Anyone who has followed the Emmys knows that the Television Academy loves their repeat winners. This is the group that voted for Mad Men four times and thought that Modern Family was the only comedy on TV for five years. So it was all the more surprising when countless surprises were announced leading to one of the most unpredictable crop of winners in a long time. One thing is very clear, these are not the choices of the old Television Academy.
We did a see couple of repeat winners but in the end many of those were well deserved. Alex Borstein and Bill Hader won for the second year in a row. Game of Thrones won its fourth and final drama series award and Black Mirror is the top TV movie for the third consecutive year.
But we also saw a refreshing group of winners, many of which we never would have imagined winning five or ten years ago. Fleabag and Phoebe Waller-Bridge were the big winners of the night. Jodie Comer and Julia Garner, two young relative unknown 20 somethings, beat out well-regarded competition and won their first Emmys. Succession won a writing award. Billy Porter made history representing Pose.
This new and fast-changing Television Academy is wildly unpredictable and it makes the Emmy conversation all the better for it.
After last night it’s clear that the Emmys are not the Oscars. After a successful host-less Oscars the Television Academy tried their luck to less success. There was a clear pacing issue. The ceremony severely lacked any memorable performance numbers. The producers abandoned a bizarre Anthony Anderson bit early on. Thomas Lennon bizarrely narrated the winners as they walked on stage.
The most memorable moments of the night came from a series of moving speeches. Michelle Williams turned her acceptance speech into a demand for pay equality. Honoring her late sister Patricia Arquette called for our society to stop persecuting trans people. Alex Borstein, who normally plays moments for laughs, took a serious and inspiring turn by quoting her Holocaust surviving grandmother to inspire women to “step out of line.”
The little moments will always be the ones I cling to the longest. I’ve watched the video of Gwyneth Paltrow strutting across the stage at least a dozen times. I always tear up when I see Busy Phillips supporting her best friend Michelle Williams.
Heading into the night the comedy categories were a battle of two networks, HBO versus Amazon Prime. Nearly sweeping the comedy races with six out of seven wins its clear the big winner of the year is Amazon. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel picked up both supporting categories while Fleabag won writing, directing, actress, and program. This is a huge deal for Amazon as the first streaming network to win more than one top series prize.
So how did Fleabag pull off that near sweep? Heading into the nominations it wasn’t even clear on whether or not it would be nominated. Then, beginning at the Creative Arts, it won over all five key peer groups; casting, editing, writing, directing, and acting. It felt like a comedy too small to win but it was also the personal show that everyone felt like they discovered. Fleabag is also very much Phoebe’s show and we know how much voters have gravitated towards auteur comedy.
With a wide-open voting system we’ve seen shows and performances benefit from being in their premiere or final season. Fleabag had the unique opportunity to come across as both. The first season wasn’t a factor in the Emmy race when it premiered in 2016. This year voters and audiences caught up with the critics’ darling so it feels fresh to them. The second season is also its final so voters knew this was their one and only opportunity to celebrate Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s achievement.
Maybe this is why The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel couldn’t repeat for the second year in a row. With eight overall wins (including four acting awards) it’s obvious that voters are still enamored by the show. But now voters know it will be around for a while and they’ll have plenty of opportunities to vote for it again. This might be the same reason The Handmaid’s Tale went home empty-handed last year after having such a monumental first season.
As we (mostly) expected the final season of Veep went home empty-handed. Many of us were still predicting one last win for Julia Louis-Dreyfus and for her to become the first actor to sweep throughout their show’s final run. In the end, voters just didn’t care. Maybe their excitement died down during last year’s hiatus and maybe this is just the first time it’s had strong, undeniable competition.
After dominating the Emmy conversation for the past five year Game of Thrones accepted their fourth and final Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series. The surprise of the night wasn’t that it won (we all predicted that) it was the lead up throughout the night as we watched it lose directing, writing, and all but one acting award. In the end, it only won two Emmys tonight with 12 overall this year and they were unable to break their own record for the most wins in a season.
So clearly the final season was polarizing. There were plenty of people predicting Peter Dinklage to win. He seems to win just about every year regardless of the season. In fact, he is now the biggest winner in his own supporting actor category after he won his fourth and final Emmy for Tyrion. This year also made it official, Dinklage is the one and only actor from the massive ensemble to win an Emmy.
With that final season polarizing audiences, it led to some pretty exciting winners across the board. Billy Porter is now one step closer to achieving EGOT status after winning his first Emmy for Pose. The writer’s branch awarded the first season of Succession, perhaps foreshadowing a successful second season Emmy run.
