The 2018 Emmys were at once enthralling and utterly anticlimactic.
You could feel it in the way FX’s The Americans won for writing and lead actor (Matthew Rhys), while Netflix’s The Crown won for directing and lead actress (Claire Foy) ... only for both to founder on the rocks of boring ol’ Game of Thrones winning its third Emmy for drama series.
Of course, taking one step forward and five steps back is an Emmy tradition, so nobody should be too surprised when previous winners keep raking in trophies. And the evening’s presentation of trophies was mostly an enjoyable, even sprightly time.
And yet that Game of Thrones win was the perfect way to cap the evening. After a couple of years in which it felt like the Emmys were shaking off some of their bad habits, the 2018 awards were here to remind you they could never quite shake off all of them. For every cool winner, there have to be three or four winners that make you roll your eyes just a little.
So here, then, are eight winners and five losers from the 2018 Emmy Awards.
Winner: Amazon, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and Amy Sherman-Palladino
Two weeks ago, Amy Sherman-Palladino had no Emmy awards. The Gilmore Girls creator was a prior nominee (for her writing on Roseanne way back in 1992), but she hadn’t been back as a nominee since that ceremony, despite the high praise for her earlier WB series.
Now, after the Creative Arts Emmys on Saturday, September 8, and tonight’s primetime awards, Sherman-Palladino has four Emmys for her new Amazon series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel — for music supervision, writing, directing, and comedy series. It was the sort of night that makes one go from, “Oh, it’s awful that she doesn’t have an Emmy!” to, “Doesn’t she have too many awards already? Let someone else win some!” in about five seconds. Indeed, Sherman-Palladino became the first person ever to win the comedy writing and directing Emmys in the same night.
But Maisel won awards beyond its behatted showrunner. It roped in prizes for two of its stars (Alex Borstein for supporting actress and Rachel Brosnahan for lead actress). It won awards at the Creative Arts Emmys for casting and editing. It won eight awards in total, right behind Game of Thrones (which won nine across both ceremonies), but without the sorts of big special effects sequences that lead to so many of Thrones’ wins.
The wins were also a big moment for the show’s beleaguered network, Amazon Prime Video, which has had a rough go of it in recent years and has seemed to fall behind both Netflix and Hulu in the battle for buzz. Yet Maisel becomes just the second streaming series to win one of the big three series awards, after The Handmaid’s Tale won for drama last year. Maisel didn’t put Amazon on the map, but it helped keep it there.
Now, you could quibble that a series about standup comedians in ’50s New York is pretty much custom-designed to win Emmys, and you wouldn’t be wrong. Still, it’s a big victory for Amazon and perhaps a bigger one for Sherman-Palladino.
Winners (but also kind of losers): Netflix and HBO
It made headlines when Netflix finally dethroned HBO as the most nominated network at this year’s awards, and heading into tonight’s ceremony, post-Creative Arts awards, HBO had just one more win than Netflix.
That reversed over the course of the program, until, heading into Drama Series, the final category of the night, Netflix now had one more win than HBO across both ceremonies. And then Game of Thrones won, and the two networks ended up exactly tied — with 23 wins apiece at both ceremonies.
Now, on the one hand, this is a huge victory for Netflix, which went from having almost no nominations to very nearly garnering the most nominations and the most wins in less than a decade. (Remember: The service’s first original series, House of Cards, only launched in 2012.) On the other hand, a win for Comedy Series, Drama Series, or Limited Series remains out of Netflix’s grasp, when both Hulu and Amazon (its chief streaming competitors) have won a series prize by this point.
And while HBO managed to claw its way back to a level playing field with Netflix, it had to do so without the sort of Emmy dominance it showed as recently as 2015 (when it won basically every competitive category at the primetime awards). It’s going to slip behind Netflix inevitably — and probably sooner rather than later.
So it’s not hard to see it as a big night for both networks — and at the same time imagine they’re feeling just a twinge of disappointment at how everything ultimately turned out.
Winner: Glenn Weiss
Yes, Glenn Weiss won an Emmy, but we’re talking about that proposal! While accepting the award for outstanding directing for a variety special — his 11th Emmy overall — Weiss took the opportunity to propose to his girlfriend Jan Svendsen.
