Feature

The 2019 Emmys was an upset-packed end to a TV era

The biggest winners and losers from Sunday night's ceremony

When the 71st Primetime Emmy Awards weren't busy shamelessly plugging The Masked Singer on Sunday night, they were actually, well, pretty great! Sure, the jokes could be lame and Game of Thrones ultimately did what Game of Thrones always does (win), but there were more upsets than shoe-ins. And that's a big deal! The usual wisdom concerning television's biggest night is that the previous years' winners will just win again — the Emmys doesn't exactly have a reputation for being daring — but that rule went out the window in 2019.

For a complete list of the honorees and nominees of the 2019 Emmy Awards, you can go here. For a list of the biggest winners and losers that you might have missed while you were busy streaming the new episode of Succession instead, you've come to the right place.

Winner: 'Angry, dirty, pervy, messed-up' women

Fleabag is easily the best show I've watched this year, and the second and final season of the series about "a sex addict" (in the not-exactly-accurate words of Ben Stiller) was the dark horse of the night. The Amazon show ended up walking away with one of the biggest awards of the evening, Outstanding Comedy, with star and creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge additionally winning Lead Actress in a Comedy Series and an award for writing.

But while Fleabag got all the glory, the 2019 Emmys were really a monumental night for comediennes on the whole. Waller-Bridge's biggest competitor for Lead Actress in a Comedy was Emmy favorite Julia Louis-Dreyfus of Veep, but the category was stacked, also including last year's winner, Rachel Brosnahan of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel; Catherine O'Hara of Schitt's Creek; Natasha Lyonne of Russian Doll; and Christina Applegate of Dead To Me. Each one easily could have been picked the winner; Vulture called it "the strongest lineup of nominees for anything in any awards show in recent memory," and I don't disagree.

Loser: Whoever had to sit behind Billy Porter at the ceremony

The entire Pose cast looked incredible on the Emmy's purple carpet (seriously, if you haven't seen Indya Moore's custom Louis Vuitton gown or MJ Rodriguez's bright pink Jason Wu ensemble yet, fix that), but it was undoubtedly Billy Porter's night. For one thing, he made history by becoming the first openly gay black man to win the lead drama actor Emmy for his performance in the critically-acclaimed FX series.

For another ... well, his hat speaks for itself:

Embed from Getty Images//

It's hardly the first time Porter has made a bold fashion statement, having stunned at the Oscars in a velvet Christian Siriano gown earlier this year, and let's not forget his appearance as the Sun God at the Met Gala. But while he might have looked great while making history last night, let's pour one out for whatever poor soul got stuck sitting behind him.

Winner: Gwendoline Christie, full stop

Okay, so maybe she didn't win Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series, but Gwendoline Christie was the Emmys Lord and Savior anyway. For one thing, there was the fact that she was nominated at all; Christie submitted herself for her turn as Brienne of Tarth on Game of Thrones after HBO failed to do so. For another — and I cannot stress this enough — she showed up to the Emmys basically dressed as her character?

But others had a slightly different idea of who she looked like...

Loser: The Emmy orchestra

The red carpet wasn't the only Emmys staple to get the pink slip in 2019. In a change reportedly intended to "keep the audience involved," in the words of The New York Times, the award ceremony also did away with its live orchestra, choosing instead to pipe in songs by the Black Keys, Bee Gees, and Florence + The Machine, among others. Deadline writes that "the approach is reminiscent to the walk-up songs used at football games and wrestling events, which would fit into Fox's identity as home of NFL games and WWE SmackDown."

While it might have been "hipper," the ultimate result was confusing and disjointed music cues that never seemed to strike the right tone. Bring back the orchestra. Seriously.

Winner: Game of Thrones' dreadful final season

For a lot of fans, watching Game of Thrones' controversial final season win Outstanding Drama Series on Sunday might have been a bit of a shock. The show was widely considered to have lost its wheels during season eight, complete with plot twists like Daenerys becoming evil and Bran being named King of Westeros. Adding insult to injury, Ozark had won several other promising categories including directing, and seemed poised to take home the statuette; likewise, HBO's Succession stood by as a dark horse and fan-favorite.

