LOS ANGELES (AP) – “Fleabag” leaped over formidable competition early in Sunday’s Emmy Awards with three awards, including the best comedy actress award and a writing trophy for series star and creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
Waller-Bridge and her dark comedy about a dysfunctional woman, which also won a directing award, blocked “Veep” star Julia Louis-Dreyfus from setting a record as the most-honored performer in Emmy history.
“Nooooo!” said a shocked-looking Waller Bridge. “Oh, my God, no. Thank you. I find acting really hard and really painful. But it’s all about this,” she said, her acting trophy firmly in hand.
In accepting the writing award earlier, she called the recognition proof that “a dirty, pervy, messed-up woman can make it to the Emmys.”
Bill Hader won his second consecutive best comedy actor award for the hitman comedy “Barry.”
Alex Borstein and Tony Shalhoub of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” won best supporting acting awards at the ceremony, which included early and varied messages of female empowerment after the host-less ceremony kicked off with Homer Simpson.
“I want to dedicate this to the strength of a woman, to (series creator) Amy Sherman-Palladino, to every woman on the ‘Maisel’ cast and crew,” Borstein said, and to her mother and grandmother. Her grandmother survived because she was courageous enough to step out of a line that, Borstein intimated, would have led to her death at the hands of Nazi Germany.
“She stepped out of line. And for that, I am here and my children are here, so step out of line, ladies. Step out of line,” said Borstein, who won the award last year.
Shalhoub added to his three Emmys which he earned for his signature role in “Monk.” The awards opened without a host as promised, with an early exchange pitting Ben Stiller against Bob Newhart.
“I’m still alive,” Newhart told Stiller, who introduced him as part of a wax museum comedy hall of fame that included Lucille Ball and other late legends.
Kim Kardashian West and Kendall Jenner drew some mocking laughter in the audience when they presented their award after Kardashian West said their family “knows firsthand how truly compelling television comes from real people just being themselves.”
An animated Homer made a brief appearance on stage until he was abruptly crushed, with Anderson of “black-ish” rushing in to, as he vowed, rescue the evening. He called “Breaking Bad” star Cranston on stage to tout the power of television from its beginning to the current golden age.
“Television has never been bigger. Television has never mattered more. And television has never been this damn good,” Cranston said.
The early honors for “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” came on a night that could belong to HBO’s “Game of Thrones.
HBO’s fantasy saga headed into the ceremony with a record 32 nominations, collecting 10 awards at last weekend’s creative arts ceremony for technical and other achievements.
If the series adds three more wins on Sunday, it will break its own record for most awards in a season, 12, which it earned in 2015 and again in 2016. If it claims the top drama trophy, it will be its fourth and make it one of a handful of series to achieve that tally. It could also build on its record of the most Emmys ever for a drama or comedy series, now at 57.
“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” is defending the top comedy award it captured last year, when three-time winner “Veep” was on hiatus. As with “Game of Thrones,” the political satire is entered for its final season and could benefit from voter sentiment as well as evident respect.
Stars arrived at the ceremony’s purple carpet to sweltering 92-degree conditions. Host network Fox added water elements to the scene and large fans whirred overhead as stars including Kelly and Sharon Osbourne and drama actor nominees Bob Odenkirk and Sterling K. Brown arrived.
“It’s hot, it’s real hot, but I’m thinking cool thoughts. My wife looks stunning, like stupidly, ridiculously gorgeous,” Brown said.
Once the show stars, one of the major storylines will be how well “Game of Thrones” fares. The series is competing in six categories besides best drama, including directing, writing and acting – with stars Emilia Clarke and Kit Harington vying for lead acting honors for the first time, and Peter Dinklage seeking his fourth supporting actor award.
Clarke’s competition includes Sandra Oh of “Killing Eve,” who would be the first actress of Asian descent to win the Emmy, along with Oh’s co-star Jodie Comer and past winner Viola Davis of “How to Get Away with Murder.” A win for Clarke or any of the four “Game of Thrones” actresses competing for a supporting trophy would be the first for a woman on the show.
The best drama actor field includes Billy Porter of “Pose,” who would be the first openly gay man to win the award, and past winner Sterling K. Brown for “This Is Us.”
Associated Press Writer Beth Harris and AP Entertainment Writer Lindsey Bahr contributed to this report.
Lynn Elber is at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at http://twitter.com/lynnelber