The 71st Annual Emmy Awards aired on Fox this Sunday, and I started watching with very few expectations or prior knowledge — except that Game of Thrones earned more nominations than any other TV show this year and that I was rooting for Fleabag to win Best Comedy Series. But the awards show ended up being surprisingly entertaining, with its earnest speeches, diverse wins and, of course, celebrities’ elaborate red carpet outfits (personally, I thought Billy Porter’s hat and Zendaya’s green dress stole the show).
For the first time in over a decade, the Emmys did not have a host. Instead, the show opened with Homer Simpson projected onto a screen. The cartoon character spoke a sentence and a half before a piano fell onto his head. Black-ish lead Anthony Anderson leapt up from his seat in the audience and attempted to keep the show going before getting distracted by a shelf full of Emmy statues backstage, which he had enlisted his mother to help steal.
Finally, Bryan Cranston was pushed onstage and gave an opening speech. The rest of the show went relatively smoothly despite its lack of a host, with voiceovers announcing the nominees for each category. There were, however, some awkward transitions, including a secondhand-embarrassment-inducing James Corden dance number and a Ben Stiller bit with… Madame Tussauds wax figures?
Many of the night’s wins were expected. Saturday Night Live once again took the Emmy for Outstanding Variety Sketch Series. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver won Outstanding Variety Talk Series for the fourth year in a row, and John Oliver thanked their office dog “for having big, floppy ears.” Game of Thrones won Outstanding Drama Series and Peter Dinklage took Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series for his portrayal of Tyrion Lannister, in spite of the show’s controversial final season. However, considering how many nominations Game of Thrones had, I was surprised that it took home only two Emmys.
In one of the more powerful moments of the night, Billy Porter won Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for his role in FX’s Pose, which explores New York City’s 1980s ballroom culture. Porter is the first openly gay, black man to win the award. In his acceptance speech he thanked his castmates.
“The category is love, y’all, love!” he said. “I am so overwhelmed and so overjoyed to have lived to see this day. James Baldwin said, ‘it took many years of vomiting up the filth that I have been taught about myself and halfway believed before I could walk around this Earth like I had the right to be here.’ I have the right, you have the right, we all have the right.”
Michelle Williams’ acceptance speech for her Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie stressed the importance of equal pay in Hollywood. The speech follows Williams’ 2018 revelation that she made less than $1000 to reshoot scenes for a film, whereas her costar Mark Wahlberg made $1.5 million (Wahlberg donated his salary to Time’s Up). She thanked FX for understanding her worth.
“When you put value into a person, it empowers that person to get in touch with their inherent value,” Williams said. “The next time a woman, and especially a woman of color, because she stands to make 52 cents on the dollar compared to their white male counterpart, tells you what she needs in order to do her job, listen to her, believe her, because one day she might stand in front of you and say thank you for allowing her to succeed because of her workplace environment, not in spite of it.”
Jharrel Jerome won Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie for the Netflix miniseries When They See Us, which tells the true story of five men of color, known as the Exonerated Five, who were falsely convicted of rape in 1989. Jerome dedicated his win to the real Exonerated Five, who were in the audience and gave Jerome a standing ovation. When They See Us, however, lost Outstanding Limited Series to HBO’s Chernobyl.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge was one of the biggest winners of the evening, taking home four Emmys for her Amazon Prime comedy Fleabag (yay!).
“This is just getting ridiculous,” she said after taking the stage to accept the award for best comedy series. “It’s just really wonderful to know, and reassuring, that a dirty, pervy, angry, messed-up woman can make it to the Emmys.”
Waller-Bridge’s show Killing Eve was also recognized when Jodie Comer beat her own costar, Sandra Oh, for the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. Comer, who plays a serial killer on the show, looked genuinely shocked at her first-ever Emmy win, and gave a stumbling acceptance speech where she apologized for not inviting her parents.
Amazon Prime’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel won for both Outstanding Supporting Actor and Actress in a Comedy Series, recognizing Alex Borstein and Tony Shalhoub for their delightful portrayals of the titular Midge Maisel’s manager and father, respectively. The awards marked a big win for the streaming service, which beat out many traditional television networks. HBO, however, won the most awards of the night.
Borstein’s acceptance speech was particularly touching — she paid tribute to her grandmother, a Holocuast survivor. Patricia Arquette of The Act gave an equally poignant speech after winning the award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series — she called for an end to transphobia and dedicated her award to her sister Alexis, who died in 2016.
Overall, the 2019 Emmys had some rocky moments, but Fox ultimately put on a good show that celebrated television’s best storytelling in an ever-evolving Hollywood.