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The Biggest Surprises And Shocks From The 2021 Emmy Awards

Last night's ceremony was the least-surprising Emmy Awards in quite some time. Of course "The Crown" swept the drama awards. Of course "Ted Lasso" (mostly) swept the comedy awards. Of course popular, hip genre shows like "The Mandalorian" and "WandaVision" didn't make a dent in the major categories. The running joke among TV fans online was that voters clearly only watched a handful of (the whitest) shows before voting.

But that doesn't mean there weren't surprises. And shocks. And disappointments. And triumphs. You know, the good stuff that comes with live televised award shows. And also the annoying stuff. We'll parse through it all. Here are the biggest surprises and shocks from the 2021 Emmy Awards.

The Underground Railroad Didn't Win a Single Thing

One serious problem plaguing our constant digital content age is that some new films or TV shows get lost in the shuffle, despite how great they may be. Those who've witnessed Barry Jenkins' TV adaptation of "The Underground Railroad" on Amazon Prime Video have called it nothing short of a revelation. And yet, the series didn't seem to generate the same amount of buzz as some other streaming titles — which is wild, since the prospect of Barry Jenkins directing a TV series from beginning to end should've resulted in more attention. The lack of respect for "The Underground Railroad" continued at the recent Emmy Awards, where the series failed to take home a single trophy. Of course, the flip side to this is the acknowledgment that awards do not determine the quality of a work of art, and I have a feeling Jenkins' series will endure and be remembered fondly in years to come, while some actual Emmy winners fade into obscurity. (Chris Evangelista)

Hacks Beat Ted Lasso in Directing and Writing Categories

One of the big headlines from last night's Emmys was that the Apple TV+ series, "Ted Lasso," won big. The show about a football coach from the Midwest heading to the U.K. to coach a professional soccer team won Best Comedy Series, with star Jason Sudeikis picking up Best Actor and Brett Goldstein and Hannah Waddingham winning Supporting Actor and Actress respectively. What's getting less fanfare, however, is that HBO Max's "Hacks," while not winning Best Comedy, did have substantial Emmy wins. Jean Smart walked away with a deserved Best Actress Emmy for her portrayal of Deborah Vance, a workaholic comic who has been headlining a show in Vegas for decades. And even though the show didn't win Best Comedy, it did win Best Director for a Comedy Series (Lucia Aniello) and Best Writing for a Comedy Series (Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs and Jen Statsky). The last two wins are specifically for the first episode of the show, "There is No Line," which is how one can square "Hacks" getting the writing and directing nod while losing Best Comedy to "Ted Lasso." Both shows are excellent, however, and deserve the attention they received. (Vanessa Armstrong)

The Mandalorian Didn't Win a Single Trophy

Given that Disney and Lucasfilm's beloved "Star Wars" show entered the night with a huge and somewhat unexpected 24 nominations overall, it's quite amazing that it went home empty-handed. No Outstanding Drama Series. No acting awards. No directing awards. No writing awards. Nothing. "The Mandalorian" will just have to settle for being one of the most popular shows on the planet right now, and one of the most beloved "Star Wars" things to be released in a long, long time. It's not all bad though. Let us not forget that the show won big at the Creative Arts Emmy Awards. It took home seven trophies there. It just couldn't topple the competition in the major categories. Chin up, Grogu. You'll get 'em next time. (Ryan Scott)

The Queen's Gambit Took Limited Series After Some Serious Mare of Easttown Momentum

Like any number of big screen awards shows, The Emmys can certainly be prone to rapidly developing narratives between small screen favorites, based on the ebbs and flows of the evening. Last night, the glamorous television awards show turned into something of a heated face-off between two major streamers, with HBO Max's "Mare of Easttown" finding itself in direct competition with the Netflix hit "The Queen's Gambit." The top prize? The highly coveted award of Outstanding Limited or Anthology Series. Coming into the event, "Mare of Easttown" had racked up a total of 16 nominations, in comparison to the 18 garnered by "The Queen's Gambit." Although Disney+'s "WandaVision" and its 23 nominations looked set to crash the party, the show threw us an even more compelling curveball. By the end of the night, the major categories of Outstanding Supporting Actor (Evan Peters), Outstanding Supporting Actress (Julianne Nicholson), and "Outstanding Lead Actress" (Kate Winslet) all belonged to "Mare of Easttown." "The Queen's Gambit," meanwhile, rode the success of winning a slew of technical awards as well as Outstanding Directing (Scott Frank, complete with his absurdly long speech). In a final twist, it was "The Queen's Gambit" that took home Outstanding Limited Series, reestablishing itself as the favorite ... but only by taking the long way to get there. (Jeremy Mathai)