Jodie Comer pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the night winning the award for lead actress not only as the unknown newcomer in a field full of beloved actresses but also overcoming vote-splitting against her own frontrunner costar. It’s a win similar to Tatiana Maslany who won as a relative unknown for a BBC America genre show with a swell of support from critics. It’s definitely an example of a new, younger, and open-minded voting body.
Ozark went home with two Emmys; one for Julia Garner’s supporting turn and one for Jason Bateman’s work as director. That win for Bateman was especially surprising because up until recently the director’s peer group hasn’t been particularly welcoming to actors. Who knows, maybe his name recognition helped him. The biggest takeaway from these wins is the fact that the reports that Ozark is a massive sleeper hit for the streaming network are likely true and it very well might be the show to look out for next year.
Limited Series Categories
The big winner of the night (and the only limited series to take home more than one award) was Chernobyl. The HBO historical biopic went home with the Primetime Emmy Awards for directing, writing, and limited series. After it won seven awards at the Creative Arts Emmys it’s clear we should have taken it more seriously. A topic like the Chernobyl disaster might not be something that gets voters outwardly excited but it’s obvious that as word of mouth spread it became unstoppable.
In recent years the actor’s peer group (one of the largest voting blocs) has become the deciding factor in the Emmy race, especially for Outstanding Limited Series. After voting was opened up we’ve seen one show nearly sweep acting races and go on to win the top award. This year there was a clear divide between the actors and casting directors and clear support from the craft categories which clearly preferred Chernobyl.
This raises a huge question, what exactly happened to When They See Us? The Netflix special was nominated for 16 Emmys and last week won the usually predictive casting award. When it premiered in May it sparked a national conversation about race and the justice system in this country and broke rating records for Netflix with 23 million viewers in the first month alone. On top of all that it had Ava DuVernay and Oprah Winfrey behind it. It seemed like it had the perfect narrative.
So what went wrong? Is it a matter of Netflix not knowing how to campaign? Is there a bias against a streaming Network like Netflix campaigning itself first and the work second? Or is it simply that Chernobyl has always been the most liked and admired limited series of the year and the buzz never reflected that.
Overall the four acting races were all over the place for the first time in a while. All four awards went to different shows; When They See Us, Fosse/Verdon, The Act, and A Very English Scandal. Jharrel Jerome, Michelle Williams, and even Ben Whishaw were favorites to win but Patricia Arquette was a huge surprise. The Act wasn’t even nominated for Outstanding Limited Series and the race was looked at as the one place to honor Sharp Objects. Instead, it proved that Arquette is one of the most respected actors working in Hollywood.
A Bloody Good Night For The Brits
One of the biggest stories coming out of this year’s Emmys was just how popular British shows and performers were this year. Fleabag swept the comedy categories. Actors like Jodie Comer and Ben Whishaw won acting awards. Jesse Armstrong won for writing Succession. John Oliver and Black Mirror once again won their respective categories.
Over the past couple of years, the Television Academy has seen an influx of thousands of new members. Many of these members are obviously from Los Angeles but many also come from New York and yes even the UK. This might even explain plenty of recent surprises like two writing and movie wins for Black Mirror and The Crown for actress and directing.
Or is it just that the Television Academy has always been a bunch of anglophiles? The writer’s branch shocked everyone by awarding The Hour in 2013. Sherlock has pulled off plenty of upsets over the years. Even Downton Abbey wasn’t the favorite to win in its first season.
Why Won’t The New Voters Shake Up the Variety Categories?
2019 brought a lot of surprising new winners to the Emmy conversation. So why were all five variety and reality categories the same winners that we’ve seen for years? John Oliver won his fourth consecutive awards for both Variety Talk Series and writing. This is the third year in a row Saturday Night Live won for Variety Sketch Series and directing.
It’s time for these new voters to shake up the variety categories. John Oliver is an essential voice in political commentary but he’s not the only voice. We now have Samantha Bee, Trevor Noah, and Stephen Colbert. Saturday Night Live revolutionized sketch comedy but now we have so many deserving shows including Documentary Now! and Drunk History. Fingers crossed that next year’s lineup includes A Black Lady Sketch Show.
What Does This Mean For Next Year?
For the first time in a while, none of tonight’s big winners will be returning to next year’s Emmy race. This is the final season of Fleabag and Game of Thrones as well as past winner Veep. Chernobyl is a true limited series as opposed to an anthology season. After the Emmys changed their rules none of the new episodes of Black Mirror are long enough to compete as TV movies.
This all is going to lead to one insanely competitive season. Just from the summer months we almost have enough contenders to fill up the drama category with The Handmaid’s Tale, Stranger Things, Big Little Lies, Pose, and Succession. Bring on 2020!
What were your big takeaways from the 2019 Primetime Emmys? What were your biggest surprises and favorite wins of the year?