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If anyone knew anything about the Emmys this year, they knew with absolute certainty that The Crown would win every award going. Because, although The Crown has always been well made, it has also always been fusty and inconsequential. But last year’s series had everything: sex, fights, betrayal, Gillian Anderson going full Spitting Image. The Crown was the solid gold favourite in every category going into the awards last night, so much so that any loss would have been considered seismic.
And guess what? It didn’t lose anything. In every category in which The Crown was nominated, it won. Best drama. Best drama actor. Best drama actress. Best supporting actor, best supporting actress, best writing, best directing. It was exactly as you would expect – and therefore quite boring.
Swap out The Crown for Ted Lasso and the same thing happened in the comedy categories. The only things Apple’s warm-hearted football comedy lost were best writing and best actress, because Hacks staged an insurrection. Also, Jean Smart is in Hacks. If Jean Smart is up for an award, you give her the award. That is just a rule.
This meant, in an awards show designed to celebrate the best the broad and brilliant spectrum of television has to offer, most of the prizes went to two shows. Does this mean The Crown and Ted Lasso were better than everything else? Of course not. That would be ridiculous. So what happened?
Last year was the scariest in living memory, ruled by uncertainty and dread. And living with that uncertainty and dread meant everyone lost their stomach when it came to watching truly good, challenging television. Even me. I write about television for a living and I didn’t have the bandwidth to cope with anything that pressed too many of my buttons, so I mainly watched old sitcoms.
My theory is that exactly the same thing happened to the Emmy voters. They spent last year watching Friends and soothing ASMR cooking videos on YouTube, so, when it came time to pick winners, they went for the safest options: a wildly expensive soap opera and Mr Twinkly Goes to Richmond.
Also predictable was the overwhelming whiteness of the winners, although it stands to reason that if you give everything to a show about the British royal family, you aren’t going to recognise a huge spectrum of genetic diversity. On the plus side, Michaela Coel picked up a trophy for writing I May Destroy You, a show destined to go down as one of the most influential of the century, and Hamilton and Courtney B Vance’s wins were nods in the right direction. On the downside, Michael K William’s loss marks the second time this year that a beloved, recently deceased Black actor was shut out of an award they deserved. Maybe next year, when Emmy voters watch more than two shows, things will improve.
At least there was some variety in the limited series categories, because Mare of Easttown had to share a sliver of spotlight with The Queen’s Gambit. Even then, the division of power was crushingly predictable. The closest category of the night – the closest in years, in fact – had to be best actress in a limited series. Kate Winslet v Anya Taylor-Joy.
Both were, to my mind, defining TV performances. Winslet was chewed up and scabbed over and impeccably accented, the best Winslet has ever been. But Taylor-Joy was equally impressive. Watching her on The Queen’s Gambit was the closest I have come to watching an alien drop out of the sky on to a TV show. To watch The Queen’s Gambit was to repeatedly ask yourself two questions: “Who is this?” and “Where did she come from?” In a straight fight, Taylor-Joy would have edged it. But, hey, Winslet is a movie star and these are the Emmys. Taylor-Joy never stood a chance.
So, a night of no surprises whatsoever. But also a night of one more major snub. Maybe voters were swayed by more dramatic turns, or maybe there is an element of snobbery about Marvel joining the world of TV, but WandaVision deserved something. It had Kathryn Hahn in it, for crying out loud. She should have won everything herself. Best actress, best actor, best variety show. Hand her the lot. She is Kathryn Hahn, for crying out loud. She is an absurdly special actor. The Smart rule applies here, too, you know.