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Host Cedric the Entertainer and a small cavalcade of nominees and random stars opened the 2021 Primetime Emmys on Sunday with a musical number that thanked the small screen. “Oh TV, you, you got what I need,” went a chorus to a reworked rap-along version of the late Biz Markie’s Just a Friend. It was salute to a “best friend,” television. In any other year, such a number would be seen as self-serving. This year it rang true.
Sunday’s Emmys (and last weekend’s Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards for technical and other achievements) celebrated a 2020-21 season that was game-changing for television. Stuck at home because of a pandemic-caused lockdown, and with movie theatres, theatre stages and concert halls shuttered, viewers turned to television and upstart streaming services for entertainment.
While the 2020 Emmy telecast was a virtual affair, this year’s scaled-down presentation was in person, held at the Event Deck at L.A. Live in downtown Los Angeles, with a satellite room in London, apparently created for those involved with the British-made series The Crown, the night’s big winner.
The Crown: The Netflix historical drama concerning the long reign of Queen Elizabeth II won seven times on Sunday, including awards for best drama series, lead actor, lead actress, supporting actress, supporting actor, directing and writing.
Streaming Services: In an assertion of dominance, streaming services won for best drama series (The Crown, on Netflix) and top comedy series (Ted Lasso, on Apple TV+).
Jean Smart: One of the heartiest exhibitions of applause was given in appreciation of the beloved veteran actress, upon her winning Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for her role in HBO Max’s Hacks. As Smart thanked Hannah Einbinder, her co-star mouthed back the words, “I love you.” In doing so, she spoke for the whole room without making a sound.
Cedric the Entertainer, who failed to live up to his moniker. The pretaped bits seemed slapdash, and the live jokes from Cedric and various presenters rarely created laugh-out-loud reactions or memorable moments.
The Handmaid’s Tale: The fourth season of the Hulu series based on the 1985 dystopic novel of the same name by Margaret Atwood set a new shutout standard by failing to convert any of its 21 nominations (including those from last weekend’s creative Emmys) into wins.
Lucia Aniello, who won best director in a comedy series for HBO Max’s Hacks: “We also wanted to make a show that honours anybody who struggled to tell their stories, especially women, who never got to tell their story at all, because the world wasn’t listening.”
Presenter Seth Rogen, on the supposedly outdoor setting for the ceremony: “Let me start by saying there is way too many of us in this little room. What are we doing? They said this was outdoors. It’s not. They lied to us. We’re in a hermetically sealed tent right now. I would not have come to this. Why is there a roof? It’s more important that we have three chandeliers than we make sure we don’t kill Eugene Levy tonight – that is what has been decided. This is insane. I went from wiping my groceries to having Paul Bettany sneeze in my face …”
Michaela Coel, creator, writer and star of the BBC One/HBO drama I May Destroy You, who won for Outstanding Writing for a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie: “Write the tale that scares you, that makes you feel uncertain and uncomfortable – I dare you … I dedicate this to every single survivor of sexual assault.”
James Cameron: At last weekend’s Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards, the director of The Terminator, Aliens, Titanic and Avatar won the Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Series prize for the National Geographic docuseries Secrets of the Whales on Disney Plus.