An unusually high number of long-running shows – Big Bang Theory, Broad City, Jane the Virgin, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Gotham, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt – called it quits in the 2018-2019 TV season. Going into last night’s Primetime Emmy Awards, the expectation was that two of those recently ended shows – Veep, Game of Thrones – would get the career-achievement, rubber-stamp treatment. Makes sense, right? Historically, the Emmys have aired on the side of sticking with certain shows for too long rather than not long enough. Celebrating Game of Thrones for arguably its worst season seems like such an Emmys thing to do, and that is kind of what ended up happening. All told, GoT’s final season landed 12 Emmys, including Best Drama and Best Supporting Actor for Peter Dinklage.
However, another recently ended show stole the spotlight.
Say hello to Fleabag.
Adapted from Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s one-woman stage show, Fleabag is a show about an unnamed sex addict’s – “Fleabag” is a family nickname for her – journey through grief. She repeatedly breaks the fourth wall to lets us in on her often hilarious inner-monologue, but when her story turns darker the fourth-wall-breaking gains an entirely new, heart-breaking dimension. The first season, which premiered on the BBC and Amazon in 2016, ultimately builds to a surprise twist revealing why Fleabag is the way she is. The second season, which hit the BBC and Amazon in March of this year, chronicles her flailing attempts at self-improvement because it just wouldn’t be Fleabag if the main character went to church and didn’t fall in love with the hot new priest.
There are only 12 total episodes of Fleabag – all of them written by Waller-Bridge – but 12 is all we’re going to get. Waller-Bridge never intended for there to be a second season, and one of her conditions for returning was that the second season be the final season. She’s busy doing other things, like co-writing the script for the new James Bond movie and building her own empire as a creator/executive producer/writer of shows like BBC America’s Killing Eve (a multi-winner in the Drama category) and HBO’s upcoming Run (which she’ll also co-star in). Multi-hyphenate, thy name be Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
The Emmys completely slept on Fleabag’s first season, failing to give it a single nomination. There won’t be another chance to make up for that. This is it for Fleabag, and while the Emmys responded by honoring the second season with 9 total nominations there was still an expectation that Waller-Bridge would win for writing (which she did) but lose out for everything else. Julia Louis-Dreyfus, after all, had never lost an Emmy for playing Selina Meyer, and while Veep wasn’t necessarily destined to take home its fourth Best Comedy award Barry and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (last year’s winner) were each considered safer bets than Fleabag for the big award.
Instead, Veep walked away with zero wins. Barry and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel had to settle for acting awards. (Bill Hader took Best Actor-Comedy while Tony Shaloub and Alex Borstein happily accepted their respective Best Supporting Actor-Comedy awards.) Fleabag, meanwhile, took home wins for directing, writing, and acting in addition to Best Comedy.
What About the Other Comedies?
I can’t exactly argue with the results. Fleabag is amazing. Both seasons have 100% on RottenTomatoes for a reason. Louis-Dreyfus might be the more sentimental pick for Actress considering everything she’s been through with her breast cancer battle, but she’s also already won 6 times before for Veep (and 11 overall) and what Waller-Bridge pulled off is a truly unique achievement. Put the best episode of Veep’s final season up against Fleabag’s best episode and there is no bad choice, really. Louis-Dreyfus was as good as ever, but so was Waller-Bridge.
I also felt that Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s second season wasn’t as strong as its first, but the acting remains amazing. So congrats to Shaloub and Borstein. The Good Place, a multi-nominee that didn’t win anything, never seemed to have a real chance anyway, although it remains a travesty D’Arcy Carden – aka Janet – wasn’t at least nominated. Russian Doll and Schitt’s Creek were the classic “just happy to be there” nominees. Barry, however, well it would take something truly special to be considered better than Barry’s nearly perfect second season, but, yeah, Fleabag is just that good.
What Does the Future Look Like?
This category will inevitably look different next year. Veep and Fleabag are gone. (Same goes for The Big Bang Theory, a former perennial nominee that eventually wore out its welcome with Emmy voters.) The Good Place and Schitt’s Creek are entering their final seasons. I have no idea when Russian Doll will be back. Prior nominees like Atlanta and Silicon Valley are finally returning after long absences. GLOW, another prior nominee, will still be eligible for two more years – its most recent season will compete for 2020 Emmys, and its recently announced fourth and final season will be eligible for the 2021 Emmys – but I get the impression Emmy voters have fallen out of love with that show. The window is probably open for The Righteous Gemstones to sneak in there, though I struggle to imagine the Emmys truly embracing a Danny McBride show even if it is easily the best thing he’s ever done.
Barry and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel remain the shows most primed to replace Veep as the perennial nominee/winner, but when Fleabag can crash the party like it did this year who knows what else might come along to completely disrupt what we thought we knew about the Emmys.
Next Up: I react to the drama and limited series categories.