But no, Thrones won yet again, putting it in a small group of the winningest drama series, at four, along with Mad Men, Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law, and The West Wing. But while I have my own major reservations about Thrones' final season, the show's dramatic send-off by the Emmys makes sense — it could be a generation before we see another show with the same massive popularity. Plus, I will defend every Creative Arts Emmy it won last week.

Loser: The host-less experiment

The Emmys went host-less this year in a bid to imitate the Oscars and ideally attract more viewers. It's safe to say that the experiment failed miserably, at least in terms of enjoyment on the audience's part. The ceremony felt unfocused without a host, and many of the presenters' gags flopped, including one involving The Masked Singer and Tik Tok (???) and another about laser eye surgery.

Worst of all, though, was comedian Thomas Lennon's abrasively un-funny commentary during the ceremony's transitions. To be fair, it's a thankless job; "this is why people don't do this, because it sucks!" he admitted midway through the ceremony. With you there.

Winner: This photo

Embed from Getty Images//

Winner: Okay, also this one

Loser: Chernobyl (the 1986 disaster, not the show)

HBO's Chernobyl limited series was one of the sneakiest mega-hits of 2019, earning rave reviews and the highest ever TV score on IMDb. But in one of the stranger turns of the 2019 Emmys, Chernobyl — both the show and the 1986 nuclear disaster on which it's based — became one of the most common punchlines of the night. Comedian and quasi-host Thomas Lennon even quipped that Chernobyl was "the little nuclear disaster that could" and that it was "exploding at these Emmys." Uhhh?

While not exactly a case of "too soon," using a tragedy like Chernobyl as a punch line is at the very least in poor taste (you wouldn't likely hear the same if it was HBO's Hiroshima or Fukushima Daiichi). Particularly since the show emphasizes the moral, criminal, and governmental failure to take the Chernobyl disaster seriously, it seems like the Emmys could have at the very least shown a little respect.

Winner: Anyone who loves a good upset

"Television Academy members are notorious for sticking with the familiar and tried-and-true when it comes to nominees and winners, as shows frequently continue to stay in contention long after they should," wrote Variety in July. "That's why Emmy prognosticators are usually wise to stick to past nominees rather than go on a limb and predict any sort of major category shakeup."

Well, that might have been true any year but 2019. The 71st Emmys had several jaw-dropping upsets, most notably with Phoebe Waller-Bridge winning Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy over Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who had won an Emmy for her performance in Veep all six years the show was previously eligible. Rather than make history on Sunday night, Louis-Dreyfus remained tied with Cloris Leachman for the most Emmys by a performer.

Netflix's When They See Us star Jharrel Jerome was another fresh face to win an award, winning Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie against titans like Oscar-winners Mahershala Ali (True Detective) and Benicio del Toro (Escape at Dannemora), Golden Globe-winner Hugh Grant (A Very English Scandal), and veteran actors Sam Rockwell (Fosse/Verdon) and Jared Harris (Chernobyl).

Game of Thrones not winning literally everything might be considered another upset, particularly in categories like Supporting Actress in a Drama Series, where four of the show's actors were up to bat (Gwendoline Christie; Lena Headey; Maisie Williams; Sophie Turner) with the award ultimately going to Julia Garner for Ozark. (Fun fact, Peter Dinklage remains the only person to ever win an acting Emmy for work in Game of Thrones). Likewise, it was Ozark's "Reparations" that won Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series, beating Game of Thrones' famously complicated and difficult to shoot Battle of Winterfell in "The Long Night"; "The Last of the Starks," which followed the aftermath of that battle; and "The Iron Throne," the series finale.

Loser: Dead people

The Emmy's "In Memoriam" section was bizarre, and not just because it was preceded by a special "In Memoriam" section mourning the TV shows that ended this year.

While the section is intended to honor the TV legends we lost in the past year, the poor production quality coupled with omissions and a failure to mute the audience's applause and cheers at certain people (and not for others) made the entire section incredibly awkward:

Winner: The United Kingdom

It was a big weekend for Britain, and not just because the Downton Abbey movie had blockbuster box office earnings. Of the 27 awards handed out at the Primetime Emmys, half the statuettes went to Brits or British-produced shows, Deadline reports. Fleabag was of course the biggest winner with its three surprise awards, but 10 additional Emmys went to shows like Chernobyl, Last Week with John Oliver, Killing Eve, and Black Mirror: Bandersnatch.

