The Primetime Emmy Awards went without a host last night, following the new awards show trend kicked off so memorably by the Oscars last March. Fox executives, however, remained adamant that they were not guilty of trend-chasing. No, no, no – they went without a host because they needed the extra time to honor all the long-running shows that ended in the 2018/2019 TV season. In practice, however, this mostly meant a brief montage honoring never-nominated shows like Gotham and Broad City before the montage turned into a longer Big Bang Theory tribute, Sheldon Cooper stealing the spotlight one last time.
Veep and Game of Thrones were given special treatment. Both shows were up for the top Comedy and Drama prizes respectively and were thus set up to get their standing ovations when they inevitably won. Rather than take any chances, however, Fox’s producers made sure each show got its own spotlight. So, the entire Game of Thrones cast came out for their standing ovation moment prior to handing out a random award. Later in the telecast, the Veep cast repeated the same trick.
Game of Thrones & The Return of the King Rule
Fox, it turns out, needn’t have worried about Game of Thrones. On a largely unpredictable night, the gang from Westeros was about the only sure thing. The Emmys telecast was always going to end with Benioff & Weiss, so hated on the internet for what they did in the GoT finale, thanking their families one last time before finally moving on to the hard work of creating original shows for Netflix. (Veep, meanwhile, didn’t win a single award. Thank God the cast got that one standing ovation).
This was not, however, an entirely rubber-stamp affair for GoT. 10 of the show’s actors were nominated; 9 of them lost. (Only Peter Dinklage won.) Writing and directing awards went elsewhere. Ozark’s star/director Jason Bateman seemed genuinely stunned he beat the four nominated Game of Thrones directors. That’s what happens when multiple nominees split the vote, or when your work just wasn’t good enough to win.
Of course, combined with the un-telecast Creative Arts Emmys, GoT’s swan song still netted 12 wins, the most for any season in the show’s history. The show, ultimately, took home its fourth Best Drama award, and that’s what everyone will remember. GoT’s worst – or at least most divisive – season was deemed to be the best drama on all of TV. Hey, Emmys, ya canceled!
The joke that I – and seemingly everyone online – made before the telecast is GoT was going to win Best Drama via The Return of the King rule. It’s that unspoken awards show rule where you have to acknowledge the cumulative, historic achievement of something even if that something closed out with its worst installment.
Given that level of cynicism or perhaps begrudging acceptance on my part, I fully expected GoT to win and to feel nothing about it. However, the moment Michael Douglas – chosen to present the Best Drama award for no apparent reason – read out “And the Emmy goes to…Game of Thrones” I didn’t roll my eyes. I didn’t sigh. I didn’t punch the air or mentally prepare my argument for why, I dunno, Killing Eve should have won.
Instead, I was almost overwhelmed with a rush of memories of watching, dissecting, and often times purely enjoying this show for the past decade. Perhaps it is an invalidating move for the Emmys to give this particular season the Best Drama award, but in the moment it felt ok. For any other show to win, it would have been a simple case of a TV show winning an award; for Game of Thrones, it’s a cultural moment, the likes of which we’ll never see in quite the same way again, being fondly memorialized. It wasn’t the Best Drama on TV this year (some of the episodes were amazing, others, um, not so much), but it was one of the most unforgettable TV experiences we’ll ever have.
What About the Other Shows?
To complain about GoT’s big win means ignoring all of the other genuine, entirely pleasant surprises that preceded it throughout the telecast. Julia Garner won Best Supporting Actress for being hands-down the best part of Ozark. Pose star Billy Porter became the first openly gay black man to win an acting Oscar. Jodie Comer, so often unfairly overlooked in favor of her more notable Killing Eve co-star Sandra Oh, finally got the recognition she deserved in the Lead Actress category. There is no show without both of them, and it’s amazing that they now both Comer and Oh have Emmys. (Oh, if you don’t remember, won last year). Succession got an Emmy for writing, which feels about right.
When you add in what was happening on the comedy side of things, where Fleabag defied the experts and absolutely cleaned up, it gave the Emmys the feel of a show trying harder than usual to get it right. The rubber stamp was not so easily found. That is, of course, until the final award of the evening.
