The best of the Emmy winners 2021 and where to find them
In the aftermath of the VMAs and the Met Gala fashion atrocities, the 2021 Emmys red carpet was a welcome relief (except for Sarah Paulson’s poofy 1980s sleeves). After being held virtually last year, the 73rd annual event which honours excellence in television arts and sciences was an intimate gathering of A-listers in Los Angeles, and one in London for the cast and crew of The Crown.
Not only did Kate Winslet look classy in a simple black frock done right, she deservedly won the Outstanding Lead Actress: Limited Series prize for her role in Mare Of Easttown (Showmax), which we all expected. In her gracious acceptance speech she said, “I just 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 you. I’m proud of all of you.” Winslet’s last Emmy was for Mildred Pierce, a decade ago. It’s on Showmax too, so you can do a “then and now” binge.
Overall, there weren’t a lot of different winners this year; the majority of the big winners dominated in their heavyweight categories: The Crown on Netflix and Ted Lasso on Apple TV+ for example, swept up the drama and comedy awards. Wonderfully, all the best of the Emmys is available to stream in South Africa, and here are 12 of them, in alphabetical order.
A Black Lady Sketch Show (Showmax)
With its first two seasons holding a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, this HBO comedy sketch show featuring women of colour – just like the title says – has been renewed for round three. It won the Emmy for Editing for Variety Programming, making history at the same time as Daysha Broadway, Stephanie Filo, and Jess Hernández became the first all women of colour editing team to be nominated for an Emmy, and then the first to win too.
“A Black Lady Sketch Show again and again manages to find ways to comment on the nadirs, nuances and particularities of Black life in ways that do not make a mockery of Blackness itself,” says Paste.
Hacks (DStv online, Showmax on 1 November)
In case you missed it, DStv online is now putting up full seasons of selected series – called Early Access – while simultaneously running an episode a week on local channels like M-Net 101 and 1 Magic; Hacks is one of these, so binge now or hang in there until November when it comes to Showmax.
Hacks is rated the number one show on Rotten Tomatoes at the moment and for good reason: it’s wonderful. Jean Smart won Outstanding Actress: Comedy for her role as comedian Deborah Vance, who has ruled Vegas for years but has to face the fact her popularity is waning. She reluctantly employs a young comedy writer to freshen her material, but the two clash at every turn. You can see Smart in Mare of Easttown as well, where she is just as excellent.
Ryan Murphy and Netflix inked a deal in 2018 and this is the fourth series since then, based on the decadent life and crazy times of fashion designer Halston (real name Roy Halston Frowick so no surprise why he chose to change it).
Ewan McGregor plays the titular role, and it earned him the Emmy for Lead Actor in a Limited Series or TV movie.
“The series follows Halston as he leverages his name and brand into a worldwide fashion empire that soon becomes synonymous with the finest in luxury, elegance, sex, status and fame. His talent first caught the world’s attention when Jackie Kennedy wore his pillbox hat during her husband’s inauguration,” says Forbes.
I May Destroy You (Showmax)
It was a triumphant night for the Brits. I May Destroy You is about Arabella, a carefree, self-assured Londoner with a group of great friends, a boyfriend in Italy, and a burgeoning writing career. But when her drink is spiked with a date-rape drug, she must question and rebuild every element of her life.
It was created, written, co-directed, and executive produced by Michaela Coel for BBC One and HBO, who also stars in the series, which is oftentimes not the easiest viewing, but do not look away from the issues it tackles. On 20 September 2021, Coel became the first Black woman to win the Limited Series: Outstanding Writing award, beating Mare of Easttown and The Queen’s Gambit.
“Write the tale that scares you, that makes you feel uncertain, that isn’t comfortable. I dare you — 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, for visibility these days seems to somehow equate to success — do not be afraid to disappear from it, from us for a while, and see what comes to you in the silence … I dedicate this story to every single survivor of sexual assault,” said Coel in her acceptance speech.
Lovecraft Country (Showmax)
A tale of a young Black man searching for his missing father in the segregated 50s in the US, this series was the final television performance of Michael K Williams (Boardwalk Empire, The Wire), who died on 6 September 2021. Naturally, Guest Actor winner Courtney B Vance paid tribute to his colleague by saying, “Michael did everything with his full heart open, with his infinite spirit and with way too much style. May he rest in power and let us all honour his immense legacy by being a little more love-forward, a little more endless in thought, a little bit more swaggy in act.”
Lovecraft Country is inspired by the horror stories and monsters of author HP Lovecraft.
Mare of Easttown (Showmax)
The Limited Series category was owned by Mare, with four wins from 16 nominations, including Outstanding Lead Actress: Limited Series for Kate Winslet, whom we all tipped to win the moment we watched her playing small-town detective Mare Sheehan. There’s murder and mystery at the heart of the series but likely the most real everyday drama you’ll come across this year as Mare, with all her flaws and personal trauma, struggles to hold it all together. Spoiler: she doesn’t always succeed; and neither do we.
American Horror Story darling Evan Peters won the Supporting Actor Emmy and Julianne Nicholson won Supporting Actress. See her in The Outsider on Showmax too. Jean Smart (Hacks Emmy winner) plays Mare’s mother. Says The Guardian of Winslet: “The actor’s turn as a complex, fallible detective has been a privilege to witness, in a murder mystery that kept us guessing right to the profoundly moving end.”
Winning Outstanding Animated Program and Individual Achievement In Animation (storyboard artist David Krentz), Primal was two for two at the Emmys, a perfect score. Plus, the first half of Adult Swim’s Primal won three Outstanding Achievement In Animation Awards at the 2020 Emmys, for storyboard artist Genndy Tartakovsky, art director Scott Wills, and character designer Stephen DeStefano. This time around, the second half did even better, beating the likes of Big Mouth, Bob’s Burgers, The Simpsons and South Park.