He began his speech by paying tribute to his late mother, saying, “Mom always believed in finding the sunshine in things, and that’s why she adored my girlfriend, Jan.” He continued on to gasps from the crowd, “Jan, you are the sunshine in my life. And mom was right: Don’t ever let go of my sunshine. You wonder why I don’t like to call you my girlfriend? Because I want to call you my wife.”
When Svendsen came on stage, Weiss dropped to one knee and presented her with the ring his father had given his mother. The moment — and its attendant reactions, including from a delighted, gobsmacked Sterling K. Brown — may just be the only compelling argument that public proposals can be good.
we are all @SterlingKBrown #Emmys pic.twitter.com/SEaOe6tby8— Shirley Li (@shirklesxp) September 18, 2018
Winner: FX (sort of)
Lurking right behind HBO and Netflix, in a strong third place for most wins at this year’s Emmys, is FX, which won 12 categories total and an impressive five at the primetime awards. FX’s big contender was supposed to be its comedy series Atlanta (more on that in a second). Instead, Atlanta won three Creative Arts awards and then won none of the eight primetime awards it was nominated for, getting swept away by the Maisel flood.
Instead, FX patched together its showing via The Assassination of Gianni Versace, which won Limited Series, Directing, and Lead Actor (Darren Criss), along with four Creative Arts Emmys; and The Americans, which somewhat unexpectedly won its first major competitive primetime awards, pulling in Emmys for writing and Lead Actor in a Drama Series (Matthew Rhys).
It’s a showing that FX has to be incredibly proud of ... but the network has yet to win the big Drama or Comedy Series prize, despite numerous attempts. Atlanta’s 16 nominations should have given it the edge. If only it had some ’50s standup comedians. Speaking of which...
Losers: Atlanta and The Handmaid’s Tale
Both Atlanta and Handmaid’s Tale entered the night with three Creative Arts wins to their name, as well as eight nominations at the primetime awards. Both series were considered major contenders for their respective series prizes, and if that didn’t happen, well, they’d surely get an acting win or two, right?
Nah. In a pretty severe awards show slump (unmerited, in this writer’s opinion!), both shows were completely blanked. Atlanta’s multi-hyphenate Donald Glover lost writing and directing to Sherman-Palladino, then lost actor to Barry’s Bill Hader, while Handmaid’s band of actors couldn’t beat out Thrones’ Peter Dinklage, Westworld’s Thandie Newton, or The Crown’s Claire Foy.
Both series will surely be back the next time they’re Emmy-eligible. But boy, that Emmy night must have taken the wind out of their sails, just a bit.
Winner: old people
Henry Winkler and Betty White were among the honorees of the night, with Winkler taking home the Emmy for Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series for Barry and White making a speech during a segment honoring her long career.
This is Winkler’s first acting win, after five nominations for his role as the Fonz on Happy Days. “If you stay at the table long enough, the chips come to you,” Winkler said in his speech. “Tonight, I got to clear the table.” To a similar effect, White marveled at how long she’d been working, saying, “Little did I dream [when I started] that I would be here. It’s incredible that I’m still in this business and you’re still putting up with me.” Both moments were sweet little testaments to longevity in an industry where that’s frequently hard to come by.
And just to be clear, we don’t mean “old people” disparagingly here — the term also includes all of us delighted that the ceremony ended on time so we could all go to bed.
Losers: the crowd
Clapping and cheering and just generally making a ruckus, this might have been the loudest Emmy crowd in recent memory, and they were not shy about making their preferences among the Emmy nominees known. Get some better seat fillers, Academy!
Winner: RuPaul’s Drag Race
RuPaul’s venerable reality competition series RuPaul’s Drag Race has been kicking around long enough for it to be called “venerable,” but it’s only in the past few years that the Emmys have started to take notice of the phenomenon — mostly its eponymous host, who’s won Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality Competition Program for the past three years, 2018 included.
But this year, Drag Race also managed to break open one of the Emmys’ most impenetrable categories, Outstanding Reality Show Competition, which since its introduction in 2003 has been absolutely dominated by The Amazing Race and, to a lesser extent, The Voice. The former has won 10 times, the latter four, while Top Chef managed to squeeze its way in there for a single win in 2010.
All three of those shows were also nominated in the category this year, making Drag Race’s victory an even bigger upset — and a testament to the increasingly mainstream acceptance of a revolutionary cult hit.