"There's quite a lot of British winners, maybe too many," observed Black Mirror creator Jesse Armstrong while accepting his award. "Maybe you should have a think about immigration restrictions on —"

Fox bleeped the rest.

Loser: Diversity. Yes, again.

Last year I included "diversity" among my Emmy losers, and I'm sorry to have to do so again. Despite several historic milestones, the Emmys proved they still have far to go.

The letdown began before the ceremony, when only 26 people of color received nominations for acting and hosting awards, down from 2018's 38, Deadline reports. Of that number, only three people of color (RuPaul Charles; Jharrel Jerome; Billy Porter) actually took home statuettes.

Even some of the white winners seemed frustrated, most notably with Limited Series Leading Actress Michelle Williams, of Fosse/Verdon, using her acceptance speech to call out the lack of equal pay in her industry.

Winner: The streamers

We are truly living in the era of the streamers, with on-demand services nearly sweeping the 71st Emmy Awards. HBO won nine Emmys on Sunday, Amazon Prime won seven, Netflix won four, and Hulu won one. Counting the Creative Arts Emmys that were handed out last week, HBO kept its edge on Netflix with a total of 34 Emmys to 27; 15 total went to Amazon, and there were only "single digits thereafter," according to CNN media critic Brian Lowry's tally.

It was a bruising night for basic cable, though. FX took two Emmys, one for Pose and one for Fosse/Verdon, while VH1 took one for RuPaul's Drag Race and BBC America took one for Killing Eve. Broadcast's NBC, meanwhile, only managed to pick up awards for Saturday Night Live.

Loser: An era of TV?

And what, then, does that say about the way we watch TV now? The big elephant in the room at the 2019 Emmys, after all, was that this will be, in a sense, the last year of its kind. By the 2020 Emmys, a whole new batch of elite streaming services will have arrived on the scene: Disney+ and Apple TV+, as well as HBO Max. TV is rapidly changing and the Emmys can sense it; while Television Academy CEO Frank Scherma might have insisted that the medium "continues to provide us with ... common ground," the fact is that the era of watching something together as it airs has come to a close.

"It feels like something is ending," the AV Club's Erik Adams likewise observed. "The 72nd edition of the awards will be the first that has to contend with the original programming of the Pluses and the Maxes and the Peacocks, so maybe somebody was trying to subliminally throw one last celebration of TV that lives on, you know, TV."

If they were, it worked. The 71st Emmys weren't always cohesive or even enjoyable, but they were a reminder of how much great TV sits at your fingertips at any given moment.

And on that note, I'm off to catch up on Ozark.

Want more essential commentary and analysis like this delivered straight to your inbox? Sign up for The Week's "Today's best articles" newsletter here.

Recommended

The daily gossip: January 25, 2022
Tiffany Haddish.
Daily gossip

The daily gossip: January 25, 2022

Peter Dinklage criticizes Disney for remaking the 'f--king backwards story' of Snow White
Peter Dinklage
hi-ho hi-no

Peter Dinklage criticizes Disney for remaking the 'f--king backwards story' of Snow White

Fox's Peter Doocy says Biden called him to 'clear the air' after 'stupid SOB' dig
Peter Doocy
No apologies

Fox's Peter Doocy says Biden called him to 'clear the air' after 'stupid SOB' dig

The daily gossip: January 24, 2022
Daniel Craig and Javier Bardem.
Daily gossip

The daily gossip: January 24, 2022

Most Popular

7 toons about Biden's Ukraine remarks
Political Cartoon.
Feature

7 toons about Biden's Ukraine remarks

Aaron Rodgers may retire after stunning loss to 49ers
Aaron Rodgers
what a way to go out

Aaron Rodgers may retire after stunning loss to 49ers

Russian threat complicates Olympics for Ukrainian athletes
Ukrainian athletes at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo
war games

Russian threat complicates Olympics for Ukrainian athletes