Michaela Coel to Noel Clarke: the best, worst and most bizarre bits of the 2021 TV Baftas

I May Destroy You cleaned up at last. But why the staggering silence on the last big Bafta story? And who was the poor woman handling millions of germs?

Last year’s TV Baftas felt like a breezy little novelty. Coming relatively early in the pandemic, they arrived strapped of pomp and ceremony; slung together on Zoom, with Richard Ayoade on hand to draw attention to how amateurish the whole thing was. This year, though, we all know the ropes. We’ve had a year of virtual awards shows to contend with, so this year’s ceremony had to fall in line. Did it work? Here’s the best, worst and weirdest of the 2021 TV Baftas.

Best: the audience

Last year’s ceremony was performed to a hermetically-sealed void. This year, however, there was an audience. An actual, living, breathing, scattered, masked, socially distant audience, filling a studio space that can only be described as ‘poky’. So, strong ‘mid-afternoon weekday cinema screening’ vibes. But what a relief to have an audience at all.

Worst: the virtual audience

Daisy May Cooper and the virtual audience.
At least they guaranteed 85 people would watch ... Daisy May Cooper and the virtual audience. Photograph: Guy Levy/REX/Shutterstock for BAFTA

Nevertheless, this is 2021, so tradition still dictates that we must also have a screenful of normal people popping up in Zoom boxes because … why? They didn’t add anything. They didn’t make it more entertaining. They did, at least, guarantee that roughly 85 people would watch. Hey, it all counts.

Best: I May Destroy You cleans up

One of the biggest errors of awards season so far was the lack of recognition offered to Michaela Coel’s still extraordinary I May Destroy You. Finally, thankfully, the Baftas redressed the balance with wins for best miniseries and best actress. Better yet, Coel used both speeches to single out members of the crew who routinely go unthanked.

Worst: I Hate Suzie does not clean up

Beaten by Save Me Too in best drama. Beaten by I May Destroy You in best writer and best actress. Beaten by Anthony in best supporting actress. I Hate Suzie was really good, you dummies.

Weirdest: Life & Rhymes wins best entertainment

Benjamin Zephaniah in Life & Rhymes.
Time to check it out ... Benjamin Zephaniah on Life & Rhymes. Photograph: Sky

Ant & Dec, Strictly Come Dancing and The Masked Singer all lost out to a little-watched spoken word performance show about post-colonialism that aired on Sky Arts. I don’t know if it was better than Strictly. Nobody does, because nobody actually watched it. But, hey, maybe it’s time to check it out.

Best: Richard Ayoade

Many hosts would have fallen flat when faced with the sheer death of atmosphere in the studio. Not Ayoade, who once again managed to be archly dismissive of pretty much everything that happened around him. A case in point: in his best supporting actor speech, Malachi Kirby said “Mum, I wish I could put your name on this award”. Ayoade calmly responded by mentioning that most high street engravers would do it. When Casualty’s acceptance speech frame-rate was hobbled to a crawl, he sighed “Broadband, yeah?” Can we make him a permanent fixture?

Weirdest: Paul Mescal wins

The win seemed to surprise him as much as anyone else ... Paul Mescal in Normal People.
The win seemed to surprise him as much as anyone else ... Paul Mescal in Normal People. Photograph: BBC/Element Pictures/Hulu

The leading actor category was arguably the most talent-packed of the night, with John Boyega, Josh O’Connor, Paapa Essiedu, Shaun Parkes and Waleed Zuaiter nominated. Instead, Normal People’s Paul Mescal took home the trophy. The win seemed to surprise him as much as anyone else, and his acceptance speech was both generous and tearful. “What a bastard” muttered Ayoade as he left the stage.

Weirdest: the woman hired to collect up the face masks

Everyone in the Bafta audience wore face masks. However, unless I am deeply mistaken, upon reaching the stage each winner took them off and handed them to one specific woman. This means that one woman was responsible for essentially handling many millions of germs. May she bathe forever in a vat of Purell.

Best: The Great House Giveaway

I think I’m allowed to mention this now. I was on the jury for the Daytime category and the winner, The Great House Giveaway, surprised the entire panel by how great it was. Two strangers are given a home and told to do it up. If they succeed, and they sell it for a profit, they split the spoils. It’s been rumoured that The Great House Giveaway is so successful in daytime that it will soon transition to primetime. When that happens, please remember that I liked it before you.

Weirdest: Catherine O’Hara

She wasn’t to know, but O’Hara’s jaunty prerecorded “WELL, it looks like everyone in the UK is COMPLETELY FINE” presentation speech came on the heels of a long and especially punishing In Memoriam segment. A bit more tact when it comes to scheduling might have helped.

Worst: no Noel Clarke acknowledgement

The last big story to emerge from Bafta was its mishandling of the sexual harassment allegations levelled at Noel Clarke, which he categorically denies. This sort of thing typically requires a big, unambiguous statement to clear the air, and it was suspected that the TV Baftas would be the place to do it. But that didn’t happen, and the absence was felt palpably, not least because the format had enough empty space to accommodate a ‘Zoom fails’ compilation and four separate clips of Nigella Lawson mispronouncing the word ‘microwave’.


Stuart Heritage

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