Arts and Entertainment

The Emmys: New Year, Same Old Show

Though many looked forward to the return of larger awards ceremonies, the 2021 in-person Emmys were an indicator of why these shows are declining in viewership and popularity.

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Another year of television means another year of awards—the 2021 Emmy Awards marked the 73rd year anniversary of “television’s biggest night.” To celebrate, the producers did exactly what they always do: script underwhelming jokes, give too little time for winners to deliver their speeches, and hand out awards to the same shows again and again. Though the Emmys highlight standout television, the ceremony has become not only outdated but also boring after years of repetition.

The 2021 Emmy Awards came in stark contrast to last year’s events; attendees were together under one roof, as opposed to last year’s virtual ceremony. Cedric the Entertainer kicked off the night by leading the audience in singing a TV-inspired rap and tribute to the late Biz Markie. Everyone, from Rita Wilson to Daveed Diggs, was a part of this opener—a display of unity after a long period of separation. However, after that wholesome moment, many of the comedic sketches fell flat. While some unscripted bits did shine, the producers didn’t learn from last year’s comedic faults, and the lackluster skits only brought the quality of the Emmys even further down.

With people physically present at the Emmys, the concern of COVID-19 reverberated throughout the theater. Seth Rogan, while presenting the award for Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series, made some snarky yet painfully accurate comments about the pandemic. “Let me start by saying there are way too many of us in this little room,” Rogan began. When the camera panned across the room in the opening number, it was clear that there were hundreds of people there, and social distancing was not in effect (though vaccinations were required). “What are we doing? They said this was outdoors. It is not. They lied to us,” Rogan said.

One of the more disappointing aspects of award shows is when shows sweep the awards they were nominated for, and, in typical awards ceremony fashion, a choice few shows did just that. “Ted Lasso” (2020-), Apple TV’s beloved soccer story, took seven comedy awards, including Outstanding Comedy Series and Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for Jason Sudeikis. “Hacks” (2021-), a series about mentorship and second chances, also received three comedy awards, notably Outstanding Writing and Directing for a Comedy Series. On the drama side, “The Crown” (2016-) was unsurprisingly the big winner of the night, winning Outstanding Drama Series, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for Olivia Coleman, and Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for Josh O’Connor, rounding out their impressive night with eight awards. Both “The Queen’s Gambit” (2020) and “Mare of Easttown” (2021) got awards for Limited Series, “Hamilton” (2020) won Outstanding Variety Special (Pre-Recorded), and “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver” (2014-) received Outstanding Variety Talk Series.

Some shows swept, and as usual, others got snubbed. Many people of color unfortunately ended up on the losers list in the 2021 Emmys. Despite a racially diverse panel of nominees, not a single person of color won an Emmy award for acting. While Michaela Coel’s “I May Destroy You” (2020) won an Emmy for Outstanding Writing For A Limited Or Anthology Series Or Movie, Barry Jenkins’s “The Underground Railroad” (2021) won none. Both of these shows were critically acclaimed and received rave reviews from large publications like The New York Times and The Washington Post, but the Television Academy failed to praise these shows and many others, bringing up the larger issue of validity and expression in the Emmys: why bother to watch the show if instead of showcasing new pieces of television, viewers have to hear the same show’s name repeated again and again? Especially since the integration of more POC into the entertainment industry is progressing, having winners who represent the diversity of the nominees would not only give an even spread of winners but also allow for diversity within the Emmys.

Despite the night’s flaws, a highlight was Debbie Allen’s acceptance of the Governor’s Award, which is an honor bestowed upon those who make significant contributions to the arts and sciences or the television industry. Allen has had a lifetime of achievements within television and philanthropy, appearing on TV shows like “Grey’s Anatomy” (2005-) and “Jane the Virgin” (2014-2019), acting in movies like “Fame” (1980) and “Ragtime” (1981), and founding the Debbie Allen Dance Academy, a nonprofit organization that allows students to get exposure to the arts. In her speech, where she notably ignored the clock, she spoke directly to young women: “It is time for you to claim your power, claim your voice, say your song, tell your stories, it will make us a better place. Your turn,” she said. Another heartfelt moment was Kerry Washington’s tribute to Michael K. Williams, who was posthumously nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actor in “Lovecraft Country.” Washington noted, “[Williams] was a brilliantly talented actor and a generous human being who has left us far too soon.” While Williams did not win the award, the segment remained one of the most significant this year.

Overall, the 2021 Emmys was a mostly uneventful night. The comedy was bad, certain shows sweeping made the ceremony boring, and the lack of diversity within the awards was incredibly unfortunate. If the Emmys keep repeating the same mistakes year after year, viewership will decline further than it already has, and the ceremony may eventually cease to exist. These faults aren’t irredeemable, though. The Emmys must keep evolving as television keeps evolving, and it will be more successful in the end. But for now, the 2021 ceremony managed to drag the Emmys bar another notch lower.