Emmy episode analysis: Billy Porter (‘Pose’) sings his heart out as a grieving man in ‘Love Is the Message’

Billy Porter made history this year as the first openly gay black man nominated for Best Drama Actor at the Emmys. He has already won a Tony and a Grammy in his career and might just be adding another trophy to his mantel this month for his performance as Pray Tell, an emcee for New York City’s LGBTQ ballroom scene in “Pose.” Porter submitted the episode “Love Is the Message” to Emmy voters, and if the submissions still carry weight, he may just be the one to beat.

“Love Is the Message” finds Pray Tell tending to his partner, who is dying of AIDS. At the ballroom, he expresses his grief by playing the same song on heavy rotation, “Love is the Message,” causing the younger generation to sit him down for an intervention. But Pray fights back, telling them he’s “buried more friends in the last year than any of you can count.” He later plans a cabaret at the hospital for AIDS patients where he performs a cover of the classic “For All We Know” and joins Blanca (Mj Rodriguez) to sing “Home” from “The Wiz.” After his partner dies he talks with Blanca about being resilient in the face of tragedy.

Can Porter make history by winning the Emmy? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons.

PROS

Porter’s episode is a stellar showcase of his talent that should leave most academy members wowed. It is highly emotional material, and Porter elevates it further in his portrayal of a gay man of a certain generation who wants to hold onto the thrills of his past while bumping up against the stark realities of his present. He shows explosive anger when he is confronted about his music choices but great tenderness when comforting his dying lover. He also gets to show off his award-winning pipes by singing not once, but twice.

Also benefiting Porter is a recent trend in the Drama Actor category where in the last eight years all the winners have come from a show in its first season or final season. Porter is the only nominee this year from a freshman show, while Kit Harington (“Game of Thrones”) is the sole rep from a concluded show. The “Pose” star has also been very active on the Emmy campaign trail, all while the second season of the series was airing on FX, keeping him and the show fresh in mind.

CONS

Since “Pose” is an ensemble show, Porter doesn’t have quite as much screentime as some of his competitors, who are leads with a capital L, like Jason Bateman (“Ozark”) and Bob Odenkirk (“Better Call Saul”). The actor had more to do in season two, but one could make the case that he played more of a supporting role in the first season. Voters may be drawn to the more front-and-center leading men who often win this category.

“Pose” arguably under-performed in the nominations relative to expectations. While it got into Best Drama Series and racked up six nominations overall, Porter was the only acting nominee, with voters overlooking the show’s wealth of transgender talent. This could indicate limited support for “Pose” within the academy compared to other series.

Be sure to make your Emmy predictions today so that Hollywood insiders can see how their TV shows and performers are faring in our odds. You can keep changing your predictions as often as you like until just before winners are announced on September 22. And join in the fun debate over the 2019 Emmys taking place right now with Hollywood insiders in our television forums. Read more Gold Derby entertainment news.

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