Emmys 2019: The highs, the lows and the head-scratchers

Ethan Alter
Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment

When you play the Game of Emmys you win ... or you don’t. But HBO’s Game of Thrones won big in its final season, taking home a total 12 Emmys out of its record 32 nominations, including the statue for Outstanding Drama Series. The network’s other big success story was the limited series Chernobyl, which nabbed a total of 10 statues, finishing comfortably ahead of Netflix’s much-lauded When They See Us. The final tally in the HBO vs. Netflix tally was 34 to 27 in favor of HBO. Meanwhile, Amazon Prime cleaned up across the comedy categories thanks to the dynamic duo of Fleabag and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Here’s Yahoo Entertainment’s recap of the night’s high, low and head-scratching moments.

HIGH: Game of Thrones ties a dramatic record

The cast of "Game of Thrones" appears on stage to present an award at the 71st Primetime Emmy Awards. From left are, Alfie Allen, Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams,Lena Headey, Peter Dinklage, Kit Harington Emilia Clarke, Gwendoline Christie, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Carice van Houten. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Right around the time that Ozark pulled off a shocking upset in two categories where Game of Thrones appeared to have an iron-clad grip on victory — Directing and Supporting Actress — some wondered whether the HBO’s show’s watch as an Emmy favorite had ended. But in the end, the fantasy series claimed the Emmy Throne, with its fourth win for Outstanding Drama Series. That puts Game of Thrones among such illustrious company as Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law, The West Wing and Mad Men, all of which were members of the four-timers’ club. GoT also tied its own Emmy record with a dozen wins in a single season.

LOW: Peter Dinklage wasn’t the only award-worthy actor on Game of Thrones

Peter Dinklage accepts the award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series for "Game of Thrones" at the 71st Primetime Emmy Awards. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Look, we can argue all day about whether or not Game of Thrones deserved to win the Outstanding Drama statue for its controversial final season. But what’s absolutely not up for debate is that Emmy voters yet again missed their chance to honor a member of the show’s terrific cast beyond perennial winner, Peter Dinklage. Lena Headey, Emilia Clarke, Gwendoline Christie and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau were just a few members of the ensemble who deserved a statue at some point during the show’s eight-season run only to be repeatedly passed over. At least showrunner D.B. Weiss took a moment to give them a shout-out after the show won Outstanding Drama: “You make everything we write better.” Hey, he said it — not us!

HIGH: Fleabag had it in the bag

Phoebe Waller-Bridge at the 71st Primetime Emmy Awards. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

While many prognosticators (us included) predicted that HBO’s Veep would enjoy a final season sweep, the second and last season of Amazon Prime’s Fleabag proved first in Emmy voters’ hearts. Creator and star Phoebe Waller-Bridge won dual statues for Outstanding Writing and Outstanding Actress — breaking Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s near-perfect streak of Veep victories in that category — and the show itself claimed the Outstanding Comedy Series statues over its Amazon Prime streaming mate The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. “The reason I do it is for this,” Waller-Bridge said during one of her many trips to the stage, half-jokingly referring to the Emmy in her hand.

HIGH: Bryan Cranston saved the Emmys… intro

Homer Simpson is projected on screen at the 71st Primetime Emmy Awards. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

For a brief moment, it looked like Homer Simpson was about to break the cartoon barrier by becoming the first animated leading man to host the Emmys. But the usual Springfield luck held up, and the Simpson family patriarch wound up plunging through the stage floor. Into the fray leapt Black-ish star Anthony Anderson, who raced backstage to find a replacement — with a brief stop to bag some statues for himself and his mom. While that bit fell flat, Anderson did find the intro’s hope and savior in the form of Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston, who took the stage and delivered the kind of earnest speech that an actual host would have had to sell in between jokes. “50 years ago, Neil Armstrong walked on the moon and through the power of television, 600 million people in 53 million households walked with him. Not a bad rating.” Not a bad way to begin the night either.

LOW: Thomas Lennon’s not-so-colorful commentary was a major bummer

It’s a shame that Cranston couldn’t stick around to comment on the proceedings as they unfolded. Instead, that task fell to Reno 911! mastermind Thomas Lennon, whose attempts at deadpan humor proved to be DOA. Apart from a well-aimed riposte at Felicity Huffman’s jail time (“Hopefully those two weeks are going to fly right by,” he said), most of his “jokes” fell flatter than his remake of The Odd Couple. It’s a shame that Neil Patrick Harris apparently skipped watching the Emmys: unlike Rachel Bloom, Lennon would have deserved some mean Tweets from the former Doogie Howser.

HIGH: Step out of line and salute Alex Borstein

She may have won her second Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy, but Marvelous Mrs. Maisel star Alex Borstein provided one of the night’s most dramatic moments. During her acceptance speech, the actress took a moment to honor her grandmother, a Holocaust survivor who literally faced death in the face and lived to tell the tale. As Borstein told it, her grandmother was told by a Nazi soldier that the penalty of stepping out of line might be a bullet, but she took that fateful step anyway. “And for that I am here and for that my children are here,” her granddaughter said proudly. “So step out of line ladies — step out of line.”

LOW: They shoulda cut the mic on The Masked Singer

Nick Cannon, left, and Ken Jeong present at the 71st Primetime Emmy Awards. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Look, it only makes sense that Fox would want to hype the return of its breakout reality hit The Masked Singer. But giving the show such prominent placement on the red carpet, followed by an extended — and extremely unfunny — onstage appearance by turban-sporting host Nick Cannon and judge Ken Jeong, made us less than eager to learn the identity of Season 2’s masked singer. “And that is a career wrap on Ken Jeong,” the actor joked after his and Cannon’s TikTok-assisted bit bombed. Not if you get a mask, Ken…

HEAD-SCRATCHER: Why did only HBO shows get proper goodbyes?

HBO stalwarts Game of Thrones and Veep went off the air within a week of each other, and the Emmy producers invited the casts of both shows onto the stage for a rousing farewell. But what’s The Big Bang Theory … chopped liver? CBS’s blockbuster sitcom also signed off for good in May, but it was relegated to a montage of other recently concluded shows, including Gotham and Jane the Virgin, that apparently didn’t merit the HBO treatment. We’ll say this: Twitter liked the Jane the Virgin finale a whole lot more than the Game of Thrones finale.

Then there’s Orange Is the New Black. The venerable series that helped make Netflix next-level, didn’t even get a shout-out during the montage, which didn’t go unnoticed from its cast.

HIGH: Patricia Arquette makes it personal

Accepting her Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie, Patricia Arquette gave a moving tribute to her sister, transgender activist Alexis Arquette, who died of HIV-related causes in 2016. And she made it clear that the rights her sister fought for are far from won. “Trans people are still being persecuted,” Arquette said. “They’re human beings — let’s give them jobs. Let’s get rid of this bias we have everywhere.”

LOW: They can’t all be Hamilton

When Lin-Manuel Miranda takes the stage, awesome things are generally guaranteed to follow. But that was decidedly not the case with the “variety show”-themed musical number the Hamilton superstar was conscripted to introduce. The ill-conceived routine managed to waste the considerable talents of Adam Devine and Samantha Bee, and dragged out the Masked Singer cast one more time. Let it be known that Miranda’s appearance doesn’t equal an endorsement.

HIGH: We see you, Jharrel Jerome

Jharrel Jerome accepts the award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie for "When They See Us." (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

The When They See Us star — and newly minted Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie — brought the crowd to their feet by reminding them that the subjects of Ava DuVernay’s hit Netflix series are no longer the Central Park Five: they’re the Exonerated Five. The real-life Five, whose miscarriage of justice was brilliantly dramatized on screen, were in the audience for that moment and their hard-earned freedom was never sweeter.

HEAD-SCRATCHER: Who was DJing the awards?

We can only assume that the Emmy afterparty started early in the music booth, because the choices of song cues were downright bizarre all night long. In what world does a DJ cue up Ray Charles after the nuclear disaster series Chernobyl wins a statue? Forget it, Jake … it’s Emmytown.

HIGH: Michelle Williams is unequaled when it comes to making the case for equal pay

Fosse/Verdon star Michelle Williams regularly calls attention to the Hollywood pay gap, and never fails to eloquently express why it’s time to pay actors and actresses equal amounts for equal work. The actress highlighted her signature issue again — one she’s hand first-hand experience with — while accepting the Emmy for Outstanding Actress in a Limited Series or Movie. After thanking FX for paying her the same salary as co-star Sam Rockwell and ensuring she had all the materials she needed to properly portray Broadway legend Gwen Verdon, she turned her focus to what the rest of the industry can do. “The next time a woman, and especially a woman of color — because she stands to make 52 cents on the dollar compared to her 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 and not in spite of it.”

HIGH: We’ll have what Natasha Lyonne is having

Russian Doll may hav ended the night empty-handed, but the Netflix show’s co-creator and leading lady, Natasha Lyonne, was living her best life all night long. Seated next to her off-camera beau, Fred Armisen, the actress was a veritable fountain of classic reaction shots — just like Jack Nicholson used to be at the Oscars. You’ve heard of Orange Is the New Black? Well, we’re here to tell you that Natasha is the new Jack.

LOW: We wouldn’t have chosen the Emmy ending for Bandersnatch

The bloom appears to be off the Black Mirror’s black rose. The show’s experiment in “choose your own adventure” storytelling, Bandersnatch, received middling reviews upon its release last December and its win for Outstanding Television Movie was met with a collective shrug online. Here’s a branching path for you to follow: Netflix is about to release another Black Mirror interactive movie. Do you: (A) Watch; (B) Not Watch; (C) Binge Stranger Things again.

HIGH: The category is… LOVE

Billy Porter has always been a red carpet champion: now he’s officially an Emmy champion. The Pose star received 10s across the board from voters, and made history as the first openly gay black actor to take home the Outstanding Actor in a Drama statue. And Porter didn’t miss the opportunity to mark the occasion with his always-fabulous eloquence. Opening with the James Baldwin quote “It took many years of vomiting up all the filth I’d been taught about myself, and half-believed, before I was able to walk on the earth as though I had a right to be here,” Porter went on to stirringly declare: “I have the right. You have the right. We all have the right!”

LOW: Not every show can go host-less

Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel speak onstage during the 71st Emmy Awards. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

The Oscars made the right call to leave the “host” slot unoccupied, but Fox’s strangely paced Emmys telecast was crying out for an emcee to keep the proceedings moving along. Professional hosts Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel argued early on that hosts shouldn’t be optional (“This show sucks!” they proclaimed), and by the end of the night we came to agree with them. Thanks guys! Your reward is getting to host the 2020 Emmys!

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