“Primal tracks the prehistoric mishaps of Spear, an early man, and a female Tyrannosaurus known as Fang. Completely devoid of dialogue, the project thrives solely on the shrewdness of its cinematic imagery,” explains Indie Wire.
“Tartakovsky has long been a distinctive force in TV animation and this is another winner, a spare storytelling experiment that plays like nothing else in the current landscape,” says The Hollywood Reporter.
RuPaul’s Drag Race (Netflix)
Winning the Competition Program category, RuPaul’s Drag Race has set a record for RuPaul for the most Emmy wins by a Person of Colour. You go, girl!
If you have not yet been initiated into the colourful and flamboyant world of drag, this is the place to begin as larger than life queens sashay and slay their way to the top of their game.
“Upon receiving the history-making honor from Allyson Felix and Jessica Long, the legendary Drag Race host dedicated his win to the LGBTQ community and queer youth,” said Deadline.
“’Really thanks to all of our lovely children on our show from all around the world. They’re so gracious to tell their stories of courage [and] how to navigate this difficult life that’s more difficult today,’ he said. ‘For you kids watching, you have a tribe that is waiting for you’.”
Ted Lasso (Apple TV+)
The comedy series that stole everyone’s heart stole all the Emmys too, including Outstanding Comedy Series. Jason Sudeikis added Lead Actor in a Comedy Series to the haul for his role as Ted, while Brett Goldstein took home Supporting Actor and Hannah Waddingham nabbed Supporting Actress.
American Ted Lasso, a college football coach, is unexpectedly recruited to coach an English Premier League team, AFC Richmond, despite having no experience in British soccer. Ted is indomitable, filled with good cheer and good spirits. The Brits hate him and distrust him, but ultimately he wins them over – even if there aren’t that many wins on the field.
Season 2 is now available, with new episodes weekly. The Guardian calls it “the most joyous show on TV” which is really all you need to know.
The Crown (Netflix)
And so we come to the biggest winner of 2021: Outstanding Drama Series, Lead Actor in a Drama Series (Josh O’Connor as Prince Charles), Lead Actress in a Drama Series (Olivia Colman), Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (Tobias Menzies as Prince Philip), Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (Gillian Anderson, who is nothing short of superb as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher), and Guest Actress in a Drama Series (Claire Foy).
In four seasons thus far, The Crown documents the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, from her marriage to Prince Philip in 1947 into the 21st Century. In Seasons 1 and 2, Foy played the monarch and received the Emmy for her cameo in Season 4. Olivia Colman ruled Seasons 3 and 4, and Imelda Staunton will take over for Seasons 5 and 6.
“For Netflix, the wins in best drama and best limited series were a long time coming. From 2013 to 2020, the streaming service earned a whopping 30 nominations in best drama, comedy and limited series, but had never pulled off a win in those categories, often losing out to HBO, the perennial Emmys heavyweight,” said The New York Times.
The Good Lord Bird (Showmax)
Four-time Oscar nominee Ethan Hawke was snubbed by the Emmys for his starring role as militant slavery abolitionist John Brown, who is credited with instigating the American Civil War. The series, however, was nominated for Outstanding Title Design, and won it.
The seven-part series – which has a 98% Rotten Tomatoes rating – is told from the point of view of Henry “Onion” Shackleford, an enslaved boy who joins Brown’s family of abolitionist soldiers. Onion is played by rising star Joshua Caleb Johnson, who co-stars along with Grammy winner Daveed Diggs (Blindspotting, Hamilton).
Time calls Hawke’s performance “electrifying” and the series “witty and subversive.”
The Flight Attendant (Showmax)
HBO comedy drama The Flight Attendant stars Critics’ Choice, People’s Choice and Teen Choice Award winner Kaley Cuoco (The Big Bang Theory) as reckless flight attendant Cassie Bowden, who wakes up in the wrong bed, with a dead guy beside her, and no idea what happened. Unable to piece the night together, she begins to wonder if she could be the killer…
The Flight Attendant was nominated as Best Comedy Series and Kaley as Best Actress at the 2021 Emmy, Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice Awards. At the Emmys, The Flight Attendant was up for nine awards overall, but had to settle for Theme Title Music.
Already renewed for a second season, The Flight Attendant has a 97% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes, where the critics’ consensus there says, “Kaley Cuoco shines as a hot mess in The Flight Attendant, an addictively intriguing slice of stylish pulp that will bring mystery aficionados to Cloud Nine.”
The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix)
The last category of the awards show and coincidentally the last on this list, The Queen’s Gambit won Outstanding Limited Or Anthology Series, among a host of others including cinematography, editing, sound mixing, music, makeup, costume – and Outstanding Directing for a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie for Scott Frank.
“One of the breakout series of the pandemic last year, The Queen’s Gambit is an adaptation of Walter Tevis’ 1983 novel and starred Joy as Beth Harmon, an orphan with a prodigious talent for chess. The seven-episode story followed Beth as she fought her way up through the male-dominated world of chess, and was Netflix’s most-watched miniseries to date, according to the streamer,” says Entertainment Weekly.
“Anya Taylor-Joy served a beautiful performance as Elizabeth Harmon, an orphan in 1960s Lexington, Kentucky, who’s soon discovered to be a chess prodigy. She struggles with drug and alcohol dependency as she rises through the ranks of the chess world,” reports People.
“Although the show was intended as a limited series, Taylor-Joy, 25, doesn’t think all hope is lost for a potential second season of the acclaimed Netflix hit.”