Losers: Michael Che and Colin Jost
Throughout the night, hosts Michael Che and Colin Jost were largely overshadowed by the presenters around them. Following a lukewarm monologue and similarly flat bits throughout the ceremony, Che and Jost generally came off as stiff and indifferent to being at the Emmys, an air that only played worse in light of how peppy everyone else seemed to be.
Though they attempted to spice things up by bringing on Maya Rudolph and Fred Armisen to play clueless Emmy historians, the pair were surrounded by more dead air than most, and it seemed like Che and Jost’s ambivalence leading up the ceremony as to whether they’d tackle more political material stranded them in a bit of a dead middle ground.
Winner: Lorne Michaels
Che and Jost might not have been the best hosts, but the pace of this Emmy show was surprisingly brisk, and when Kenan Thompson announced Game of Thrones had won Drama Series, there was still plenty of time left for a speech and to get the show in on time. And if you’ve ever watched an awards show, you know that’s an accomplishment.
Credit goes to producer Lorne Michaels, who had clearly drilled everybody involved to keep things moving. He didn’t even have to resort to the sorts of tricks other awards show producers do to keep the show on track. Right up until the end, every category had its clips package, so viewers could see the nominated work.
And the cherry on the top? Michaels won his umpteenth (technically his 16th) Emmy for Saturday Night Live, which pulled out the win in the variety-sketch category. Congratulations to you, Lorne Michaels, an unheralded showbiz figure!
Though occasionally accompanied by some truly baffling choices of walking music (loser: classical music), the presenters for the night were mostly great. Aidy Bryant and Bob Odenkirk, Tiffany Haddish and Angela Bassett, the new Queer Eye Fab Five — though the night failed to bring any real surprises (except maybe Godless’s two wins), it was still a mostly charming time thanks to well-curated (and brief) presentation bits.
One of the standout presenters was Nanette’s Hannah Gadsby, who joked that she’d gotten the gig because she didn’t like men. “That’s a joke, of course,” she quickly said. “Just jokes, fellas, calm down. #NotAllMen — but a lot of them.” She followed up that bit by noting, “Nobody knows what jokes are — especially not men. Am I right, fellas? That’s why I’m presenting alone.”
It was perhaps the only moment of the night that didn’t get the reaction shot it needed, i.e., one of Michael Che, who still may or may not have seen Nanette.
Loser: first-time winners
Okay, sure, the show eventually got a fair number of first-time winners — like Rhys, Foy, and Newton — but for a shockingly long amount of time, every single winner of the evening already had an Emmy from some previous ceremony.
To be sure, a couple of those people (Sherman-Palladino and Borstein) had Emmys from last week’s Creative Arts awards — so more of a technicality than anything — while Winkler’s other Emmys are Daytime Emmys (which shouldn’t count, obviously). But then you had folks like Dinklage or 14-time winner Glenn Weiss or three-time winner Regina King (who won Lead Actress in a Limited Series for her “blink and you missed it” Netflix show Seven Seconds).
The Emmys love people who’ve previously won Emmys. We know that. But this much? We look forward to rejoining you in 2019, when Game of Thrones mops up 22 trophies for its final season.
The disparity between the night’s lively opening number — which joked about Hollywood having “solved diversity” because the nominee pool was the most diverse it’s ever been —and Che and Jost’s lifeless opening monologue proved to be something of a harbinger for the night to come, as efforts to celebrate diversity ended up flopping in practice.
Despite wins for stars like Regina King and Thandie Newton, the Emmy winners list doesn’t quite reflect the diversity of the pool of nominees, a sentiment best expressed in a post-ceremony tweet by John Leguizamo (who was nominated for his work in Waco):
What can I say? I tried to represent for 20 million Latinxs and I failed! I’m sorry! Underrepresentation is a bitch of a burden! pic.twitter.com/bk4Ld0lloR— John Leguizamo (@JohnLeguizamo) September 18, 2018
The Academy isn’t hopeless on diversity — for the first time ever, all four guest acting winners were black performers, and Sherman-Palladino’s triumph is groundbreaking for women in comedy — but the overwhelmingly white slate of winners in 2018 pales slightly in comparison to previous years, when actors like Sterling K. Brown and Donald Glover took home trophies in topline categories. So yes, TV has definitely made some strides — but there’s still clearly a long way to go.