What Does the Future Look Like?
This year, the competition essentially conceded defeat to Game of Thrones. Hulu and Netflix each pushed prior Best Drama nominees The Handmaid’s Tale, Stranger Things and The Crown to later in the year to qualify for the 2020 Emmys, far away from GoT. Westworld, meanwhile, took another gap year – HBO lets Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy deliver a new season every two years instead of every year. It’ll now be in the running for 2020.
Meanwhile, among those other shows nominated opposite GoT this year – Better Call Saul, Bodyguard, Killing Eve, Ozark, Pose, Succession and This Is Us – only Bodyguard hasn’t officially been renewed for another season yet. So, pretty much all of this year’s losers will be eligible to win in 2020. Then there’s the never-ending supply of new – or newish – shows which send critics into a frenzy of hyperbolic Twitter raves. Will Mindhunter, Ramy, On Becoming a God In Central Florida, and Euphoria be remembered when voting starts? Will HBO’s His Dark Materials or Watchmen break into the conversation of TV’s best? Will any of of the forthcoming Disney+, HBO Max, Apple TV+, or Peacock streaming originals break out?
That’s a lot of uncertainty, and the peak TV era has taught us there will always be something we don’t see coming that quickly turns into our new TV obsession. Right now, the pendulum seems to be swinging toward Succession – an already good show that turned the corner into something truly special in its second season – as the heir apparent to GoT’s Best Drama crown. But, man, there is so, so, so much TV to get through before the next Emmys roll around.
Limited Series: Chernobyl Vs. When They See Us
I have to less to say about the Limited Series category, largely because I haven’t seen Sharp Objects or Escape at Dannemora yet and haven’t finished Fosse/Verdon. So, for me, it’s pretty much down to Chernobyl vs. When They See Us, which is broadly how the awards experts saw it shaking out anyway. The best-limited series, it seems, was always destined to come down to Craig Mazan’s gripping masterpiece (Chernobyl) or Ava DuVernay’s upsetting-but-important-to-watch crusade on behalf of the group once dubbed the Central Park Five (When They See Us).
Based on Twitter reactions, however, Chernobyl’s big win for Best Limited Series still caught many off guard. That’s possibly because everything Ava DuVernay does comes with an added sense of importance. As a black female who made a movie about Martin Luther King (Selma), a documentary tracing America’s history with mass incarcerations of black people (The 13th), a race-switched, big-budget version of A Wrinkle in Time featuring Oprah as God, an OWN network drama which mandates that every episode be directed by a woman (Queen Sugar), and now a mini-series about the Central Park Five, she proudly advances social justice in her work.
For example, had she won Best Director last night she was going to bring the actual Central Park Five up to the stage with her. That’s a TV moment we were robbed of seeing because the Emmy voters thought Chernobyl was better. However, the Five got their moment on camera when Jharrel Jermone won for Leading Actor. The entire room erupted into applause when he won, as if everyone had been dying for the chance to celebrate When They See Us and wasn’t sure if they’d get to do so again since Chernobyl had already won for writing and directing and was probably going to win for Best Limited Series.
What I liked is that everyone in the category got a moment like that. Craig Mazan, accepting Chernobyl’s Best Limited Series win, warned about our need to stay vigilant in seeking truth and holding our institutions and governments accountable. Michelle Williams, accepting an acting win for Fosse/Verdon, made a very well-written, clearly articulated plea for equal pay and equal treatment in the workplace. Patricia Arquette, a multi-nominee who somewhat surprisingly won for The Act and not Escape at Dannemora, memorialized her dead sister Alexis and lobbied on behalf of trans people. Ben Whishaw, a surprise winner for A Very English Scandal, complained about his hangover.
Ok. They can’t all be inspiring speeches. Sometimes, you just want to see an actor do something that’ll quickly become a meme. There was a lot of that in last night’s Emmys, and even if can’t get past the nagging feeling that no awards body can truly keep up with the peak TV era, the 2019 Emmys made a surprising argument for its ability to spread the love around to a bunch of worthwhile shows.
Now, Netflix is undoubtedly already planning its campaign for Unbelievable as Best Limited Series. Who else knows what might join it in the running for the 2020 Emmys.