This year’s hostless version of the Emmys shocked, surprised and disappointed in equal measure. Let’s be honest: It wouldn’t be much an awards show if it didn’t. From the quiet end of “Game of Thrones” to the unexpected performance of “Fleabag,” from a couple of touching, rousing speeches to one gut-twistingly awkward red-carpet performance, here’s everything you need to know about Sunday’s award show.
“Game of Thrones” goes out with a whimper, not a bang: The behemoth has been something of an unstoppable force since it burst on to HBO in 2011 and helped the last remnants of a monoculture hang on for a few years. The show continuously broke records, such as when it won the most Primetime Emmys in a single year in 2015, and then became the most-awarded series in Emmy history in 2016. The show has racked up more than 50 Emmy statuettes, and this year it earned a record-breaking 32 nominations for a single season.
It didn’t exactly clean up, though, winning only 12 of those awards – including outstanding drama series and a supporting actor win for Peter Dinklage on Sunday night on top of its 10 trophies from last weekend’s Creative Arts Emmys. (“Game of Thrones” is the only show that can win a dozen Emmys and yet somehow still kind of feel like a failure.) A few factors may have been the cause: maybe because the final season was generally reviled; maybe because it split votes by having multiple entries in many categories; maybe there’s a GoT fatigue that finally settled in. We probably won’t know, at least not until the prequels air.
“Fleabag” cleans up: The Emmys are often criticized for being entirely too predictable, which makes it the opposite of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s “Fleabag,” a show as unpredictably emotional as it is hilarious. Waller-Bridge, who also wrote the first season of “Killing Eve,” caught the eye of many American audiences when the first season of “Fleabag,” which she created, writes and stars in, hit Amazon in 2016. That its second season had such a long gestation period is often the sign of a creatively defunct project. In this case, it was completely the opposite, delighting (and emotionally crushing) critics and fans alike. The Emmys surprised us all by giving it four awards Sunday (in addition to two from the Creative Arts ceremonies), including a shocking victory for Waller-Bridge over Julia Louis-Dreyfus in the outstanding lead actress in a comedy category. Maybe the awards show has picked up a few of Waller-Bridge’s tricks.
Michelle Williams’ powerful speech on pay parity: The “Fosse/Verdon” star’s win for best lead actress in a limited series gave way to a powerful speech on pay parity and the importance of women feeling valued in the workplace.
“I see this as an acknowledgment of what is possible when a woman is trusted to discern her own needs, feel safe enough to voice them, and respected enough that they’ll be heard,” Williams said. “When I asked for more dance classes, I heard yes; more voice lessons, yes; a different wig, a pair of fake teeth – not made out of rubber. And all of these things, they require effort and they cost more money, but my bosses never presumed to know better than I did about what I needed in order to do my job and honor Gwen Verdon.”
“And so, I want to say thank you so much to FX and to Fox 21 Studios for supporting me completely and for paying me equally,” Williams continued. “Because they understood that when you put value into a person, it empowers that person to get in touch with their own inherent value. And then where do they put that value? They put it in their work.”
“The next time a woman – and especially a woman of color, because she stands to make 52 cents on the dollar compared to her white male counterparts – tells you what she needs in order to do her job, listen to her, believe her,” Williams added. “Because one day she might stand in front of you and say thank you for allowing her to succeed because of her workplace environment and not in spite of it.”
USA Today reported last year that Williams, who has been acting since she was a child, had received around $1,000 for reshoots on Ridley Scott’s 2017 film “All the Money in the World,” while her co-star Mark Wahlberg received $1.5 million. The actress addressed the issue this year on Capitol Hill, where she recalled feeling “paralyzed in feelings of futility” after discovering the large gap in their pay.
The long-standing dominance of “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver” and “Saturday Night Live” continues: Speaking of seemingly unstoppable shows, “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver” won outstanding variety talk series for its fourth straight year, which is particularly impressive when you consider that it’s only been on television since 2014. SNL, meanwhile, might be an older show, but it’s been cleaning up lately as well. It earned its 67th Emmy Sunday when it nabbed outstanding variety sketch series for the third time in three years (not to mention a third straight win for its director, Don Roy King). It’s tough not to see what both shows have in common: comedically critical crosshairs focused on the Trump administration.
Thomas Lennon’s voice-overs – in lieu of a host: Since there was no host this year, actor and screenwriter Thomas Lennon served as the ceremony’s de facto emcee, in voice-over only. His asides, which drew mixed reviews on social media, included a particularly brutal “shout out to past best actress winners who may be watching from prison.” That was a thinly veiled reference to Felicity Huffman, who won a best lead actress Emmy for “Desperate Housewives” in 2005, and recently received a two-week prison sentence for paying $15,000 to increase her daughter’s SAT scores.
Lennon also joked that “Chernobyl was filmed in Studio City, California, in front of a live audience,” and directed several zingers at Amazon’s massive budget, suggesting more than once that “Fleabag” could afford to be filmed in space. At one point, he noted that a few nominees had the potential to make history. “Are the Emmys woke or is that just something that,” Lennon started before pivoting to a joke about the show’s lack of a host: “This is why people don’t do this – because it sucks.”
Billy Porter’s historic, EGOT-paving win: Porter, the first out gay man to win an Emmy for best lead actor in a drama, received a standing ovation – with particularly loud cheers from his “Pose” castmates – as he took the stage.
