Joe Reid isn't just Primetimer's managing editor. He's also an awards expert and one half of the popular podcast, This Had Oscar Buzz. So who better to do the post-mortem on last night's 71st Primetime Emmy Awards?
The 2019 Primetime Emmy Awards were anticipated with a few pre-mixed storylines in mind. Would retired shows Game of Thrones and Veep extend their winning streaks and pick up Emmys for the road? Or would newcomer upstarts like Barry, Fleabag, Succession, or Ozark rise up to take their place a year early? But while all our eyes were on Westeros, they probably should have been on the bubbling cauldron of disaster that was deciding to hold a host-less Emmy Awards on Fox on the eve of a second season of The Masked Singer.
Emboldened by the success (such as it was) of the Oscars going host-less last February, Fox's Emmy producers figured they would follow a similar template, while at the same time finding some excuses to plug their new fall programming. And while the absence of an opening monologue certainly wasn't a death blow, the scattered, hurried, and often crass production of the 71st Primetime Emmy Awards was a gradually unfolding train wreck. One that would have been a lot more objectionable had the actual award winners not been so uncommonly exciting, unpredictable, and satisfying.
After a night like this, with such a stark contrast between the high and lows, it's helpful to delineate what worked and what didn't. If only there were a way to express this in the language of awards themselves. If only there were …
WINNER: Final seasons. If there was one guiding principle throughout the night, it was an outsized spotlight on the two departing Emmy champs. Both Game of Thrones and Veep were treated to to tribute montages before their cast members took the stage to mark the occasion and present an award. While Veep fell to the Fleabag insurgency, Game of Thrones did in fact win its fourth Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series, tying Mad Men, The West Wing, L.A. Law, and Hill Street Blues for the winningest drama series in Emmys history.
LOSER: Final seasons. For one thing, as mentioned, Veep fell to Fleabag, and even more shockingly, Julia Louis-Dreyfus felt the cold sting of an Emmy loss for the first time since 2010, when she was on The New Adventures of Old Christine and lost to Edie Falco on Nurse Jackie. But on a larger scale, the 2019 Emmys decided to build this larger theme around ending shows, only to flub the execution. Specifically in a montage that was meant to memorialize every other show that ended this year — from Broad City and Jane the Virgin to House of Cards and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and The Big Bang Theory — but which omitted a TON of other shows like Orange Is the New Black, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, You're the Worst, and Catastrophe.
WINNER: Fleabag. (And how!) Phoebe Waller-Bridge's small British comedy series about a woman who can't seem to stop self-sabotaging nearly swept the top comedy awards, winning Emmys for Directing, Writing, Actress, and Outstanding Comedy Series. Veep owned the past, and maybe a show like Barry owns the future, but for this moment in time, Phoebe Waller-Bridge is the gold standard of TV comedy, and that's good thing.
LOSER: Going host-less. Look, if the Oscars jumped off a bridge, would you do that too? With an eye to becoming as streamlined as the 2019 Oscars, these Emmys eschewed a host and instead embarked upon a meandering evening, punctuated only by the occasional presenter-led tour through the mediums of Comedy, Reality, Variety, and Drama. These interludes were often accompanied by what increasingly feel like FOX's last remaining TV stars: the Masked Singer masked singers. And if you've ever watched that show, you know that the mere presence of those creatures makes any room into a carnival of darkly chaotic and deeply anxious energy. Without a host to corral these energies into any kind of a story, all these moments felt purposeless and obnoxious and maddening.
Loser: Music coordinators. Whatever demented anarchist was given the reins of the TV Academy's Spotify account and allowed to select songs to accompany the presenters and the winners to the stage needs to be evaluated for a concussion or perhaps a "666" symbol on their scalp. How else to explain harrowing nuclear-disaster drama Chernobyl's multiple Emmy wins being punctuated by Florence + the Machine's "Shake It Out" and, most egregiously, Nina Simone's "Feelin' Good."
