Welcome to the Previously On... special Emmys 2021 edition, where the creator of The Queen's Gambit is still thanking people from his two-page, single-spaced, 11-point font speech.
I've spent all day mulling over what made the 2021 Emmys feels a little off. Did I have other things to do today? Absolutely. Did I put up an out of office email that read "Can't talk now; thinking about the weird vibes on a TV award show?" Of course.
Let's get one thing out of the way--2021's Emmy Award ceremony was definitely an improvement on the well-intentioned but ultimately super weird mid-pandemic 2020 Zoom ceremony. That said, I will admit that I miss the dystopian Emmy award presenters in tuxedo hazmat suits. That was a nice touch.
After last year's "band playing on the deck of the Titanic"-vibes Emmys, gamely hosted by Jimmy Kimmel in an empty studio and featuring winners videoconferencing in from various pleasant-looking houses, yards, or a small ballroom in a Canadian Courtyard by Marriott, it was nice to actually see people in the same place at the same time at last night's Emmy Awards. Y'know, like a society. You'll perhaps recall that September of 2020 was not exactly a stable time in our nation's history, what with the waiting on the vaccine and the election on the horizon. So, that year's Emmy ceremony can be forgiven for seeming, in retrospect, mighty bleak.
Last night's ceremony, held in what Seth Rogen memorably and incredulously described as a "hermetically sealed tent", still had a few too many bits about COVID to be pure entertainment, but replaced 2020's "we're just going to power through this" energy with a vibe that seemed to fall somewhere between a wedding reception for someone you kind of know and a plenary session at a corporate conference. Is that what we were looking for? I mean, maybe! Would it have been improved with a hazmat suit presenter or two? Absolutely.
The ceremony itself was, I thought, fine. I actually liked the reduced capacity mandated by COVID restrictions. And by moving the stage to the center of the room like the runway at a late night fashion show and positioning nominees at tables like the Golden Globes, this year's Emmys seemed less stodgy. Potentially more fun. The thing is, when you take down the fancy veneer of An Award Show, it becomes even more obvious how much this is A Work Thing for almost everyone there. As we approached the three-hour mark--a standard for award shows--both the great Amy Poehler and the great Angela Bassett cracked jokes about being trapped at the ceremony. I was surprised by this as it seemed like events were pacing about what they normally would. But it occurred to me that maybe it just wasn't fun. Now, I haven't talked to any stars today (the celebrity group chat is usually pretty quiet after an evening of being recognized by one's peers), but it occurs to me that the curtain that got pulled back in 2020 hasn't yet been fully replaced.
Like any wedding of an acquaintance or work conference in a city you kind of like, the Emmys probably hew a little closer to obligation than they do celebration for those lucky enough to go. It's a gig. Even the embattled Golden Globes, which has spent two decades billing itself as "a party where celebrities get drunk on TV" is probably a pretty stressful endeavor. I mean, getting drunk on TV sounds like fun and games until you run the tape back. To wit, here's Elizabeth Taylor struggling to open the envelope for Best Picture.
I sure hope she was having a good time because that clip has literally never left my mind. It feels to me that, at least in the Golden Age of Awards Shows--which we're no longer in--the people having the most fun were established celebs who had very little to lose by kicking back and letting lose. I'm thinking of Jack Nicholson, Meryl Streep sometimes, Tom Hanks. Maybe that, too, was an act. Maybe it was a mix of truth and performance.
Ultimately, I think the odd Work Thing vibe of this year's Emmys has less to do with whether the stars present were convincingly performing having a good time and more to do with the fact that the vibe is off everywhere. We're at this moment where industries keep claiming to be BACK (!) and regular life keeps asking "are we, though?" Kudos to everyone who is just showing up all around the world. Next year? Let's do some new vibes. Or, if that doesn't work, they can always drag out the hazmat tuxedos and see how that goes over.
Like a wedding that you were initially unsure of but got won over by the time "Shout" came on, the Emmys had some truly delightful moments that I don't want to forget:
Three words: Rita Wilson Rapping
Nothing has ever been more aligned with my interests, needs, obsessions, and unhealthy habits than seeing actress, country music singer, The Good Wife guest star, and all-around treasure Rita Wilson getting her hustle and flow on during the opening number. Cedric the Entertainer started it off, rapping about how TV was a constant in his young life, then he was joined by actual rapper LL Cool J, actual rapper-who-plays-a-pretend-rapper Lil Dicky, and Sleepless in Seattle scene stealer Rita Wilson, fully committing to a bit. I don't know what it means and I'm not sure that I didn't just dream it, but Rita seems to have taken the mantle from her husband of someone who is Excited to Be Here and Down for Whatever. Good for her!
Two words: Michaela Coel
I May Destroy You was a singular, visionary work that should have been the talk of this year's Emmys and beyond (no shade to Ted Lasso or Mare of Easttown; there's plenty of conversation to go around). Coel's presence is such a tonic to everything from weird vibes to basic artistic self-doubt. She is a treasure.
The reporter who asked Gillian Anderson if she'd talked to Margaret Thatcher about playing her
I'm spiraling. Like........ You know what, let me not. The vibes were so weird last night that it's perfectly logical to ask Gillian if she pulled out the old Ouija Board and asked for a general with MT. I also love the absolute serve of Gillian, an American, attending the London ceremony of the Emmys and then winning. Queen of bridging continents and also the afterlife.
And I leave you with this, Jennifer Coolidge looking cheeky and perfect during her very funny intro for the Best Actor in a Comedy category. We will definitely be seeing her at next year's ceremony for her phenomenal work on White Lotus