Emmys 2021: Ted Lasso and The Crown triumph

The big night for TV saw triumphs for Brits – including Olivia Colman, Kate Winslet and Michaela Coel – yet a diversity problem remains

The 73rd Emmy awards mostly stuck to the predicted script on Sunday, celebrating favorites Ted Lasso, The Queen’s Gambit and The Crown, in an awards-stuffed return to a (mostly) normal ceremony that celebrated diversity yet handed almost all the acting awards to white performers.

It was a big night for Brits, with The Crown, Netflix’s lavish drama on the royal family, entering the evening tied with The Mandalorian for the most nominations with 24, and leaving with a clean sweep of the drama categories, including acting wins for Olivia Colman (as Queen Elizabeth II), Josh O’Connor (as Prince Charles), Gillian Anderson (as Margaret Thatcher) and Tobias Menzies (as the late Prince Philip).

It was also named best drama for the first time, a milestone for Netflix, which led the year with 44 awards in total, including wins at the Creative Arts Emmys, which took place recently.

A year after the final season of Schitt’s Creek, which had taken up the mantle of Emmys comedy gold from Veep, swept the comedy awards, Ted Lasso emerged as the heir apparent. The heartwarming British-set Apple TV+ comedy, based on a 2013 sketch promoting the Premier League on NBC in the US, took home four awards, including best comedy and acting nods for Hannah Waddingham, Brett Goldstein and its star and co-creator Jason Sudeikis.

Hacks, one of HBO Max’s debut comedies, about an odd-couple working relationship between an ageing comedian and a millennial writer, prevented Ted Lasso’s clean sweep, with wins for best comedy writing and best lead actress, Jean Smart (a double nominee, up for best supporting actress in a limited series for Mare of Easttown). “We wanted to make a show that honors anybody who struggled to tell their stories, especially women who never got to tell their story at all because the world wasn’t listening,” said the Hacks co-creator Lucia Aniello (Broad City), who also won best comedy directing for Hacks’ pilot.

Kate Winslet
Kate Winslet with her award for best lead actress in a limited series. Photograph: CBS Photo Archive/CBS/Getty Images

Awards for best limited series were split between Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit, which won best limited series and best directing for Scott Frank, and HBO’s Mare of Easttown, which garnered acting trophies for the supporting performers Evan Peters and Julianne Nicholson and best lead actress for Kate Winslet.

For the sixth year in a row, HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver won best variety talk series and the genre’s outstanding writing award.

Though the telecast often exhibited diversity from presenters, including the cast of Reservation Dogs, the first show on TV with an all-Indigenous cast and writer’s room, there was little diversity to be found in the list of winners, with no acting awards handed to people of color during the broadcast. (At the Creative Arts Emmys last weekend, three black actors won: Courtney B Vance, for best guest actor in a drama series (Lovecraft Country), and Saturday Night Live’s Maya Rudolph and Dave Chappelle for best guest actress and actor in a comedy series). RuPaul was one of only three people of color to accept an award during the broadcast, for RuPaul’s Drag Race as best competition series – making him the most decorated person of color in Emmy history.

Another was Michaela Coel, for best writing in a limited series for her tour de force HBO show I May Destroy You, a breakout hit in summer 2020 and widely considered one of the Golden Globes’ most egregious snubs. Coel is the first Black woman to win the award. In a clipped speech that packed a punch, she urged writers to “write the tale that scares you, that makes you feel uncertain, that isn’t comfortable. I dare you.

“I dedicate this story to every single survivor of sexual assault,” she added at the end.

Michaela Coel won for best writing in a limited series, for I May Destroy You.
Michaela Coel won for best writing in a limited series, for I May Destroy You. Photograph: CBS Photo Archive/CBS/Getty Images

The night did, however, mark strong progress for women behind the scenes – the first Emmy awards in which women swept the comedy and drama directing categories. The Crown’s Jessica Hobbs became only the fourth female directing winner, while Hacks’ Lucia Aniello is the fifth.

A year after Jimmy Kimmel stage-managed a collection of more than 100 live feeds, the Emmys returned to the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles, where Cedric the Entertainer, the actor and standup comedian who has been a sitcom staple from The Steve Harvey Show to The Neighborhood, presided over a collection of star-studded tables and numerous reassurances that yes, everyone was vaccinated.

The three-plus-hour telecast squeezed in 28 live awards, including one notable stretch to present the lifetime Governor’s Award to Debbie Allen, a consummate multi-hyphenate – dancer, choreographer, actor, director, producer, and singer – whose career spans such pop culture staples as Fame, Grey’s Anatomy and The Cosby Show. “It’s taken a lot of courage to be the only woman in the room a lot of times,” said Allen, aged 71.

After dismissing the music to play her off – “honey, turn that clock off, I ain’t paying no attention to it” – Allen concluded her speech with a challenge to the youngest generations. “For young people who have no vote, who can’t even get a vaccine – they’re inheriting the world that we live in and where we lead them,” she said. “It’s time for you to claim your power. Play your voice, sing your song, tell your stories. It will make us a better place. Your turn.”

• This article was amended on 20 September 2021. We incorrectly stated that no actors of color won awards, when in fact Courtney B Vance won Guest actor in a drama series for Lovecraft Country. This has been corrected.


Adrian Horton

The GuardianTramp

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