Depending on your where your cultural passions lie, the annual Primetime Emmys can either be the pinnacle of your awards season or fly directly over your head. The awards ceremony, which honours the best of US prime-time television, is the slightly less glamorous cousin of the always massive Grammy and Academy Awards, which both exude an aura of elite that cannot quite be attributed to plain old television. Still, Sunday’s show tried its best to please, with various hits and a few more misses at the Microsoft Theatre in Los Angeles.
The last few years has seen television change drastically. The rapid ascent of streaming platforms to the mainstream has been an obvious talking point of every Emmys since Orange Is the New Black graced Netflix in 2013, and they continue to crowd up categories with some excellent shows. What is clear from Emmys of recent years is the sheer number of online shows that offer themselves up for mass consumption, and in turn, mass awards. What was once a far more straightforward playing field is now muddled with different mediums of how people watch television. Major American channels are obviously still an awards night staple, but the imposition of streaming is not lost on anybody.
If anything, the night’s most relevant and talked-about shows were the children of streaming networks: Fleabag, although firmly BBC in its home country, is Amazon Prime’s property in the States, and When They See Us, a thrilling depiction of the wrongful conviction of the Central Park Five, is Netflix’s worldwide. Streaming platforms took home as many awards as more traditional television networks, displaying the very real power they have upon not just viewing habits, but the upper echelons of the awards circuit. It was definitely enough to make you wonder about the future of television in the coming years.
There were, of course, also the awards themselves. Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag took an unexpected and joyous sweep in all the major categories, whilst it was with an anticlimactic clunk that HBO’s underwhelming and divisive final season of Game of Thrones was awarded Outstanding Drama Series. Glimpses of genuine surprise followed by genuine delight were visible in the wins of Jodie Comer and Jharrel Jerome for Killing Eve and When They See Us, respectively. Similarly, Billy Porter won Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama for Pose to an emotional and rapturous standing ovation, becoming the first openly gay black man to win the award. Yet despite a few quite brilliant moments, it was a long, laboured three hours that was only just about saved by the winners themselves, who gave several good, even moving speeches.
The Emmys may be about the best of television, but there is something to be said about the most resonating moment of the night being a photograph of Phoebe Waller Bridge smoking at the afterparty, surrounded by her own Emmys. Some truly brilliant shows were cooped up in that theatre, but the whole evening seemed slightly stagnant, especially with the Oscar-style lack of a host.
Considering it was a night of some pleasantly – even fantastically – surprising wins, the 71st Primetime Emmy Awards didn’t feel like a roaring success. What eventuated was a lacklustre show unsure of quite where it stands amongst the programmes it awards. It really is a new era for television, and it seems to be difficult to keep up. So perhaps Game of Thrones getting a final hoot for its absolute worst season is a nod to the past of TV, whilst everybody else stumbles aimlessly to the future.
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