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The Emmys gave off a sense of déjà vu, but there were a few surprises

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Big winners at last night's Emmy Awards included "Ted Lasso," "Succession" and "The White Lotus." Here's NPR TV critic Eric Deggans.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: If last night's Emmy Awards felt a little familiar, it might be because 10 of the winners announced during the ceremony had won the same category in previous years, including best drama series winner "Succession," which also won that honor in 2020, and best comedy series winner "Ted Lasso," which earned that Emmy last year. But some unexpected victories brought the show's biggest moments, as when "Abbott Elementary" co-star Sheryl Lee Ralph, an actress with more than 40 years' experience, won a long overdue trophy as best supporting actress in a comedy. She began her acceptance speech singing lines from Dianne Reeves' song "Endangered Species."

(SOUNDBITE OF TELECAST OF 74TH PRIMETIME EMMY AWARDS)

SHERYL LEE RALPH: (Singing) I am a woman and I know...

DEGGANS: Then she delivered a powerful message about belief

(SOUNDBITE OF TELECAST OF 74TH PRIMETIME EMMY AWARDS)

RALPH: To anyone who has ever, ever had a dream and thought your dream couldn't come true, I am here to tell you that this is what believing looks like.

DEGGANS: Another magic moment came courtesy of music star Lizzo, whose Prime Video show "Lizzo's Watch Out For The Big Grrrls" won best competition series, snapping a four-year winning streak by "RuPaul's Drag Race."

(SOUNDBITE OF TELECAST OF 74TH PRIMETIME EMMY AWARDS)

LIZZO: 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.

DEGGANS: But as surprising and electrifying as these moments were, there weren't a lot of them in the three-hour show. One reason - producers kept acceptance speeches on a rigid time clock, even playing music over "White Lotus" star Jennifer Coolidge's emotional thank-you's after her long-awaited win as best supporting actress in a limited or anthology series.

(SOUNDBITE OF TELECAST OF 74TH PRIMETIME EMMY AWARDS)

JENNIFER COOLIDGE: Wait, hold on. No, this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. And I'm full. I'm full. Wait, wait, wait. Hold on. Wait.

DEGGANS: After that, most winners got the message, speeding through their acceptance speeches. But that also cut down on the possibility for dramatic moments, making the show feel rushed and predictable. Still, the Emmys made history last night, handing two Emmys to Netflix's drama hit from South Korea, "Squid Game." Star Lee Jung-jae became the first actor from a non-English-speaking show to win best actor in a drama. Director Hwang Dong-hyuk, who also won for best directing in a drama series, told Emmy voters he didn't make history alone.

(SOUNDBITE OF TELECAST OF 74TH PRIMETIME EMMY AWARDS)

HWANG DONG-HYUK: Because it was you who open up the doors for "Squid Game," inviting us here tonight at the Emmys. So I believe - I have to say, we made all history together.

DEGGANS: There was also controversy. "Abbott Elementary" creator Quinta Brunson became just the second Black woman to win an Emmy for best comedy writing, but she had to step over presenter Jimmy Kimmel, who was pretending to be passed out on stage...

(SOUNDBITE OF TELECAST OF 74TH PRIMETIME EMMY AWARDS)

QUINTA BRUNSON: Jimmy, wake up. I won. Jimmy?

DEGGANS: ...Which some people criticized online as upstaging her moment. Overall, last night's Emmy Awards were an uneven affair. Host Kenan Thompson was affable and friendly enough, but sometimes award shows are more compelling when they're a little less controlled and a little more mischievous. And trying to present an on-time Emmy Awards with a minimum of onstage drama, unlike another big name awards ceremony this year, the show's producers may also have robbed it of much of its entertainment value. I'm Eric Deggans.

(SOUNDBITE OF NICHOLAS BRITELL'S "RONDO IN F MINOR FOR PIANO AND ORCHESTRA - 'KENDALL'S JOURNEY'") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.