It’s clear that the Emmy Awards, like other Hollywood awards shows, are outdated, deeply flawed, and pretty racist. The shows themselves are boring, indeterminate, and sometimes cringe affairs, with nominees often representing a contest in white mediocrity and nominators often only having seen a small range of television content. As Judy Berman put it in Time this summer when this year’s nominations came out, “Forget the Individual Snubs. The 2021 Emmy Nominations Reveal a Fundamentally Broken Institution.” Despite knowing better, however, many of us still lend some degree of stock to these awards and the prestige they offer.
In this vein, doing a post on the Emmy nominees and winners might seem contradictory to the theme of this blog on progressive millennial and Gen Z television. But there are some exceptions, and with the news being as upsetting as it is, and considering I’m currently packing for a move, I thought it would be fun to write a lighter post this week.
“I May Destroy You” (HBO):
Michaela Coel won for Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series
I’m so glad this show won for best writing, making Coel the first Black woman to win in this category, though the show deserves much more recognition than that. This tweet puts it best: “I May Destroy You” was the best show of 2020. It’s hard to put into words how groundbreaking, brilliant, and complex this show is. You go in thinking it’s about one incidence of sexual assault, when really it’s about multiple layers and examples of assault that force viewers to think harder about how we define what a violation is, and the ways in which we ourselves are unwittingly implicated in such situations. (I know I’m staying vague here, but it’s because I don’t want to give even a thing away.) It’s a dark show, but it leaves room for tenderness, lightness, and redemption. Also, did you hear that Coel wrote 191 drafts of this show? And did you see her speech? As she said:
Write the tale that scares you, that makes you feel uncertain, that isn’t comfortable. I dare you. In a world that entices us to browse the lives of others to help us better determine how we feel about ourselves, and to, in turn, feel the need to be constantly visible — for visibility, these days, seems to somehow equate to success — do not be afraid to disappear. From it, from us, for a while. And see what comes to you in the silence.
She then dedicated her award to all survivors of sexual assault. Can you even imagine if she hadn’t won? (Stay tuned for a full post dedicated to the show later this year.)
Paapa Essiedu was nominated for Best Supporting Actor In a Limited Series
Coel is fantastic in “I May Destroy You,” but so is the supporting cast, particularly her deeply believable best friends. Arabella (Coel), Terry (Weruche Opia) and Kwame (Paapa Essiedu) are Black millennials living in London with immigrant parents. Essiedu was nominated for his portrayal of Kwame, a gay man who confronts his own story of sexual assault, and he was also great. So was Opia, who I couldn’t keep my eyes off of when she was on screen. But she wasn’t nominated. Instead, Best Supporting Actor in a Limited Series went to Evan Peters, who I just watched on a plane in “Mare of Easttown.” The other “Mare of Easttown” wins I get, but… this guy? He was… fine? If there is something I am missing, please let me know, but he totally fits into the “mediocre white guy” category for me. Which brings us to…
“Mare of Easttown” (HBO):
Kate Winslet won for Best Actress in a Limited Series, and Julianne Nicholson won for Best Supporting Actress
As noted above, I just devoured this on a plane, and Winslet totally deserved this. In addition to the much-discussed spot-on Delco accent (Nicole Kidman, take note), her performance is weary, passionate, and totally believable, except perhaps for her milquetoast love interests. In true A-lister fashion, her acting turn in this was accompanied by a classic make-under, though this one was mostly due to a bad dye job. This show kind of glamorizes policing, and doesn’t really do much criticism of the prison industrial complex (it makes juive look sort of nice?). It does a great job sketching out the multiple levels of despair in Rust Belt Philadelphia, struggling amid the despair of poverty, addiction, and toxic masculinity. Nicholson is great as another mother shouldering way too much burden amid these circumstances. You can definitely read the show as a critique of capitalism; as a friend said, all of the conflicts in the show are driven by a lack of resources. If baby DJ could have gotten his dang ear surgery for free, maybe no one would have died? But then there would have been no murder mystery. This show, like “I May Destroy You,” is ultimately about how women process trauma, and are forced to shoulder it while enduring hostile and sometimes violent men. Don’t watch these two shows in a row.
