The best and worst moments from the 2021 Emmy Awards
2021 Emmy Awards
The 73rd annual Emmy Awards on CBS marked the second of these ceremonies impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Though this year, we at least got to bring most of the nominees together in person to celebrate and accept their awards — as opposed to 2020's adapted virtual version. The night honored the best in television, while also celebrating the medium's crucial role in our lives, particularly these past 18 months. Here were the best and worst moments from the 2021 Emmys ceremony.
Best: Biz Markie tribute opens the show
Rita Wilson teased a "surprise" opening on the red carpet, and they certainly delivered with a room-rocking rendition of the late Biz Markie's "Just a Friend." Cedric the Entertainer kicked things off, but passed the mic to LL Cool J (who apparently has a contractual agreement to appear on every CBS awards show until the end of time), Lil Dicky, Mandy Moore, Susan Kelechi Watson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Anthony Anderson, and…. Rita Wilson (did Chet give her lessons?). Plus, many more. The playful opening number, including dancers wearing TVs on their heads, got the whole room on their feet and helped set the proceedings off on a warm foot that carried throughout the show.
Worst: CBS' C-list talent
Since the Emmys rotate through networks, it's only fair that every network gets the chance to promote their in-house talent as presenters when it's their turn to host television's biggest night. But we all know network TV is in dire straits, and CBS might still consistently rank the highest because of all the boomers watching who haven't cut the cord — but don't awards feel less meaningful when they're handed out by the likes of Wilmer Valderrama and Vanessa Lachey? Surely, The Masked Singer has an opening.
Best: Women directors getting their due
Jessica Hobbs became only the twelfth woman ever to win an Emmy for directing (that's across the drama, comedy, and limited series/movie categories) when she was honored for her work directing the "War" episode of The Crown. She was then followed by Lucia Aniello in the comedy category for her work directing Hacks, making it a baker's dozen. It's still an appalling statistic, reflecting how far women still have to go to reach equal representation behind the camera. But their speeches were heartfelt, particularly Hobbs' tribute to all the female auteurs who came before her, including her own mother. "Not a lot of women have won this award, so I feel like I'm standing on the shoulders of some extraordinary people and I'm very grateful for the path they led," she closed. "And I'd particularly like to pay tribute to my mum who at 77 is still directing." We stan a mother-daughter directing duo.
Worst: Cedric's comedy bits
Comedy bits on awards shows can be hit or miss, but Cedric by and large missed with his unfunny bits — whether it was a terrible "all flies matter" joke, inserting himself into a video of Tom Brady throwing his Super Bowl trophy from one boat to another (surely, there must have been a more recent/relevant event to throw in the mix here!), or jawing with the women of The Neighborhood, who were neither funny nor memorable.
Best: Kerry Washington pays tribute to Michael K. Williams
Passing away only a few weeks before the Emmy Awards, Michael K. Williams left an astonishing body of work behind, including his nominated performance in Lovecraft Country. Williams didn't win his category, but he did get a heartfelt tribute from presenter Kerry Washington. "Michael was a brilliantly talented actor and a generous human being who has left us far too soon," she said. "Your excellence, your artistry will endure. We love you."
Worst: Schitt's Creek quartet's neverending bit
The Schitt's Creek team made Emmy history last year, sweeping all seven of their major categories. But the shine was off the Emmy with their unfunny presenting bit this go-round (probably because they most likely didn't write it). It started with them saying the teleprompter wasn't working in their signature deadpan manner that left us all wondering if they were serious or not. But it dragged on and on with a reveal coming that Eugene Levy had asked the comedy writers of the show to "lift" their material, i.e. tighten it up a bit. We wish they'd just cut it altogether.
Best: Norm Macdonald gets his due
Funnyman Norm Macdonald died only last week, rocking all those who had ever laughed at his quirky, once-in-a-generation sense of humor. It was only right then that his legacy get some airtime during the show. John Oliver paid tribute to Macdonald while winning for Best Variety Series, Talk Show, noting that "there was no one funnier in late-night comedy than Norm Macdonald." Then, Macdonald got a shout-out from Saturday Night Live boss Lorne Michaels when Michaels accepted the Emmy for Best Variety Series, Sketch Show, who looked on the verge of tears while honoring his former cast member. "Weekend Update has been part of SNL for 46 seasons," he said. "Here, I'd like to pay tribute to one of the best we ever had: Norm Macdonald."
Best: Where's my f—ing Emmy?
While most of the show's attempts at humor didn't quite work, this pre-recorded sketch was a real highlight. It featured a barrage of actors who've never won an Emmy, including Scott Bakula, Jason Alexander, Alyson Hannigan, Zooey Deschanel — and oh look, Fred Savage is "directing" the sketch since he's never won and has been reduced to picking up jobs like this. Bakula joked about trading one of his houses for an Emmy, while Alexander bemoaned his seven straight nominations for Seinfeld with no wins (which still rankles tbh, justice for George!). And while Dr. Phil normally makes us run screaming from our televisions, he put the perfect bow on the sketch with his quip: "If you want an Emmy, get yourself booked on Ted Lasso or The Crown."
Worst: Scott Frank ignoring being played off
Let's be honest: It is terrible that all award shows prioritize not-so-funny sketches and comedic bits over giving the winners more time for their speeches. But these are televised pieces of entertainment too, not just an awards banquet. There are certain people who should get all the time they want — we bow down to Debbie Allen proclaiming she wasn't going to stop for the music or anyone. But Scott Frank was the portrait of white male entitlement when he won for directing The Queen's Gambit, believing his speech was more important than the poor production team's attempts to stick to a run time. He confidently plowed through the wrap-it-up music not once, not twice, but three times — all to rattle off a litany of names and take up way too much of all of our time. Save it for the after-party, sir.
Best: All the Ted Lasso love
Ted Lasso is one of the most earnest, pure-hearted shows ever to grace our televisions, making it oh-so-worthy of all the Emmys love. While we always "believed" it could go for the gold, it was fantastic to see talents like Hannah Waddingham, Brett Goldstein, and Jason Sudeikis get their due, in addition to the series as a whole. Their speeches certainly didn't disappoint, from Waddingham's shout-out to musical theater performers to Goldstein's swearing to just the way Sudeikis looked at his Emmy. Plus, it was heartwarming to see the camaraderie and teamwork of the show playing out at their table as they supported each other (Juno Temple's face during Hannah Waddingham's speech is #friendshipgoals). To quote Roy Kent, we f---ing loved every second of it.
Worst: The Queen's Gambit's tone-deaf acceptance speech
No disrespect to The Queen's Gambit, but their crew definitely takes the prize for the worst, most tone-deaf acceptance speeches of the night (see a previous slide for another example). A ceremony that was marked by a distinct lack of many non-white winners ended on a sour note when William Horberg made a speech praising star Anya Taylor-Joy for "bringing sexy back to chess" (rather than, I don't know, her acting abilities?) before pivoting to make a hollow statement about "patriarchy has no defense against our queens." Except, apparently, while making a completely un-self-aware Emmys acceptance speech.
Best: Michaela Coel, f--- yeah
We're thrilled to see Michaela Coel get some much-deserved Emmys love for her staggering writing skills that produced I May Destroy You. She proved her talent further with a beautiful speech that was more spoken word poem than list of thanks, reminding us all to take some time to sit with the silence and see what comes of it. Coel also dedicated her award to survivors of sexual assault, speaking to the powerful material of her series. Olivia Colman added a cherry on top when she burst out in the midst of her acceptance speech with the proclamation, "Michaela Coel, f—yeah!"