The cast and crew on Ted Lasso, accepts Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series.
Photo: Cliff Lipson / CBS via Getty Image
The 2021 Emmy Awards confirmed what has long been widely known: The Streamers run the show.
During Sunday’s ceremony, which aired on CBS and streamed on Paramount + from Event Deck on LA Live, the winners in the three most significant categories – Outstanding Limited Series, Comedy and Drama – were all products from streaming services.
Apple TV + Ted Lasso, as predicted, won in the top comedy category. The Queen’s Gambit gave Netflix its first win for a limited series, and Kronen did the same for Netflix on the drama side, eight years after the platform first broke into that category with a nod to Korthus. Not only was Kronen, is, crowned excellent drama, it achieved something that Mark Harris referenced on Twitter early at night as “the full Shit”: It swept all major categories in its genre, just like Schitt’s Creek did on the comedy side last year. The last drama that did it was … checking notes … nothing. No series has ever done this before. Does not The sopranos. Does not Mad Men. Does not Game of Thrones. It has never happened before this year. This fact, together with the complete dominance of the comedy categories in only two shows, Ted Lasso and Hacks – on HBO Max, also a streamer! – made it look part of the night as if Emmys voters had only seen three series over the last year.
There was a bit more variation among the limited series where prizes were awarded Jump from Easttown and The Queen’s Gambit, but also Michaela Coel for her writing of I can destroy you and perhaps most shocking Ewan McGregor for his performance in Halston, a series that was neither very well received by critics nor the buzz of the audience or those who predict the Emmys. (I admire Mr. McGregor’s work in general, but if you predicted he would win Sunday night, I’ll have to see your ID, because I’m pretty sure you’re Ewan McGregor’s mother wearing Groucho glasses and a wig. .)
Awards shows have turned into Rorschach tests, which industry observers use to determine how much quote-unquoted “better” the industry has become in terms of representing and celebrating the artistic that really pushes the boundaries of storytelling in new directions. Right or not, we tend to look at the Emmys as a temperature control for what the television industry thinks of itself. This year, according to the pandemic theme, it apparently has a mild fever as well as some other relevant symptoms that are worth investigating.
For example, it was hard to overlook the fact that every single working winner on Sunday night was white, and more than half of them were British. These dozen winners also represented only five shows in total. Every winner was definitely deserved, though I’m sure there will be arguments on Reddit about whether Brett Goldstein deserved a supporting role in a comedy for Ted Lasso when he is technically CGI. But one or two strokes off Kronen sweep and Ted Lasso/Hacks split-sweep suggests that Emmy voters are not expanding their scope in a way that reflects how broad the television landscape has become.
Although all of the actors who were rewarded in the headphone broadcast were white, it is worth noting that almost all of the actors and artists who won during the Creative Arts Emmy ceremonies – honoring guest performances and craft categories as well as commercials and animated programs – were black . (These winners included Maya Rudolph, Dave Chappelle, Sterling K. Brown, Courtney B. Vance, JB Smoove, and Keke Palmer.) Unfortunately, your standard Emmy viewer would never know this was the case when the Creative Arts ceremonies were held last weekend and airs in condensed form on FXX Saturday night. The winners were not recognized during the ceremony in prime time Sunday night.
It is also worth noting that two of the three instructors who were rewarded on Sunday were women: Lucia Aniello for Hacks and Jessica Hobbs for Kronen. Only four women have ever won an Emmy for directing a drama and five for directing a comedy (for a total of seven awards; Jill Soloway and Gail Mancuso each won twice), so unfortunately that’s progress. That’s progress. And admittedly, some of the progress that has been made is now taken for granted. RuPaul’s Drag Race won his fourth consecutive Emmy for outstanding competitions, making RuPaul the most decorated black artist in Emmy history. It’s a significant achievement, but that victory hardly got anyone to turn a blind eye because Drag race‘s triumphs have become the norm. Oddly enough, an award that should signal the industry’s push to platform several different voices also carries a tinge of narrow-mindedness and a suggestion that Emmy voters just check the same box every year.
It’s tempting to characterize Emmy voters as a kind of monolith who deliberately ignores certain shows, when in fact it is a voting body with many members, some of whom have probably voted for other shows. Yet at a time when there are so damn many networks / platforms and series – and many people were quarantined and could theoretically watch more television for at least part of the last year – it’s discouraging that the Emmy victories were no more surprising or widely distributed. To put this in perspective: 30 years ago, in 1991, when there were far fewer series and networks / businesses, eight different shows were honored in the major comedy and drama categories. This year again: There were three. Out of potentially hundreds who could have been nominated and taken trophies home.
This whole award-winning business is, of course, subjective, but having said that: it’s wild The underground railway did not win a damn, blessed thing, especially not a directing award for Barry Jenkins. This snub felt even more maddening after winner Scott Frank directing The Queen’s Gambit, gave a wandering, dull acceptance speech, while apparently looking at every time the music had the audacity to try to stop him from speaking. The Queen’s Gambit may deserve an extra Emmy for wasting the most goodwill towards a show in a single Emmys broadcast; For the record, I wrote a positive review of it when it came out about 85 years ago, a review whose headline I now wish I could change in light of the excellent limited series acceptance speech given by executive producer William Horberg , in which he thanked Anya Taylor-Joy for “bringing the sexy one back to chess.”
The people who worry about television and awards shows – admittedly an increasingly niche group – will see shows and people recognized for taking big swings. They will also see true inclusivity, not only in terms of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender and ability, but also through a more tacit recognition of the breadth of shows currently available on television. The number of recognized offers each year should grow and not shrink. Real risks should be rewarded more often, not less.
Perhaps the most exciting thing that happened at this year’s Emmy Awards was also the funniest. And no, I’m not talking about the recorded bit that involved Cedric the Entertainer reincarnating the fly that sat on Mike Pence’s head as he debated Kamala Harris. (So timely!) I’m talking about Conan O’Brien standing up while the Academy of Television’s President and CEO Frank Scherma talked about “what we all love about television” and the industry’s commitment to diversity and praising him as if he were an American soldier who had just returned from war. It was a respectful movement that also signaled how much shit is still involved in the Emmys and in fact any awards ceremony. The pseudo-congratulatory attitude distracted the audience from what happened on stage itself — unlike critics on Twitter did not ultimately distract it from the subsequent presentation of The Governors Award to the marvelous Debbie Allen — and made you wonder, what was going on just outside the box.
In short, it was fun, compelling television. There’s a lot of that these days. During the Emmys in 2021, you only saw some of it.