WandaVision, and Kathryn Hahn, Went Home Empty-Handed

It seems like superheroes are still a bit too lowbrow to earn Emmy love, even when they're masquerading in sitcom drag. Despite being nominated in eight categories at last night's Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Limited or Anthology Series, Marvel Studios' "WandaVision" failed to manipulate the minds of voters in Scarlet Witch fashion. The snubs included Paul Bettany's amazing breadth in portraying so many varied iterations of Vision, as well as his co-lead Elizabeth Olsen, whose performance straddled the line between sitcom super-mom and grief-stricken wreck (not to mention juggling two accents). And let's not forget series MVP Kathryn Hahn, who stole the show as evil sorceress Agatha Harkness (AKA Agnes), whose "Agatha All Along" song from episode 7 brought a new level of meta weirdness to a show that was already soaking in it, and earned our undying love while doing so. Will the MCU have a better shot next year? We shall see. (Max Evry)

Hamilton Seemed Ready to Go Home With Nothing, Until It Didn't

When the 73rd Primetime Emmys began last night, things weren't looking so great for the hit Broadway sensation "Hamilton." The recorded live performance of the blockbuster stage musical resulted in Daveed Diggs, Anthony Ramos and Jonathan Groff being nominated along with Renée Elise Goldsberry and Phillipa Soo for supporting roles in the limited series and anthology category, but they all walked away empty-handed. Even Lin-Manuel Miranda and Leslie Odom Jr. couldn't win Outstanding Lead Actor In A Limited Or Anthology Series Or Movie. But "Hamilton" ended up taking the award for Outstanding Variety Special (Pre-Recorded), beating out the likes of Dave Chappelle, Bo Burnham, the "Friends Reunion," and more. It's weird that a Tony-winning stage production intended for movie theaters ended up winning an Emmy, but the pandemic has made the world a crazy place. (Ethan Anderton)

Inside Lost to Hamilton for Outstanding Variety Special (Pre-Recorded)

Comparing Bo Burnham's claustrophobic one-man show "Inside" to the massive production of "Hamilton" feels a little silly in and of itself. Both are feats of creativity that combine music with beautiful visuals to tell a story, but they're incredibly different from a production standpoint and emotional impact. In "Hamilton," the story is the rise and fall of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, told through song and choreographed dance. In "Inside," the story is of a man (Burnham) trying to maintain his sanity during the 2020 lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic. One is about a man who made history, the other is about what it's like living through it. Don't get me wrong: I love both "Hamilton" and "Inside." I spent a lot of time during the past year singing songs from both, and I'm glad at least one of them won. This category just doesn't seem that well thought-out, because these two nominees are about as different as can be. When two specials with such different backgrounds end up in the same category, it almost makes me want to say "Why not both?" (Danielle Ryan)

Michael K. Williams and Lovecraft Country Were Shut-Out

Let's be crystal clear: Michael K. Williams should've won Best Supporting Actor in a Drama, not because of his recent death but because of the gravitas he brought to "Lovecraft Country." As Montrose Freeman he delivered a brilliantly crafted, nuanced performance of a complex, often infuriating character. This would've been Williams' first Emmy win after five nominations.The sting of his loss was felt tenfold in wake of his death, the HBO series' cancellation, and the fact that "Lovecraft Country" was utterly shut out of the award pool. Save for two wins at the Creative Emmys, the work done by Misha Green and the illustrious cast of the daring sci-fi series went ignored because, as the tallies prove, Emmy voters watched all of four shows this year and this wasn't one of them. There was a little hope for some "Lovecraft Country surprises" — especially given its 18 nominations (announced before its cancellation). But there was also misplaced hope for strides forward in diversity — this was the most diverse pool of Emmy nominees in the show's 73-year history. And still, the acting categories went exclusively to white nominees. Michael K Williams' loss marks the second time this year that an immensely talented, recently deceased Black actor lost an award they so clearly deserved. (Shania Russell)

Tobias Menzies and Josh O'Connor Prove That The Crown Was Just Going to Win Everything By Default

"The Crown" has a weird problem. On one hand, it's a great show — a mesmerizing, haunting, often very funny examination of people trapped in time as the world changes around them. But on the other, it looks like typical awards bait — people who haven't seen it may be forgiven for thinking it looks like a stodgy bore. Tobias Menzies and Josh O'Connor both give excellent performances on the show and it's impossible to say they didn't deserve recognition from the Emmys (O'Connor, in particular, was memorably venomous and pathetic in season 4). And yet, their victories gave "The Crown" a sweep of the major acting categories, leading to a very white winners line-up and giving fuel to the theories/jokes that voters only watched two or three boring white shows and voted accordingly. This is the rare case where a great show winning awards it deserves actually, somehow, ends up as a bad look. (Jacob Hall)

