There are times you aren’t meant to win. My top moment from the 71st Emmy Awards featured Jodie Comer, who plays the striking Villanelle on Killing Eve (Hotstar), smiling politely for the nominee-facing camera as her name is called in the category of Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. It was an obligatorily tiny smile, seemingly resigned to the inevitable: This was the year Game Of Thrones had climaxed, and Emilia Clarke was nominated for playing Daenerys Targaryen. This was the year Robin Wright brought the curtain down on House Of Cards (Netflix). Even Comer’s illustrious co-star Sandra Oh had been touted as a possible winner, though experts previously assumed that the two Killing Eve ladies would split their vote.
Comer won. The room gasped. Everyone was gobsmacked—from famous faces in the audience swivelling around in indiscreet disbelief to Comer herself, the 26-year-old Liverpool girl charmingly breathless and unprepared as she accepted the trophy. While we may applaud Comer’s slaying of the mother of dragons, one must admit she is an odd choice. The actor was sensational in the first season, but the second season (which she won for) lets her tread familiar ground, without that early, path-breaking sharpness. The win, therefore, was that rare thing, a moment of absolute surprise.
In case you needed one, this is a reminder that television is not the movies. Narratives are less predictable. Experts at the Emmys are wrong far more frequently than those dissecting the build-up to the Oscars, and—true to a show that opened with Homer Simpson taking the stage in lieu of an actual host—anything can happen. America’s long-reigning queen of comedy can bid goodbye to an iconic character, yet a plucky British fourth-wall-breaker can glance furtively at the camera and nobble all the awards.
Fleabag director Harry Bradbeer used his victory speech to hail creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge as a “glorious grenade" and her work has truly exploded over us all—she created Killing Eve as well. The 34-year-old writer, actor and playwright gifted us a gem with Fleabag, a show as sophisticated and finely honed as it is audacious and disruptive. The must-see show of the moment is streaming on Amazon Prime Video, with Netflix CEO Reed Hastings recently voicing his regret at losing that particular bidding war, calling the British show “the one that got away".
The legendary Julia Louis-Dreyfus finished an exceptional run on Veep this year, and over the years her turn as savage politician Selina Meyer has given her six Emmy Awards (out of a record collection of eight trophies). With scathing scripts and a gifted comic ensemble, Veep (Hotstar) stayed hopelessly watchable to the end, although the show’s bite was noticeably less sharp after original creator Armando Iannucci exited the show. Louis-Dreyfus shot for the seventh and final season after a successful battle with cancer, yet this year’s trophy was not for her or her show (“No!" shouted Waller-Bridge in lovably loud disbelief when she won instead).
Bill Hader won Outstanding Lead Actor In A Comedy Series for Barry (Hotstar), a super performance in a smashing series…but can we really call the show about murder, guilt and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) a comedy? Cut out the scenes featuring Henry Winkler and Barry is darker than Breaking Bad. Ted Danson in The Good Place, on the other hand, is doing extraordinary things within a forking funny world.
The trophy for Outstanding Drama Series went to Game Of Thrones — but the series was shunted out of most other categories. The show redefined the scale of television grandeur and provided immense highs over the years, but a lacklustre final season left an ashen aftertaste. The performers took the stage for a final bow, but while actors in supporting roles like Alfie Allen (who played Theon Greyjoy) and Carice van Houten (who played Melisandre) soaked up deafening applause, other members of the cast watched from the audience—including Isaac Hempstead Wright, who played Bran Stark, eventual king of that world both cold and charred.
While Game Of Thrones (Hotstar) had no business winning ahead of Succession (Hotstar) and Better Call Saul (Netflix), it’s hard to feel outraged. The show does mark the end of an era, and while a fourth Outstanding Drama Series win lets it equal great dramas like Mad Men and The West Wing, that feels deserved for a series this epochal. I am far more outraged about an episode of The Simpsons winning Best Animated Program ahead of BoJack Horseman’s staggering Free Churro episode this season. (Collusion, say I: remember who stepped out to host the show?)
It is similarly hard for the staunchest Julia Louis-Dreyfus admirer to begrudge the new champion. Fleabag lets us into the protagonist’s life in deliciously intimate fashion—think Dorothy Parker by way of Deadpool, using the audience as a confessional. The result is incandescent, with serrated words and a searing honesty that makes the series feel personal enough for us to forever conflate character and creator. She’s flawed, she’s fierce, and more than most other protagonists, she feels ours: This Fleabag is you and I. Veep won landslides in its day, but here arrives a revolution. The vice-president is dead, long live the president of vices.
Stream of Stories is a column on what to watch online. Raja Sen is a film critic and the author of The Best Baker In The World (2017), a children’s adaptation of The Godfather.