Emmys 2021 review: Is it any wonder people have stopped watching awards shows?
At this point in human history, it is a well-documented fact that most Americans are not interested in watching awards shows. Ratings for the Emmys and the Oscars continue to plummet to new lows every year, and if you're reading this — IS anyone reading this besides my editors? — you likely didn't watch and just want to skim this article for the highlights and lowlights.
Yet the awards season tradition continues, and if any broadcast network understands adhering to traditions, it's CBS. The network is nothing if not consistent — when you turn on CBS, you always know what you're gonna get. And that was largely the case with the 73rd Annual Emmy Awards: Ted Lasso and The Crown won big, much of the comedy didn't work, and one entitled dude took it upon himself to ignore the rules and keep talking for as long as he damn well pleased.
Though the Television Academy announced in August that the ceremony would be held outdoors in an abundance of COVID caution, instead, the audience was packed inside a "hermetically sealed tent," as presenter Seth Rogen called it, at L.A. Live in downtown Los Angeles. "There are way too many of us in this little room!" he lamented, only half-joking. "Why is there a roof?" Host Cedric the Entertainer later assured us that everyone in attendance was vaccinated — and seeing glammed-up celebs sitting at not-really-socially-distanced tables initially fostered a lighter, looser vibe than the pandemic-era Oscars and Golden Globes earlier this year.
The night got off to a lively start with Cedric the Entertainer leading the crowd in a TV-themed rap set to the late Biz Markie's "Just a Friend." The rousing singalong had some funny and unexpected features — Dave's Lil Dicky and Rita Wilson both spit a few bars — and it also gave us the night's most authentic moment of surprise, when WandaVision nominee Kathryn Hahn realized that LL Cool J was working the mic right behind her.
The exuberance continued with the first winner of the night, Ted Lasso's Hannah Waddingham. "AHHHHH, I'M GIVING A SPEECH AT THE EMMYS!" she screeched joyfully. Then fellow Lasso winner Brett Goldstein dropped a few inevitable f-bombs ("I'm so sorry, please have me back"), and it seemed like we might be in for a decently entertaining evening.
That did not come to pass. But it's not Cedric the Entertainer's fault — there's only so much a real comedian can do within the confines of broadcast television, and there's even less he can do when those confines are CBS. The monologue had a few mild chuckles, and the "no Emmys support group" was genuinely clever — until CBS had to ruin it with a Dr. Phil cameo. God bless Conan O'Brien for injecting a little anarchy into the proceedings, cheering like a lunatic for Television Academy Chairman and CEO Frank Scherma, and then striding confidently on stage to help celebrate Stephen Colbert's win for his election special... which he had nothing to do with. Too often, though, the planned comedy bits didn't just fall flat — they cratered. Which was worse: Cedric Forrest Gump-ing himself into "notable" TV moments like the Vice Presidential debate, or Ken Jeong mugging his way through some inane prop comedy before announcing the Variety Sketch Series award?
Actually, neither of those bombs was as ill-conceived as the decision by Queen's Gambit director Scott Frank to hijack the ceremony for his bloated and indulgent acceptance speech. "Seriously, stop the music," he scoffed, waving his hand dismissively at the orchestra before droning on for three-and-a-half minutes. Contrast that with the next winner, I May Destroy You writer/star Michaela Coel, who needed just 55 seconds to get her message across. "In a world that entices us … to feel the need to be constantly visible — for visibility these days seems to somehow equate to success — do not be afraid to disappear." Emmy viewers seem to have taken this lesson to heart already, and tonight's show is unlikely to change their minds. C-