The 71st Primetime Emmy Awards were filled with fond farewells, surprising wins and the notable absence of a host. Veteran programs “Game of Thrones” and “Veep” found a surprisingly sparse amount of success, as the night’s awards were relatively well-distributed — a variety of programs including “Ozark,” “Pose” and “Succession” managed to take home an Emmy.
But the star of the night was undoubtedly Phoebe Waller-Bridge, whose comedy series “Fleabag” pulled off four Emmy wins. Odd transitional bits necessitated by the lack of a host for the ceremony may have failed to charm, but Waller-Bridge’s authentic acceptance speeches certainly didn’t. The surprising success of “Fleabag,” along with a historic win for Billy Porter, made this year’s Emmys ceremony a pleasantly entertaining affair.
In lieu of a traditional host, “television’s biggest night” began with a string of comedic bits from famous Fox character Homer Simpson, nominee Anthony Anderson and Bryan Cranston — a relatively lackluster opening compared to Emmys past.
The awards for supporting actor and actress in a comedy went to Tony Shalhoub and Alex Borstein for “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” — with Shalhoub beating out three nominees from HBO’s “Barry” and Borstein earning her second straight win in this category.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge took home the award for writing in a comedy series for her work on “Fleabag,” quipping that it was good to know “a dirty, pervy, angry, messed-up woman could make it to the Emmys!”
The award for directing for a comedy series went to Harry Bradbeer for “Fleabag,” another notable win for Waller-Bridge’s critically lauded comedy. Maya Rudolph and Ike Barinholtz then gifted Bill Hader with an Emmy for lead actor in a comedy series. Hader profusely thanked his “Barry” co-creator, Alec Berg, in his acceptance speech.
Jimmy Kimmel and Stephen Colbert lampooned the ceremony’s lack of a host before presenting the award for lead actress in a comedy series to Phoebe Waller-Bridge — one of the night’s biggest upsets, as Waller-Bridge beat odds-on favorite Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Appropriately, Waller-Bridge started off her speech with an exclamation: “NOOOO!”
Seth Meyers led a tribute to “Game of Thrones” before the HBO show’s cast presented Patricia Arquette (“The Act”) with the Emmy for supporting actress in a limited series. Arquette dedicated her speech to her sister Alexis, who passed away in 2016, and used her speech to advocate for trans rights.
Angela Bassett and Peter Krause were next to introduce lead actor in a limited series, and in a remarkable win Jharrel Jerome won for “When They See Us.” In the moment that he took to compose himself, the room held a gentle and encouraging silence, lending space to the magnitude of the win.
The cast of “Veep” took the stage after a muddled and slightly nerve-wracked intro from Hugh Laurie, as the award for lead actress in a limited series was introduced by the ever-funny Julia Louis-Dreyfus, which went to Michelle Williams for her work in “Fosse/Verdon.” With this win, we saw the Emmys stage become the venue for a beautiful and empowering speech on the gender pay gap from Williams.
The next presenters were Jon Hamm and Naomi Watts, who gave the award for limited series to leading contender “Chernobyl.”
Randall Park and Anthony Anderson arrived on stage next to introduce the variety sketch series winner — which, to the surprise of no one, was given to NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.” Lorne Michaels offered an emotional speech dedicated to Adam Sandler’s musical tribute to Chris Farley, which may have won the show its upteenth award.
Predictably, “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” took home the award for variety talk series. While the win was arguably deserved for the show’s biting social and political commentary, it was far from surprising given Oliver’s previous success in the category.
In one of the biggest surprises of the evening, Julia Garner took home the award for supporting actress in a drama series, beating out four nominees from “Game of Thrones”: Lena Headey, Gwendoline Christie, Maisie Williams and Sophie Turner.
In a history-making win, Billy Porter took home the award for lead actor in a drama series for his role in “Pose.” Porter’s win speaks to the strength of his performance and the significance of his win; Porter became the first openly gay Black man to win the award.
Michael Bluth — ehem, Jason Bateman — won the award for directing in a drama series for his work on Netflix’s “Ozark.” “This is … something,” he said, as he held the trophy on stage. While it was only the second win for “Ozark” over the course of the night, it was interesting to see the under-the-radar drama get some awards recognition.
To continue a string of surprising wins, Jodie Comer beat out several nominees and her “Killing Eve” co-star Sandra Oh to win the award for lead actress in a drama series.
In one of the biggest wins of the night, “Fleabag” won for outstanding comedy series, beating out veteran HBO comedy “Veep” and a slew of popular nominees. While “Fleabag” was nominated for only its second season, the strength of the writing and performances, as well as the significant buzz surrounding the show’s brief but powerful run, carried it to a major victory.
And, of course, the final award of the night for outstanding drama series went to HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” While the win was far from surprising, and perhaps only questionably deserved given the middling quality of the final season, the show’s impact on television and Emmy voters has been undeniable.
“Game of Thrones” did not sweep every award it was nominated for — rather, it took home Primetime awards only for Peter Dinklage in the supporting actor in a drama series category and for the show as a whole. While it may have dominated nominations, the absence of the cable titan did allow for other shows, performers and writers to be recognized for their work. Save for the notable absence of wins for “Veep,” there were no shocking upsets over the course of the night. Ultimately, this did seem like the first year in a while in which the Television Academy seemed willing to prioritize the quality of the shows over the career impact of those who made them.
Areyon Jolivette is an assistant arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected].
Grace Orriss is an assistant arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected].