Something very fascinating happened at the 2019 Emmys.
Everybody knows that TV as we once knew it is over, that the streaming services in existence and the ones to come are the future—or at the very least they're flooding the viewing landscape with more quality programming than us mere mortals will ever be able to keep up with in a lifetime.
Yet Bryan Cranston, the de facto mayor of prestige TV who gave the ceremony its introduction, announced that "television has never been bigger, and television has never mattered more, and television has never been this damn good."
We're both right.
Because while it's more portable and on-demand and chopped up into bite-size pieces than ever before, so too is TV increasingly the medium through which all of the most important stories of our time (and a bunch of other times), be they made up or ripped right from the headlines and history books, are making their way into our consciousness.
As the makers of the winning limited series, HBO's all-too-real Chernobyl, said, they hope that their devastating show reminded people of "the value of the truth and the danger of the lie."
So what the Emmys did tonight was venture further than ever before into that bold new world, taking a cue from the Oscars and going without a host, letting the writers have their way with the length of the scripted bits, and anointing new kings and queens while saying farewell to those who ruled yesteryear.
1. Dirty Girl: Where have you been all our lives, Phoebe Waller-Bridge? The Fleabag star won for Writing for a Comedy Series for the cringe-and-guffaw fest that is her creation, then denied Julia Louis-Dreyfus a clean sweep of Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series for her seven seasons of Veep, and, for her final trick, accepted Outstanding Comedy Series for Fleabag, one of seven wins for Amazon.
"This is just getting ridiculous," Waller-Bridge said at the end of the night, her fourth time on that stage because she was also a presenter.
Still, six out of seven wasn't bad for Louis-Dreyfus (Selina Meyer would have killed, literally, for that sort of recognition), and Waller-Bridge, who also sold out a limited run of her one-woman Fleabag stage show this summer, is a worthy successor. And, as it happens, she has said that there won't be a next season, so the Academy had to strike while the iron was hot priest.
"It's just really wonderful to know—and reassuring—that a dirty, pervy, angry, messed-up woman can make it to the Emmys," she said when accepting for writing, "so thank you so much."
We'll drink to that.
2. Stark Reality: Whether you liked the final season or not, Game of Thrones ruled the night as expected as the winner for Outstanding Drama Series. Peter Dinklage won his fourth Emmy for Supporting Actor in a Drama, and the HBO game-changer picked up another 10 statues at the Creative Arts Emmys last weekend.
Sort of like the last few episodes, it was a shame that the ladies of GoT got short shrift, awards-wise in this case, with Ozark's chilling Julia Garner knocking out Maisie Williams, Lena Headey, Sophie Turner and Gwendoline Christie in one fell swoop for Supporting Actress in a Drama and Killing Eve assassin Jodie Comer breathing fire all over Emilia Clarke's chances for Lead Actress.
Still, everyone basked in the night's final triumphant moment together.
"These last 10 years have been the best years of our lives, and for everyone who worked with us on it," co-creator David Benioff said, "I can't believe we finished it, I can't believe we did it, we did it all together, and it's over. And we shall never see our like again."
He departed thanking his queen, Amanda Peete.
3. Beating Eve: Clarke aside, the real upset was Comer's win over her Killing Eve co-star Sandra Oh, who was the favorite after winning the Golden Globe for her titular role as a conflicted MI5 agent who becomes both intent on destroying—and kinda enamored with—Comer's chameleonic killer.
But we do hope the deserving Comer's fridge is full of champagne.
Meanwhile, it could have gone either way and still only made Phoebe Waller-Bridge's night more special. She stepped down as head writer after Killing Eve's first season, but the foundation she built for these characters only furthered their magnetic watchability in season two.
4. Seen and Heard: Jharrel Jerome won for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series/Movie for Ava DuVernay's When They See Us, about the railroading and eventual exoneration of the Central Park Five, five men of color who were wrongfully convicted of rape and served prison time. The 21-year-old actor, who played Korey Wise, dedicated his Emmy to "the exonerated five."
All of whom were in the audience last night to enjoy the applause that was just as much for them as the Netflix series that did them justice.
5. Live, Work, Win: It's Billy Porter's world, we're just living in it. The Broadway star turned history-making Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama winner for FX's Pose wasn't the only one who provided the proof at the 71st Primetime Emmys that the arts have never been more important to the soul of our country, but he punctuated that sentiment with heartening words of love, hope and courage.
Earlier in the night, Laverne Cox talked about the importance of Oct. 8, when the Supreme Court will be starting hearings on whether Title VII, which prohibits sex-based discrimination in the workplace, should protect the LGBTQ community. Patricia Arquette, a winner for supporting actress in a limited series/movie for her unrecognizable turn as Gypsy Rose Lee's mother in Hulu's The Act, lost her transgender sister Alexis Arquette in 2016 and said she would be in mourning "until we change the world so that trans people are not persecuted, and give them jobs."
Michelle Williams, Lead Actress in a Limited Series winner for Fosse/Verdon talked about the importance of lifting up women—especially women of color—in the workplace and thanked FX not only for listening to her concerns and giving her the resources she needed to embody Broadway star Gwen Verdon, but also for paying her equally, the real sign that she was equally respected. And only partly in jest, winning Succession writer Jesse Armstrong noted how many of his fellow Brits had won and suggested, "Maybe you want to think about those immigration restrictions."
"The category is, love y'all!" Porter, the first openly gay black man to win in his category, said. "I am so overwhelmed and so overjoyed to have lived long enough to see this day...I have the right. You have the right. We all have the right!"
After thanking those who'd been on the journey with him, he concluded, "We as artists are the people that get to change the molecular structure of the hearts and minds of the people who live on this planet. Please don't ever stop doing that. Please don't ever stop telling the truth."
6. Life From New York: The current political climate is draining most of us but it continues to energize Saturday Night Live, whose wins for Outstanding Variety Sketch Series (its third straight) and Don Roy King's direction made NBC the only winning broadcast network last night.
In a touching speech, executive producer Lorne Michaels talked about the Adam Sandler-hosted episode they submitted for consideration, and how every person working on the production got emotional when the '90s-era cast favorite memorialized SNL legend Chris Farley, who died in 1997, in song.
"It's rare that you see a cameraman tear up, or a boom crew crying," Michaels said. "But it was a very, very chilling moment, and very powerful, and it's those kind of moments which is why we're going into our 45th season, and that sort of thing is what keeps us there.
"That, and the politics."
7. Game Over: The Emmys paid special attention to Game of Thrones and Veep, two titans of their respective genres that, before Sunday, together had amassed 75 wins, gathering the casts onstage and playing montages that loudly signaled it being an end of an era for HBO (which still won the night this time with nine wins, including the fourth straight Variety Talk Series and writing wins for Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, a writing win for Succession and three for winning limited series Chernobyl).
Yet for the first time the Emmys also featured a little requiem for a handful of other shows of varying import that also ended their runs this past year, from The Big Bang Theory, whose 12 seasons earned it the shots of the cast tearing up at the final table read, to Gotham, which ran for five seasons.
So yes, the Emmys had an in memoriam segment for shows this year. The final step in the grieving process for old-school TV is acceptance, after all.
(E! and NBC are both members of the NBCUniversal family.)