“I gotta read,” he told the audience, adding glasses to his ensemble that included a sparkly suit from Michael Kors couture, an angled hat from Stephen Jones millinery and platform boots by Rick Owens.
“The category is love, ya’ll, love,” Porter began. “I am so overwhelmed and I am so overjoyed to have lived long enough to see this day. James Baldwin said ‘It took many years of vomiting up all the filth that I have been taught about myself and halfway believed before I could walk around this earth like I have the right to be here.’ I have the right. You have the right. We all have the right.”
After thanking his fellow nominees, family and his manager of 29 years, Porter thanked “Pose” co-creator Ryan Murphy. “You saw me, you believed in us,” he told the prolific TV writer-producer. Porter also had a message for his colleagues. “We as artists are the people that get to change the molecular structure of the hearts and minds of the people who live on this planet,” he said. “Please don’t ever stop doing that. Please don’t ever stop telling the truth.”
Porter is now one step closer to the esteemed EGOT, having won a Tony in 2013 for “Kinky Boots” and a Grammy the following year for the Broadway show’s album.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus denied a history-making Emmy: Louis-Dreyfus won six consecutive Emmys for lead actress in a comedy for her role as Selina Meyer in HBO’s satirical “Veep.” She also scored one in the same category for “The New Adventures of Old Christine,” and one for supporting actress for “Seinfeld.” That put her even for the record of most wins for acting Emmys with Cloris Leachman (who is 93 years old). So it was easy to bet on Louis-Dreyfus taking home the gold, especially since it was the final season of the show and came later than planned after she received a breast cancer diagnosis for which she is now in remission. But in a shocking twist, Phoebe Waller-Bridge snatched the Emmy as part of her surprising “Fleabag” run. Let’s just hope Louis-Dreyfus is more easygoing than her character.
Jenny McCarthy was, uh, something on the red (purple) carpet: Remember Jenny McCarthy, that MTV personality who became infamous for her anti-vaccination views? Well, now the “Masked Singer” judge is a red carpet interviewer, we guess – and trust us, that’s not a good thing. To list all her faux pas here would require more space than even the internet provides, so let’s just focus on her interview with Christina Applegate in which she said she watched the actress as a child and wanted to grow up just to be like her (Applegate is one year older than McCarthy), before asking how it felt for Applegate to have her first lead actress nomination (it was her third). She also asked Julia Louis-Dreyfus to do the Elaine dance, a request the actress denied before quickly walking away.
Wait, what exactly is “Ozark”? If Twitter is any indication, Netflix’s “Ozark,” which won two of the five awards it was nominated for Sunday night, might not be all that popular. Netflix famously doesn’t release its ratings, so we’ll never know for sure. But for the uninitiated, the show features Jason Bateman as Marty Byrde, a Chicago financial planner who gets mixed up in some shady deals and ends up moving his family (Laura Linney, Sofia Hublitz and Skylar Gaertner) to a small community in the Ozarks. Things go bad, quickly. Think of it like a darker, moodier “Breaking Bad” on meth – it dives right into the most genre-y/action-filled parts and skips most of the philosophical moralizing.
Jharrel Jerome’s emotional win: The 21-year-old actor earned his first Emmy – and a standing ovation – for his acclaimed performance as Korey Wise in Ava DuVernay’s limited Netflix series, “When They See Us.” And it’s a historic honor: The Emmys noted on Twitter that Jerome is the second-youngest person to win in this category; Remezcla reported that Jerome, who is Dominican American, is the first Afro Latino to win an acting Emmy.
“I feel like I should just be in the Bronx right now chilling, waiting for my mom’s cooking or something, but I’m here in front of my inspirations, I’m here in front of people who I’m so motivated by – and the reason I’m here is because of actors like the people I’m in the category with,” the actor said before thanking his mom (“I couldn’t do it without her”), the rest of his family and DuVernay.
“Most importantly, this is for the men that we know as the Exonerated Five,” Jerome continued, using the increasingly preferred moniker for the five men who were wrongly convicted as teens for the brutal 1989 assault of a jogger in Central Park. The men were in the audience and stood up to cheers as Jerome said their names: “This is for Raymond, Yusef, Antron, Kevin and king Korey Wise!”
Actors who also write and/or direct cleaned up: This year’s ceremony clearly favored multitaskers, a group that included “Barry” co-creator Bill Hader, who won his second consecutive Emmy for best lead actor in a comedy series, and “Ozark” star Jason Bateman, who won an Emmy for directing the Netflix drama’s Season 2 opener (and was nominated for outstanding actor for his lead role in it). But no one can claim more range than Waller-Bridge – the creator, writer and star of “Fleabag” – who also served as the showrunner of “Killing Eve’s” first season.
All of those “Masked Singer” cross-promotions: Hey, did you know the “Masked Singer” was on Fox? No? Maybe? After Sunday’s Emmys, it is kind of impossible to feign ignorance. The network hosted the awards show for the first time in a few years, and Fox made use of the airtime to plug its big reality singing competition show in some pretty awkward ways. A bunch of the characters walked the “purple carpet” in 90-degree weather. There was the giant Thingamajig joining the very professional accountants onstage, there to represent the integrity of the vote tallying process. And then there was that painful Tik Tok stunt. “You talk to Mariah Carey that much?” Ken Jeong asked of Nick Cannon while trying to kill time. Yeesh. (It airs Wednesday, in case you were wondering.)
Video: It was a night of records and firsts at the 2019 Emmy Awards. Here are the highlights.(Taylor Turner/The Washington Post)