Rami Malek's meta opening line of his Emmy speech Sunday night — "Please tell me you're seeing this too" — could've applied to all of us.
For the first time in years, the Emmy Awards was interesting. You can even say "unpredictable." It tossed out upsets and left-field choices all night long. Sure, there were some repeat winners, and heavy favorites Veep and Game of Thrones took home the top prizes at the end, but the amount of fresh blood we got — a major departure from the TV Academy's usual rubber-stamping — was so exciting that you could overlook some of the snubs (hey, there will always be snubs).
So how did this all happen? Did voters just wake up and smell the roses? And what does it mean for the future? Here are six things we learned.
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1. Passion rules
The Emmys turned into a popularity contest last year, when the Academy expanded voting privileges so that members could vote for every category within their respective branch, along with the program awards. That led to lots of sweeps last year and the beginning of Game of Thrones' domination. This year, the Academy tweaked the voting process again: moving from a preferential ballot, in which all nominees are ranked and the lowest-scoring one wins, to a plurality vote, in which voters just check off one name.
This change ended up undoing a lot of the damage inflicted by last year's popular vote switch, because, like the old tape system with select panels voting for the winners, the plurality vote gives the underdog a chance. If you have a passionate base of supporters who will go to bat for you, you can win, and now we have multiple pieces of evidence of it. RuPaul's reality host victory at last weekend's Creative Arts Emmys foreshadowed this. There's no way Malek (Mr. Robot), Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black) or Louie Anderson (Baskets) would've won under last year's system: They're all too niche and would be ranked low, if not last, on a preferential ballot by people unaware/unfamiliar with them or their shows and/or who won't bother doing the due diligence to watch their work.
And lbr, don't we want passion to win in the end? Popular preferential ballots build consensus. Some people may love those ultimate winners, but what it really means is that they were the most liked and agreeable. The best thing about the three aforementioned winners is that people were passionate about three unique performances from three unique shows that are a little left of center of the usual Emmy fare.
2. Some things are too big to fail
Admit it, there was a part of you that thought, "Wait, what if Game of Thrones doesn't win drama series?" after all the surprises during the night. Frankly, it was never in major danger because it was still a popular vote and now with a plurality vote, you only need a 14-plus percent "majority" to win in a seven-nominee race. The show can get that in its sleep.
Thrones, along with Veep, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Transparent's Jeffrey Tambor, was too big of a behemoth to take down just yet. Hell, it won the category it deserved least to win, drama writing, because of the sheer force of "Battle of the Bastards." That episode was a directorial and technical achievement, but writing? You can't honestly tell me that was a better written episode than the Mr. Robot pilot or The Americans' Season 4 finale.
But that doesn't mean none of these folks can't be toppled before they're all done. Emmy darling Allison Janney (Mom) was denied not only a three-peat in the comedy supporting actress race, but the chance to tie Cloris Leachman for most acting wins at eight. Which, speaking of...
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3. Sketch performers can win against regular actors
Saturday Night Live's Kate McKinnon shocked Janney in the comedy supporting actress race, becoming the first SNL player and sketch performer to win in a regular acting category since they were allowed to compete there in 2008. Neither Amy Poehler nor Kristen Wiig nor Bill Hader was able to pull this off in the past eight years. I still believe that the Emmys should resurrect the defunct variety performer category for sketch performers, but it's nice to know that their lack of character arc-building is not held against them.
4. Vote-splitting is very, very real
You hear about vote-splitting a lot, but that was never really a thing at the Emmys because of the preferential ballot. It is now, though, because of the plurality vote. Think about it this way: If you're a huge Modern Family fan and liked both actors nominated for comedy supporting actor, you might rank them Nos. 1-2, and if they're ranked high enough on everyone else's ballots, one of them might win. Now, you can only vote for one of the two, and if there isn't mega passion around one obvious choice (see: Sterling K. Brown's breakout performance winning over The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story co-stars John Travolta and David Schwimmer), then they can be overtaken by someone else.
This happened in four of the drama and comedy acting races that had multiple nominees from the same show. The one most susceptible to vote-splitting was drama supporting actress, which saw Game of Thrones' Lena Headey, Emilia Clarke and Maisie Williams lose to no-show/bane of Jimmy Kimmel's existence Maggie Smith (Downton Abbey). All three of them are arguably equally beloved, paving the way for a Dowager Countess win, which <insert self-pat> I had had down since nominations came out in July. I thought all the Jon Snow brouhaha would carry Kit Harington to a victory, but instead, he and fellow Thrones fave, two-time champ Peter Dinklage, may have just canceled each other out, giving us probably the most head-scratching win of the night: Ben Mendelsohn, who was barely in last season of Bloodline.
There was vote-splitting in other categories as well. The Night Manager won limited series/movie directing over three episodes of O.J. On the comedy side, Transparent beat three episodes of Veep, two episodes of Silicon Valley and one episode of Master of None for directing. Master of None beat two episodes of Veep, two episodes of Silicon Valley and one episode of Catastrophe in writing.
Granted, we only have one year to go on with this, but if networks pay attention, they might want to recalibrate their strategies for next year and cut down their submissions per category for the nomination round. You should never over-submit in the first place, but maybe now even three directing submissions is too many. You want to be able to funnel your support behind one clear choice for the win without the ranked ballot now.
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5. Sorry, House of Cards, the Emmys is just not that into you
House of Cards is destined to be one of those perennial bridesmaids. It hasn't been able to win any of the top awards under any of the past three systems now. The biggest award it has taken home was directing for the pilot by David Fincher, which, like, duh. Many believed this might finally be Kevin Spacey's year, with the past three winners out, and the overdue factor (he's never won an Emmy for anything). But both he and Robin Wright are now 0-4 for playing the Underwoods. At what point do we just start calling them filler nominees instead of contenders?
6. Next year should be even more exciting
Everything that happened this year bodes well for the future, if the Academy doesn't make any more rule changes. (Though, I would not be against eradicating the popular vote — there is just no way anyone has the time or actually watches the hundreds of episode submissions they're supposed to watch before voting.) The Emmys rejected its usual impulses to instead spread the wealth, and actually got quite a few of its choices right. It is very promising for 2017, which, lest you forget, will be Game of Thrones-less because Season 7 won't air during the eligibility period. The real fun and games will begin then.