An Emmys ceremony like no other — held in a tent during a pandemic — was sure to deliver surprising moments, and the 2021 edition of TV’s biggest night did not disappoint in that regard.
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The show opened with sort of feel-good In Memoriam singalong, with host Cedric the Entertainer launching into a revamped version of the recently-passed Biz Markie’s “Just a Friend.” LL Cool J picked up the tune before handing it off to Rita Wilson, Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross and many others.
Hannah Waddingham kept the energy level high when she won for Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for Ted Lasso. Despite the fact that presenter Seth Rogen got her name wrong, the actress screamed with joy as she took the stage, thanking co-stars Jason Sudeikis and Juno Temple. “I’m so proud to even be in your gaggle,” she said.
Speaking of Rogen, in his bit before introducing Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series, he took note that the “tent” the event was taking place in as a anti-Covid precaution seemed “hermetically-sealed.” He continued, “They said this was outdoors. It’s not. They lied to us!”
Anytime Jennifer Coolidge is on camera, she is worth watching, and she managed to seem at once breathlessly ditzy and smarter than the whole room as she made fun of the nominees for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series: “I want you all to know, nominees, that you have overcome the incredible handicap in this business of being men. Bravo, gentlemen, wherever you are.” Her bit drew genuine laughter from the jaundiced crowd, including the likes of Tracee Ellis Ross and Sarah Paulson.
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Michaela Coel’s win for I May Destroy You brought the crowd to its feet. Accepting for Writing for a Limited or Anthology Series, Coel wasted no time proving again why she won the award. She eloquently and powerfully challenged those watching. “In a world that entices us to browse through the lives of others to help us better determine how we feel about ourselves, and to in turn feel the need to be constantly visible…do not be afraid to disappear from it, from us, for a while and see what comes to you in the silence.” She ended by dedicating “this story to every single survivor of sexual assault.”
Cedric the Entertainer tried his hand at a few pre-taped comedy skits, the most successful of which was sendup of an Emmy losers support group. Set up as a standard talk therapy group led by Cedric, the bit lampoons multiple-time Emmy nominees discussing the pain of losing. Scott Bakula is first up, who said he would trade one of his “smaller houses” for an Emmy. Jason Alexander then bemoaned being nominated “seven consecutive times” for Seinfeld and never winning. The group then devolved into an argument over whose sleights were more egregious.
In a night where some speeches felt a bit too self-important, Kate Winslet was her usual, genuine, self-effacing self. Upon winning Outstanding Actress in a Limited Series for HBO’s Mare of Easttown, Winslet gave heartfelt praise both to her fellow nominees and show creator Brad Ingelsby. Of her competition — including Anya Taylor-Joy, whom many thought would win for The Queen’s Gambit — Winslet said: “I want to acknowledge my fellow nominees in this decade that has to be about women having each other’s backs. I support you, I salute, I’m proud of all of you.” She praised Ingelsby, too: “You created a middle-aged, imperfect, flawed mother and made us all feel validated.”
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And finally there was Conan O’Brien. The comedian livened up the usually dull speech from the TV Academy boss with an overzealous display of support for the group’s CEO Frank Scherma, clapping wildly at his introduction and then standing a salute in the back of the room as he spoke. The crowd certainly enjoyed it and, several times during his speech, Scherma himslef nearly started laughing. O’Brien later rushed the stage as Stephen Colbert and his crew accepted for Outstanding Variety Special. O’Brien stood proudly behind Colbert, hugging the show’s writers as the host accepted the award before quipping, “Most of the people behind me really deserve this Emmy right now.”
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