Woke Teen Shoutout: Siobhan (Angourie Rice), Mare’s daughter, is great as the Only Sane Person in Easttown. She’s a super badass lesbian with a side shave, and the singer of a rock trio. I also love that despite living in a super macho swing district, her family accepts her and she doesn’t face any outward discrimination for being queer. Siobhan has dealt with a lot of family trauma, but she is easily the most stable of any of the show’s characters. She acts as a reflection of and foil to her mother, and puts on some great waterworks too. Why wasn’t she nominated?
“The Queen’s Gambit” (Netflix):
Won for Best Limited Series
This show was super entertaining, well-done, etc. I really liked it! But was it groundbreaking? Not really. Of course, I’d argue “I May Destroy You” was better, and I haven’t seen “WandaVision” (sorry), or “The Underground Railroad” (sorry! I did read half of the book though). Having seen Barry Jenkins’ work, I’m sure “The Underground Railroad” was one of the more worthy contenders for this category, but there was no way the wildly successful, mainstream, white-centered crowdpleaser starring a model wasn’t going to win here.
Scott Frank won for Best Directing in a Limited Series
I don’t have too much to add here, except for that it was by far the safest choice. There were two nominations for Michaela Coel (and co-director Sam Miller), who obviously should have won. And why is “Hamilton” here??
Jean Smart won for Best Actress in a Comedy Series
Yes, she’s a rich white lady playing a rich white lady. But she was so good as a Joan Rivers-type trailblazing female comedian not exactly at the height of her career. Her chemistry with her Gen Z writing partner, Ava (Hannah Einbinder, also nominated but I’m okay with her not winning this time) crackles on screen. Every note is pitch perfect.
Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs, and Jen Statsky won for Best Writing for a Comedy Series
I thought the writing on this show was good, but then I saw the other nominees. “Girls 5Eva” brought me my biggest laughs since the pandemic started. And “The Flight Attendant” was one of the best shows this year, though I definitely would not call it a comedy. “Pen15”! Very funny, very cringe, but kind of shocked it even got nominated considering how outrageously weird it is. I don’t completely understand the logic here, but it’s hard for there to be logic when half of these shows weren’t even comedies. “Hacks” was definitely more of a dramedy.
Lucia Aniello won for Best Directing in a Comedy Series
In this category we have three instances of “Ted Lasso,” one episode of “The Flight Attendant,” and a few throwaways. I guess it’s good that the most predictable choice didn’t win here, but I thought “The Flight Attendant” was fantastic, and its direction was so gripping and tight. Its portrayal of a woman unraveling was so, so good. I know Kaley Cuoco had no chance against Jean Smart, but she was shockingly incredible in the show. I’m sure her director, Susanna Fogel, had something to do with that.
“The Crown” (Netflix):
Olivia Colman won for Best Actress
Did she already win for this? Oh wait, it’s somehow her first career Emmy! No one had a shot against her. But I loved her subversive ally moment when she got bleeped out for saying, “fuck yeah, Michaela Coel!” Though it did feel a little like when Adele dedicated her Album of the Year award to Beyonce as she buckled under the weight of her Grammys.
Tobias Menzies won for Outstanding Supporting Actor
This might be the dumbest win of the night. Nominee Michael K. Williams literally died last week and they still chose a stodgy white guy for this award. I would only have been more annoyed if Toby from “This is Us” had won.
Josh O’Connor won for Outstanding Actor
He was really good, especially in the third season I thought, when his character was an actual teenager (see, relevant to this blog!). However, it’s annoying to see so many white men win, especially when several men of color were nominated. From what I’ve heard, Billy Porter from “Pose” should have won. And sorry, Regé-Jean Page is hot or whatever, but “Bridgerton” deserves no Emmys.
“Ted Lasso” (Peacock): Won for Everything
Confession time: I have not seen “Ted Lasso.” I know, I know, how can I claim to be a television aficionado and not have watched this show? In my defense, I have Chromecast and AppleTV doesn’t work with it. I even went to the trouble of buying a Firestick so I could watch it, but haven’t set it up yet. I’ll watch it soon, I promise!
*Note: This article initially incorrectly stated that Paul Downs, not Lucia Aniello, had won the best directing in a comedy series Emmy. Apologies!
This bonus post may be sent en lieu of the next scheduled newsletter. I’m moving next week, but am hoping to put together a post on “Sex Education,” currently #1 on Netflix and one of the most representative “woke” teen shows I can think of, before then. If not, it’ll be slightly delayed, but hold out hope I’ll finish packing early (has this ever happened?) and can keep up wit the zeitgeist!