Thursday 17 October 2019

Pat Stacey: Emmy triumphs can't mask the travesties

TALKING POINT: Despite many worthy winners, 2019 was no big departure

Phoebe Waller-Bridge enjoyed a stunning night of success at the Emmys (Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
Phoebe Waller-Bridge enjoyed a stunning night of success at the Emmys (Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

Pat Stacey

Three cheers for Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag, which won awards at the Emmys for outstanding comedy series, lead actress and writing. Actually, make that four cheers. Fleabag director Harry Bradbeer also picked up an award.

All of these were thoroughly deserved. Forget all that sniping and carping about Fleabag being, as one snitty British critic put it, “comedy for posh girls”. Some of us aren’t posh and most definitely aren’t girls. Waller-Bridge isn’t a girl either, by the way; she’s a 34-year-old woman.

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Suggesting people from widely differing social backgrounds can’t appreciate all types of comedy is exactly the same rubbish, only in reverse, spouted by those who insist Mrs Brown’s Boys is comedy aimed exclusively at working-class viewers, and this is why middle-class TV critics can’t stand it.

Can there be anything more patronising or insulting to working-class people than this? Who decided they’re not allowed to like Oscar Wilde as well as The Royle Family, or Laurel and Hardy as well as PG Wodehouse?

Here’s a little news for you: I’m a TV critic and I’m working-class — and I still can’t stand Mrs Brown’s Boys.

So Waller-Bridge is descended from rich landed gentry and was educated at an exclusive private school. So what? Nobody ever knocked Fawlty Towers because John Cleese went to a private school and graduated from Cambridge. 

Great TV comedy is great TV comedy, no matter who or where it comes from. And Fleabag is great TV comedy. It’s by turns funny, filthy, dark, insightful, touching, poignant and humane. It’s a true original.

Another hugely deserved winner at the Emmys was the star of Waller-Bridger’s other big success, Killing Eve, the very Liverpudlian, very working-class Jodie Comer, who won Outstanding Actress in a drama series.

OK, so the second season of Killing Eve — which didn’t have Waller-Bridge’s guiding hand on the tiller — was something of a crock. But Comer was never less than superb in it. She's an amazing talent.

There was much to be pleased about — more than is usually the case, in fact — at this year’s Emmys. Nobody would deny the extraordinary Chernobyl was, despite stiff competition, the outstanding miniseries of 2019 (it also picked up awards for writer Craig Mazin and director Johan Renck).

Nonetheless, it was great to have it confirmed, because you can never be sure with the Emmys. They’re as prone as the Oscars to getting it wrong more times than they get it right.

This time, though, there was a healthy number of “rights”, particularly in the comedy and drama acting categories. Bill Hader for Barry; Jharrell Jerome for When They See Us; Ben Whishaw for A Very English Scandal (although co-star Hugh Grant was equally worthy); Michelle Williams for Fosse/Verdon.

And you can’t begrudge Peter Dinklage his record fourth outstanding supporting actor Emmy. But there were still plenty of “wrongs”.

The widely-held opinion that 2019 will go down as the year that shook up a ceremony that had grown predictable is wide of the mark.

Naming Game of Thrones, which limped to a terrible finale, outstanding drama series of the year from a list that included Succession and Better Call Saul — which hasn’t won a single Emmy throughout its four seasons — was a joke. Once again, the brilliant Mr Mercedes wasn’t even on the list.

In the outstanding TV movie category, the Black Mirror special Bandersnatch was a gimmicky interactive experiment that barely qualified as drama, yet it beat out Deadwood and the BBC’s marvellous King Lear with Anthony Hopkins — who wasn’t deemed worthy of an acting nomination, by the way.

Look closer at the nominees that didn’t win, not to mention the many programmes and people who deserved to be nominated but weren’t, and the 2019 Emmys don’t look all that different after all. It seems old voting habits die hard. Especially the really bad ones.

Read more: The mystery of Mr Mercedes remains a must-see puzzle

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