The Other Columbus: A 2021 Emmy Awards breakdown from the cheap seats

Scattered thoughts on winners and nominees from 'Ted Lasso' to 'The Underground Railroad' and 'I May Destroy You'

Scott Woods
Limited Series:  "I May Destroy You," HBO

Of all the major award shows, the Emmys seems the least corrupted. 

Because too many people will twist that observation the same way a studio marketing firm will condense a bad movie review ("All footage of this film should be lit on fire") to make it appear positive ("This film is 'lit!'"), I am compelled to point out that this isn’t a ringing endorsement. All award shows range from highly flawed to outright criminal, so take them, me and anything you read here with a grain of salt. For once, I openly concede that what I write here is almost entirely a series of opinions (albeit an exceedingly informed series of opinions).

I don’t watch any award shows, but I do at least check the nominations and winners of the Emmys because TV seems to be holding on to its golden age with more tenacity than every other popular medium. The period of time in which shows and actors were eligible this time around (June 1, 2020-May 31, 2021) was loaded with phenomenal work, and with streaming platforms making good shows more accessible than ever — or creating content that traditional networks wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot boom mic — I figured the 2021 Emmys would be almost bearable. Nay, even legit. 

Alas.

Some random observations from the bleacher seats:

Proof of vaccination or not, the pictures I’ve seen of that audience were, as a friend puts it, “COVID-y.”

I thought Cedric was an interesting choice for emcee, considering he’s on one of the worst shows on television. Again, I didn’t watch this year’s awards. I’m sure he was fine.

I don’t watch "Hacks," so maybe it’s as good as the number of nominations it received suggests. The only thing I’ll say about it is that it makes me wonder if Jean Smart’s win for it (Outstanding Lead Actress, Comedy) is better than her turn in "Mare of Eastown," in which she was excellent (and also nominated). I don’t/no longer watch any of the other shows she was up against, so I have no gauge. She’s pretty much always dope though, so kudos on that win. 

I don’t watch "Ted Lasso" (Win: Outstanding Comedy Series) because it’s on the one streaming platform for which I’m not currently paying. Hey, I got rid of cable a few years ago, but thanks to a year and a half of COVID living I'm right back to spending the equivalent of two cable bills just to keep from going insane. Excuse me for not springing for my 20th paid platform. I’ll get to it because all the right people say it’s good. As it stands, I can’t lodge a complaint about any of its wins.

THAT SAID: Of the shows "Lasso" was nominated alongside, I have no quibbles with its wins based on the ones I’ve seen. 

THAT SAID: The nominations dropped the ball on some truly funny shows. Where was "What We Do In the Shadows"? "A.P. Bio"? "RUTHERFORD FALLS"??? Man, "Rutherford Falls" was the comedy I went hardest in the paint for this year. Some serious missed opportunities here.

I’m not going to die on a hill over "A Black Lady Sketch Show" not beating "Saturday Night Live." It had a 50/50 shot considering they were the only two shows nominated for outstanding Variety Sketch Series, and it should surprise no one that "SNL," which is basically a boost campaign for half of the film industry, "won.” But Robin Thede may be the funniest person on television, especially with a sketch show skillset. She’s funnier than the entire cast of "SNL" (and I love Kate McKinnon). 

Question: Who is still nominating Anthony Anderson for Lead in a Comedy? Is anybody still watching "black-ish"? I love Tracee Ellis Ross as a personality, but I haven’t watched that show in two seasons. I think this is just the Black comedy Hollywood remembers every year. 

Now things get less fun.

A word on "The Underground Railroad":

That this series only received two nominations is a travesty. It was one of the most beautifully shot and executed series I have ever seen. I get that the subject matter was heavy and that may have caused a lot of people not to see it. I know a lot of people who are about this activist life who still haven’t seen it because they fear what it will do to them. I get it. But as recognition goes, two nominations is a crime, and to not win either of them is tough for me. I say that knowing that two other series I love ("I May Destroy You," "Mare of Eastown") were in the same category. "The Underground Railroad" deserved more. Alas, I have to settle for it being undeniably iconic.

While we’re on the subject of amazing shows that brilliantly recontextualize slavery for a deeper historical understanding and application in our modern lives: Where were all the "Good Lord Bird" nominations? Yes, it received and won a nomination, but that was for (let me check my notes) “Outstanding Main Title Design.” Ah, yes, the opening credits award. Not writing. Not acting. Not set design. Nothing else. And this was easily one of the best shows last year. I get that it was on Showtime and that most folks don’t spring for that service, but come on. You’re the television industry. You’re supposed to be more hip than us couch plebeians. Ethan Hawke was transformative. Joshua Caleb Johnson is a treasure. And who ever thought they would find themselves chuckling at the antics of Frederick Douglass as presented by "Hamilton’s" finest, Daveed Diggs? 

A word on "I May Destroy You":

I have been preaching the gospel of Michaela Coel for years, so as far as I’m concerned, her win for writing is right on time. She was nominated for acting, as well, which is 100 percent accurate, but Kate Winslet took it, and you can’t be mad about that. But let’s be clear: "I May Destroy You" got nine nominations and could have done with another three to four.

(It is at this point that the writer recognizes that the shows he generally trumpets are shows that many people find they have to “be in the mood for,” shows that are challenging. The writer understands this. The writer gets that he is the “problem.” The writer also is the one doing the writing, and so we continue.)

A word on "Lovecraft Country":

I am on record multiple times as not liking this show. Important? Yes. Historic? Perhaps. Good? No. (I mean, it got a bunch of NAACP Image Award nominations, but I didn’t hear anybody crying when it didn’t win any of those, so don’t get mad at me for saying it out loud.) That said, "Lovecraft Country" received 18 nominations and won two, all while being canceled by HBO for its trouble. I can think of no better symbol of America’s waning infatuation with social justice than to shower a popular show confronting racism with accolades, only to cancel it and barely reward the efforts. If that doesn’t remind you of your job’s exhaustion with having to do DEI training a year after the protests of 2020, you need more Black friends. 

A word on "The Crown":

Maybe the last season of "The Crown" was the most amazing season of television to hit the air in recent memory. I’ve only seen the first season so far, so I don’t know. That said, it was up against some legit competition, and I’m sorry, but it was over-rewarded. "The Crown" mostly consists of actors trying to sell being as wooden as possible as a virtue. At the same time, actors like Billy Porter, Michael K. Williams, Uzo Aduba and (and I can’t believe I’m about to say this) Elizabeth Moss are sidelined because of America’s continued infatuation with monarchs. The way we fawn over the Royal Family in every capacity is ridiculous to me. It’s like America never won the Revolutionary War.

That’s enough from me on a show I didn’t watch about awards I didn’t get to vote on, regarding a bunch of shows I mostly don’t like. Like I said at the top, grain of salt.