WINNER: Winners. Despite our many complaints about the show's production, it remained a thrill to watch a near-uniform parade of deserving Emmy winners cross that stage, from Jharrel Jerome (When They See Us) to Billy Porter (Pose) to Jodie Comer (Killing Eve), to Ben Whishaw (A Very English Scandal).
WINNER: Speeches. With due respect to the aforementioned Jerome and Porter, whose groundbreaking victories game them the opportunity to speak with great passion about the journeys their careers have taken, the best speeches of the night were given by Patricia Arquette (The Act) and Michelle Williams (Fosse/Verdon). Arquette gave a sorrowful dedication to her late sister Alexis and to the greater movement to protect and honor the transgender community. Williams, meanwhile, delivered an eloquent speech about how important it is to feel supported on a set, wrapping it around into a rallying cry for equal pay and equal opportunities, especially for women of color.
"My bosses never presumed to know better than I did about what I needed in order to do my job and honor Gwen Verdon." #FosseVerdonFX star Michelle Williams thanks her studios during her acceptance speech for lead actress in a limited series https://t.co/WmT1Fmyol4 #Emmys pic.twitter.com/DDF1ONJV7Z— Hollywood Reporter (@THR) September 23, 2019
WINNER: Ozark. Admit it: for a second there you were wondering whether Ozark was going to upset the 300-pound gorilla and take the top prize. After winning surprise trophies for Supporting Actress (Julia Garner) and Directing for a Drama, Ozark looked poised to cut Thrones off at the knees. And while Succession didn't have the heat to pull off an upset this time, the win for Writing for a Drama Series should make next year's probable Emmy campaign feel that much smoother.
LOSER: The GOT cast. Now that the end is here, it's official: Peter Dinklage — who took home his fourth Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama — remains the only performer from the Game of Thrones cast to ever win an Emmy. It's less a terrible miscarriage of justice than it was when a similar fate befell the Mad Men cast, but it's gotta be a bummer, especially if you're Lena Headey or Gweldoline Christie and you thought you might actually have a chance this year.
LOSER: Thomas Lennon. The hilarious comedic actor Thomas Lennon (Reno 9-1-1) was tasked with reading the fun facts about the winners as they ascended to the stage, taking over a role that was originally given to John Hodgman several years ago and has recurred semi-frequently. It's a cute bit in the right circumstances, funny and even a little informative — it's how I've learned over the years that both Jharrel Jerome and Merritt Wever went to LaGuardia Performing Arts High School — but Lennon's commentary fell prey to awkward moments (don't make the man butt in with silliness after a heartfelt speech honoring the Exonerated Five) and poor tech (the audience was miked SO loudly that half of Lennon's words were lost.).
WINNER: Maya Rudolph and Ike Barinholtz. They delivered maybe the one bit of funny banter before an award, improbably working a potentially hacky "we just got Lasik and can't read the prompter" bit and turned it into comedic gold. And gifting us with "Mickey Two Times" as a nickname for Michael Douglas forevermore.
LOSER: Emmy Predictions. We went 7/15 in our Emmys picks. So many poor decisions, including overestimating Chernobyl in the acting awards and underestimating it elsewhere. Ah, well. A reason to try to do better next year.
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Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, The Herald Sun, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.
TOPICS: 71st Primetime Emmy Awards, FOX, Barry, The Big Bang Theory, Broad City, Catastrophe, Chernobyl, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Fleabag, Fosse/Verdon, Game of Thrones, House of Cards, Jane the Virgin, Killing Eve, The Masked Singer, Orange Is the New Black, Ozark, Pose, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Veep, A Very English Scandal, When They See Us, You're the Worst, Ben Whishaw, Billy Porter, Gwendoline Christie, Ike Barinholtz, Jharrel Jerome, Jodie Comer, Julia Garner, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Lena Headey, Maya Rudolph, Michelle Williams (actress), Patricia Arquette, Peter Dinklage, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Thomas Lennon