digital shorts with which he’s been associated. As the number finished, he was prompted by Bob Odenkirk to go out and tell some “culturally relevant but not too edgy jokes.”
Standup, however, isn’t necessarily Samberg’s foremost skill, as anyone who saw him at Fox’s upfront presentation might have concluded. And while his self-consciously exaggerated, wildly sunny disposition came across well enough, the mix of topical jokes about presidential candidates Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, or Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who has refused to sanction gay marriages, felt somewhat shoehorned in alongside the TV-specific material.
What mostly came across, gradually, was that Samberg’s approach just didn’t wear especially well. He plays better in bite-sized bits, and his sprightly setup/joke rhythms yielded diminishing returns over the course of the evening. That somewhat undercut, say, a funny sight gag – with him cozying up to an over-sized Emmy statue, in what he called an homage to “Girls” – by following it with a flat tribute to “SNL” patriarch Lorne Michaels that paid off with giving him a “World’s Best Boss” mug.
Similarly, a canned sketch that came toward the midway point spoofing the “Mad Men” finale felt unnecessary. The same goes for a let’s-see-what’s-happening-on-the-red-carpet gag that involved Tony Hale and Tatiana Maslany.
Of course, the host’s presence is invariably less than meets the eye. At almost every awards presentation, hosts disappear for stretches as the show gets into the meat of the ceremony. Yet even when Samberg popped up, there was seldom a sense of spontaneity in many of his gags. (A shout out to Kyle Chandler, after Jon Hamm won, was a rare exception.)
The presenter introductions, always a challenge, were somehow more lame than usual. As for lengthier moments, it sometimes gave the impression of material that could have gone into the opening monologue simply being tossed in to fill time, which was clearly becoming precious as more of the acceptance speeches ran long.
The emphasis on comedy was also such that the telecast kept bringing people to the stage that frankly might have been better suited to this particular task, including several of those late-night hosts (as well as HBO’s John Oliver) who inevitably get the call when their network broadcasts the Emmys.
Samberg was a relatively modest part of what is always, by simple construction, a pretty long sit. But for anyone who hoped the guy behind “Dick in a Box” would somehow manage to shake up the Emmys, the host instead found himself pretty well boxed in.