Billy Porter and MJ Rodriguez Didn't Win for Pose

Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Stephen Canals' series "Pose" was groundbreaking, adapting the 1990 documentary "Paris is Burning" into a soapy drama about New York ball culture and the Black, Hispanic, and LGBTQ communities involved in that scene. The series ended this year with its third season, making the 73rd Emmys its last chance at some much-deserved recognition. "Pose" was nominated for Writing for a Drama Series and Directing for a Drama Series, both for the series finale. Series star Billy Porter was nominated for Actor in a Drama Series, losing out to Josh O'Connor for "The Crown." Perhaps most disappointingly, Mj Rodriguez, who made awards show history by being the first Transgender performer nominated in a leading role category, also lost to someone from "The Crown." I love Olivia Colman as much as the next film geek, but maybe we could stop giving awards to the same handful of people every year? Please? (Danielle Ryan)

Somebody Actually Watched Halston

Remember "Halston?" You know, the Netflix show that Ewan McGregor just won an Emmy for in the Actor in a Limited Series or TV Movie category? Nobody would blame you for either forgetting about it, or not realizing it existed in the first place. The series, about the life of the fashion designer of the same name, sorta just came and went when it was released by the streaming service in May. And yet, here we are, with McGregor walking away with his first-ever Emmy. McGregor, in one of the biggest surprises of the night, beat out some pretty stiff competition. The category included the likes of Paul Bettany ("WandaVision"), Hugh Grant ("The Undoing"), Lin-Manuel Miranda ("Hamilton"), and Leslie Odom Jr. ("Hamilton"). "Hamilton" felt like a lock. It was not, apparently. But what would a major Hollywood awards show be without some major upsets and/or surprises? Even so, this was a doozy. (Ryan Scott)

Michaela Cole Won Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series

Michaela Coel's work on "I May Destroy You" defies easy categorization. When so many shows these days purport to be about trauma, this one was born from Coel's horrific experience of being sexually assaulted, and it follows her character as she tries to put the pieces of her life back together. But it's more than just a deep dive into that brutal experience and its aftermath: it makes its protagonist feel like a genuinely real person who doesn't always make the right decisions, and it also made room for several three-dimensional supporting characters with flaws and foibles and strengths of their own. It's a completely fearless season of television, and Coel has earned every accolade she's received (and probably more). (Ben Pearson)

Kate Winslet Beat Frontrunner Anya-Taylor Joy for Best Actress in Limited Series

Here's the thing about Kate Winslet: she absolutely rules, and we should all consider ourselves lucky to see her do what she does best. Anya Taylor-Joy is still at the beginning of what will surely be a very long and impressive career, but Winslet straight-up rocked it in "Mare of Easttown," turning in the type of transformative performance that her male colleagues are often celebrated for – but with an added level of complexity that felt honest and lived-in instead of just a gimmick. This is another instance where someone who had previously won an Emmy took home another Emmy, and while that type of trend can sometimes feel like the voters are on auto-pilot when making their picks, Winslet's work is the exact opposite of that: it's the type of performance that caused viewers to lean forward in their seats in every episode to see what she would do next. (Ben Pearson)

The Handmaid's Tale Won Nothing

While shows from streamers did very well at this year's Emmys, "The Handmaid's Tale," the Hulu show that first won an Emmy for Outstanding Drama in 2017, won nothing. The show's losses this year set another record — "The Handmaid's Tale" now holds the ignominious honor of having the most Emmy losses in one year. The show has had 75 Emmy nominations over the years and won 15 of those since it was first eligible in 2017. And in 2021, the series had 21 nominations, including Outstanding Drama series, Best Actress (Elisabeth Moss), and several supporting actor and actress nods. The total number of nominations for a single show was only beat by "The Crown" with 24 and "WandaVision" with 23. Unlike "The Crown" and "WandaVision," however, "The Handmaid's Tale" won nothing. What does that mean for the show as it enters its fifth season? Nothing, really. Emmys are nice, but shows stay on because of ratings. And while Hulu has talked about making sure they end the show "organically," that decision will not be made because they didn't win any Emmys this year. (Vanessa Armstrong)

RuPaul's Drag Race Won Best Reality Competition Show for the Fourth Year Running

The impact on LGBTQ+ visibility and acceptability thanks to the success of "RuPaul's Drag Race" cannot be understated, but it is important to recognize that all that glitters is not gold when discussing their continued triumph. RuPaul alumni have found great success after their seasons, more so than any other reality show graduates from different programs. However, the historic success of "RuPaul's Drag Race" has also completely changed the landscape of drag outside of the show with underground performers now feeling pressured to appeal to fans whose only knowledge of drag and queer culture comes from the award-winning show. "RuPaul's Drag Race" has absolutely brought LGBTQ+ artistry and an increase in LGBTQ+ acceptance to the mainstream, but until Mama Ru allows post-operative trans women to compete, the show still has plenty of more historical moments to make. Last night was an exciting win for the community, but never forget, there's more to LGBTQ+ storytelling than drag race. (BJ Colangelo)