Will Emmys Foreshadow Guild Awards Season?
Bradley Whitford poses in the press room with the award for outstanding guest actor in a drama series for "The Handmaid's Tale" on night two of the Creative Arts Emmy Awards on Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)
Shows that had first and last hurrahs could again figure prominently
  • LOS ANGELES
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With Guild awards season in the offing--replete with TV categories--the 2019 Emmys could be a harbinger in some cases of what shows will resonate in the industry competitions ahead. Front and center are shows that made their last and first hurrahs at this year’s Emmy Awards. On the former score in its last Emmy stand, Game of Thrones punctuated its statement of supreme rule, again reigning as best drama. The final season of the iconic show scored a dozen Emmys, tying its own mark for the most garnered by a series in a single season. Game of Thrones first tallied 12 wins in 2015 and then again in ‘16. It is the most awarded show in primetime Emmy history.

While the Game of Thrones’ swan song continued to lead the way, another show building momentum--particularly in season two--found itself in rarefied Emmy air for the first time: Fleabag (Amazon) which won for best comedy, best lead actress and best comedy writing, all for series creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Additionally Fleabag’s first episode earned Harry Bradbeer the Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series Emmy.

Emmys’ sense of direction extended from Bradbeer to include: Jason Bateman for the Ozark (Netflix) episode “Reparations,” topping the directing for a drama series category; and Johan Renck who topped the Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series, Movie or Dramatic Special category on the basis of Chernobyl (HBO).

Chernobyl won a total of 10 Emmys this season including for Outstanding Limited Series and best writing distinction for Craig Mazin.

Meanwhile Billy Porter made history as the first openly gay man to win a best series drama acting Emmy--on the basis for his work on Pose (FX networks), a drama set in the LGBTQ ball scene of the late 1990s.

Making an impassioned plea for trans rights was Patricia Arquette upon accepting the Emmy as best supporting actress in a limited series or movie on the basis of her work in The Act (Hulu). “I’m grateful at the age of 50 to be getting the best parts of my life,” said Arquette, trying to stave off tears. “And that’s great but in my heart I’m so sad I lost my sister Alexis and that trans people are still being persecuted.” Alexis Arquette, a transgender person who had been living with HIV, died at age 47 back in 2016. Patricia Arquette said the she’s “in mourning every day of her life” for Alexis--”and I will be the rest of my life until we change the world” in terms of trans people being treated properly and being afforded employment and other opportunities.”

Also bringing a social issue to the fore during her acceptance speech was Michelle Williams who won the best leading actress Emmy for her portrayal of Gwen Verdon in the FX limited series Fosse/Verdon. Williams thanked FX and Fox 21 Television Studios for showing her respect through not only creative support but also for compensating her financially with pay equal to that received by Sam Rockwell who played Bob Fosse. Williams said that the gender pay gap must be corrected in the industry and society at large. Williams said she felt paralyzed upon finding out that while she was paid $1,000 to reshoot scenes for 2017’s All the Money in the World, co-star Mark Wahlberg earned some $1.5 million for his additional work. 

Meanwhile When They See Us chronicled injustice relative to the wrongful conviction of the Central Park Five. Ava DuVernay created, wrote and directed the Netflix series based on a true story. A huge cheer erupted from the Emmy audience when it was announced that Jharrel Jerome won for best lead actor in a limited series for his portrayal of Korey Wise, one of the five black and Latino teenagers who were coerced in 1989 into confessing to a rape they didn’t commit. They were eventually exonerated some 25 years later.

It’s believed that Jerome made history on a couple of fronts--becoming the first Afro Latino to win a best actor Emmy, as well as the youngest.

On the other end of the chronological continuum, Norman Lear during the earlier Creative Arts ceremony became the oldest person--at age 97--to win an Emmy. Receiving a standing ovation, he accepted the award for best live variety special on the strength of ABC’s Live in Front of a Studio Audience: Norman Lear’s All in the Family and The Jeffersons, a restaging of two of Lear’s classic 1970s’ CBS comedies with contemporary casts that included Woody Harrelson and Marisa Tomei portraying Archie and Edith Bunker, and Anthony Anderson and Wanda Sykes as George and Louise Jefferson.  This marked Lear’s fifth career Emmy win.

Guest stars
Heartfelt thanks graced a couple of the acceptance speeches for guest actor winners in comedy and drama series, respectively--Jane Lynch for her portrayal of comedienne Sophie Lennon in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon); and Bradley Whitford as Commander Joseph Lawrence in The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu).

Lynch paid tribute to the comediennes she grew up with in the 1960s, who paved the way for her and others today. She cited Phyllis Diller, Joan Rivers, Totie Fields and Moms Mabley for their pioneering efforts, back when female comics needed a gimmick to get attention, whether it be about their less than stunning looks, inability to keep a man and so on. These luminaries, said Lynch, rose above the gimmicks even when they used them, showing their talent and staying power, inspiring future generations of funny women. They also inspired Lynch’s approach to portraying Lennon.

Meanwhile Whitford credited “The Handmaid’s Tale” author Margaret Atwood and lead actress Elizabeth Moss. Of the latter, Whitford said simply that her performance is defining acting for this generation, heralding what she’s done on Handmaid’s Tale as being like “Sophie’s Choice, the series.”

Whitford added that Atwood has imparted three vital messages when dealing with extreme right wing ideology, oppression and misogyny--Despair is not an option; action is the antidote for despair; and our future is defined by how we act and react.

Whitford and Lynch weren’t the only guest thespians to win Emmys for their work on The Handmaid’s Tale and Mrs. Maisel. Best guest male performer in a comedy series was Luke Kirby for his portrayal of Lenny Bruce in Mrs. Maisel. And Cherry Jones won for outstanding guest actress in a drama series for her role as Holly in The Handmaid’s Tale.

Total leaders
Second to HBO’s 34 Emmys this year was Netflix with 23. Amazon Prime Video finished third with 15, followed by National Geographic with eight, NBC with seven, and CNN and FX Networks tied with five apiece.

After Game of Thrones with a dozen overall Emmys and Chernobyl with 10, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel tallied eight, followed by Free Solo with seven (which earlier in the year won the Best Feature Documentary Oscar for the wife-and-husband team of directors/producers Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin), and Fleabag with six. Tied at five were Saturday Night Live and Love, Death & Robots. And four series deadlocked at four Emmys each: Fosse/Verdon, Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, Queer Eye, and RuPaul’s Drag Race.

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