The 71st Primetime Emmy Awards began with awards for “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and ended with a final big win for “Game of Thrones.” But between those expected results were plenty of genuine surprises and exciting outcomes.
“Fleabag,” Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s biting and moving Amazon series, dominated the comedy category, including beating out the longtime Emmy favorite “Veep” for top comedy. Unexpected but welcome acting awards went to Jodie Comer and Waller-Bridge. Billy Porter made history as the first openly gay winner for best actor in a drama. Michelle Williams and Patricia Arquette gave memorably heartfelt acceptance speeches.
Inevitably, some bits flopped hard: A misguided announcing gimmick tried people’s patience and Masked Singers infested the Microsoft Theater like gigantic, colorful vermin. Here are some of the highs and lows of Sunday’s Emmy extravaganza. — JEREMY EGNER
Homer and Friends Fill the Host Void
Much of the pre-ceremony coverage focused on the fact that the Emmys were going hostless this year, and sure enough the night opened with none other than Homer Simpson, who appeared to stroll across the stage (augmented-reality-style) before getting leveled by an animated piano.
The bit went on with Anthony Anderson, star of “Black-ish,” leaping from his seat. “We’re going to go without a host tonight!” he said, making it his mission to save the show. He found his savior in the multi-Emmy winner Bryan Cranston, who introduced a montage of clips by saying: “Television has never been this damn good.”
The opening was A-list enough that some viewers may not have even realized there wasn’t a ringleader. Or at least, didn’t care.
But some people did, or at least pretended to, which prompted plenty of laughs from the audience. In a bit later in the telecast, the late-night hosts Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel dragged the show’s format. “Well, well, well, how’s the old no-host thing going?” Colbert said.
“What a dumb idea,” Kimmel responded. “You know what has a host? Applebee’s has a host.”
We’re “the real victims,” Colbert said. “If we let this slide, the next thing you know, they’ll start using Alexa to present the nominees.” Which, of course, cued the voice of Amazon’s smart speaker assistant, Alexa: “O.K., here are the nominees for lead actress in a comedy series.” — MAYA SALAM
Thomas Lennon Sort of Agreed With His Critics
In lieu of a host, the actor and comedian Thomas Lennon was on hand to offer commentary and jabs between segments. But the jokey announcing just did not work, which he himself seemed to admit at one point, saying “This is why people don’t do this, because it sucks.” Part of it was the material — I’m not sure Chernobyl jokes are the way to go — but a bigger issue was how tacked on it felt, too separate from the actual broadcast. Some comments felt like a mic was accidentally picking up snark, and the timing never seemed quite right, so it never developed a real rhythm. — MARGARET LYONS
Phoebe Waller-Bridge: The Pervy, Angry Belle of the Ball
“This is a love story.” The line introduced the staggering second season of “Fleabag,” and it fairly described the Emmys’ reception of Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who won awards for writing and starring in the Amazon series, which beat out “Veep” for best comedy and also collected an award for comedy directing. And Waller-Bridge, with the casual, quick-witted charm she displayed in the series, was the insouciant queen of the awards. “It’s really wonderful to know, and reassuring,” she said, “that a dirty, pervy, angry, messed-up woman can make it to the Emmys.” And this year, she made the Emmys her own. — JAMES PONIEWOZIK
Billy Porter Makes History
Billy Porter, who stars in “Pose,” the FX drama set in the New York City ball scene during the 1980s and ’90s, broke ground on Sunday. The actor became the first openly gay winner for best actor in a drama, and true-to-form, his speech was soul-stirring and heartfelt. As Porter quoted James Baldwin and asserted that “We all have the right” to exist, the ceremony took on a new layer of significance. — AISHA HARRIS
Masked and Ubiquitous
Did you know there’s a show called “The Masked Singer”? If you watched this year’s Emmy ceremony, you certainly know now.
It’s to be expected, of course, that the network showcasing the awards will find opportunities to plug their own content. But the shilling for Fox’s bizarre-o competition show — in which celebrities of varying stature and relevance sing pop songs while hidden behind ridiculously elaborate costumes and masks — was next-level.
Before the ceremony began, the disguised contestants for the upcoming second season were trotted out on the purple carpet. During the show, they popped up onstage, as a logo in the corner of the screen and in multiple commercials. Perhaps worst of all was a too-long and very unfunny bit between the “Masked Singer” host Nick Cannon and one of the judges, Ken Jeong. It’s doubtful this overkill converted the once-blissfully oblivious into believers. — AISHA HARRIS
Social media segments are common at awards shows these days, but they’re always a complete drag. No one quite seemed to get Jeong and Cannon’s tedious TikTok routine, which included making a video of the audience. It was also awkwardly sandwiched between Alex Borstein’s speech about her grandmother surviving the Holocaust and the award for best comedy writing, which went to Phoebe Waller-Bridge. It was a lousy bit unto itself, but the placement made it seem even worse. — MARGARET LYONS
Michelle Williams Brings the House Down
Michelle Williams, named outstanding lead actress in a limited series for “Fosse/Verdon,” had one of the most enthusiastically received speeches of the night. It was a rallying cry for giving women in Hollywood the same money and resources as those granted to male actors. “When you put value into a person, it empowers that person to get in touch with their own inherent value, and then where do they put that value?” she asked. “They put it into their work.”
Williams has drawn the salary short straw before: She was slated to earn less than 1 percent of what her co-star Mark Wahlberg was getting for the film “All the Money in the World.” — NANCY COLEMAN
Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Bill Hader presenting the award for best actor in a limited series was bright, silly and short. “What’s a limited series, Bill?” “A limited series is a show that’s been canceled.” The show didn’t suffer from a lack of hosts per se, but if the Academy wanted to go a different way next year, consider these two for the gig. — MARGARET LYONS
A Poignant Moment for the Exonerated Five
Jharrel Jerome’s win as best actor in a limited series, for playing a wrongfully convicted youth in Ava DuVernay’s “When They See Us,” was a welcome surprise enough. But the most striking moment of his acceptance speech came when he called attention to the Exonerated Five — the men whose story of injustice and racist stereotyping the series brought to life — who stood, free and vindicated, in the audience. The Emmys is always a celebration of entertainment and imagination, but for a moment it became something else: history. — JAMES PONIEWOZIK