Julia Louis-Dreyfus and HBO’s Veep came into the 71st Primetime Emmy Awards looking like a front-running candidate to make history but in the end the Academy voters elected to go in a different direction by making Fleabag the victor.
Veep and Louis-Dreyfus were shockingly shut-out in favor of a scruffy newcomer with populist charms: Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the executive producer, creator, writer and star of Fleabag, was the unexpected winner in the category of best actress in a comedy series, which denied Louis-Dreyfus a chance to make history as the first performer to win nine Emmys.
Louis-Dreyfus instead remains tied with Cloris Leachman for the most career Emmy wins (eight) by any performer. Fleabag also won the prize for best comedy and Waller-Bridge grabbed a third statuette for best writing, which left Veep looking like a latter-day Walter Mondale.
Veep closed out its seventh and final season in May with an audacious ending and glowing reviews Louis-Dreyfus had the look of an Emmy frontrunner poised to collect even more gleaming hardware for her portrayal of Selina Meyer, the perpetually vexed Vice President of the United States.
Meyer may have been the on-screen epitome of Beltway second bananas, but for Louis-Dreyfus it was a juggernaut role that earned her six consecutive Emmy wins as a performer. (Last year, with Veep on hiatus, Louis-Dreyfus sat out the competition and the Emmy went to Rachel Brosnahan of The Marvelous Mrs Maisel.)
The incumbent advantage looked considerable but but the scrappy and scruffy Fleabag jumped into the contest with the energized aura of a populist candidate; the heat around the series earned acting nominations for four other cast members (Sian Clifford, Olivia Colman, Fiona Shaw, and Kristin Scott Thomas).
Louis-Deyfus, who became a star on Seinfeld (1989-1998) and carved out a second success with The New Adventures of the Old Christine (2006-2010), got a chance on Sunday night to say farewell to the Veep role and it wasn’t in a concession speech — it was a cast reunion on stage for the gala’s mini-tribute to the HBO show’s swan song season. Louis-Dreyfus was joined on stage by cast members Anna Chlumsky, Gary Cole, Kevin Dunn, Clea Duvall, Tony Hale, Sam Richardson, Reid Scott, Timothy Simons, Sarah Sutherland, and Matt Walsh.
The fade of Veep delivered the night’s biggest surprise but there were others as well:
Jharrel Jerome’s win: Two-time Oscar winner Mahershala Ali was also widely expected to add a Emmy trophy to his shelf for his portrayal of Detective Wayne Hays in the eight-episode True Detective story arc that took the show’s Season 3 to the Ozarks for a multi-generational tale of murder and obsession. The Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series went instead to Jharrel Jerome for Netflix’s When They See Us. Jerome portrayed Korey Wise, one of five suspects convicted of raping and assaulting a 28-year-old investment banker in 1989. The convictions were vacated in 2002.
Jodie Comer’s win: While Whaller-Bridge was winning with Fleabag, her International assassin series Killing Eve also took a stab at a surprise Emmy upset. Jodie Comer won her first-ever Emmy for her satisfyingly sinister work in the role of Villanelle, the frosty Russian killer in the BBC America series. Among Comer’s rivals in the best actress in a drama category: Sandra Oh, her costar who plays the title character, Eve Polastri.
Black Mirror wins: Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, an extended-length episode of the Netflix series, won the Emmy for best television movie which doesn’t quite reach the level of identity theft but does qualify as an unexpected forum to celebrate the series’ unsettling charms. Equally surprising: Deadwood: The Movie, one of the most promoted and noted small-screen projects of 2019, was shutout as it rides off into the sunset
Billy Porter’s win: The Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series went to Pose star Billy Porter, who portrays the Pray Tell on the FX drama. Porter is the first openly gay African American actor to win the award and he delivered the night’s most succinctly memorable acceptance line: “The category is love!” Porter’s delight is Bob Odenkirk’s disappointment as Better Call Saul (somehow) remains a show that has never won an Emmy. But, as a shady lawyer once said, “It’s all good, man.”