Seven 2021 Emmy-Winning TV Shows (and One Stage-to-Streaming Special) You Should Watch Immediately
Including a kind-hearted sitcom favourite, a phenomenal Kate Winslet-starring miniseries and the filmed version of 'Hamilton'.
It started with a celebrity sing-along. It ditched the usual grand stage setup for a white platform in the middle of the room. Seth Rogen freaked out about being with so many people in one place during the pandemic. Multiple actors screamed about Kate Winslet being Kate Winslet, as everyone really should.
The comedy awards showed that kindness matters. When it came to pure joy at getting their time to shine, the cast of Ted Lasso matched the cast of Schitt's Creek last year — and, presenting awards this time around, the latter had fun grappling with the teleprompter. Kerry Washington gave a touching tribute to late, great Lovecraft Country and The Wire star Michael K Williams. Jean Smart got a standing ovation. Governors Award-winner Debbie Allen served up a powerful speech about telling your own story.
They're just a few things that happened at the 2021 Emmy Awards, with Hollywood's night of nights for all things on the small screen anointing its winners for another year. While the 2020 ceremony went virtual, this celebration of TV and streaming excellence was full of famous faces feeling the love in the same auditorium — and, from host Cedric the Entertainer to presenters such as Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling and The White Lotus' Jennifer Coolidge, they were all clearly thrilled to be there.
Particularly excited: all the deserving folks who won shiny statuettes, obviously. Plenty of great shows demanded our attention over the past 12 months, and many of them nabbed some recognition here. That means that we're all winners, too, because these stellar series make quite the must-watch list. Here's seven you should binge — or re-binge — right now, plus one stage-to-streaming special that also picked up a well-earned gong.
What it's about: A sports-centric sitcom that's been like a big warm hug from the get-go, Ted Lasso is the current cheerleader for comedies that focus on nice and caring people doing nice and caring things. It celebrates folks supporting and being there for each other, and the bonds that spring between them — and not just to an entertaining but to a soul-replenishing degree. As played by Jason Sudeikis (Booksmart), the series' namesake is all positivity, all the time. A small-time US college football coach, he scored an unlikely job as manager of British soccer team AFC Richmond in the show's first season, a job that came with struggles. The ravenous media wrote him off instantly, the club was hardly doing its best, owner Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham, Sex Education) had just taken over the organisation as part of her divorce settlement, and veteran champion Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein, Uncle) and current hotshot Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster, Judy) refused to get along. Ted's upbeat attitude does wonders, though, in the best sitcom that's currently in production. You definitely don't need to love soccer or even sport to fall for this show's ongoing charms, to adore its heartwarming determination to value banding together and looking on the bright side, and to love its depiction of both male tenderness and supportive female friendships.
Won: Outstanding Comedy Series, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series (Jason Sudeikis), Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series (Hannah Waddingham), Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series (Brett Goldstein).
MARE OF EASTTOWN
What it's about: Kate Winslet doesn't make the leap to the small screen often, but when she does, it's a must-see event. 2011's Mildred Pierce was simply astonishing, a description that both Winslet and her co-star Guy Pearce also earned — alongside an Emmy each, plus three more for the HBO limited series itself. The two actors and the acclaimed US cable network all reteam for Mare of Easttown, and it too is excellent. Set on the outskirts of Philadelphia, it follows detective Mare Sheehan. As the 25th anniversary of her high-school basketball championship arrives, and after a year of trying to solve a missing person's case linked to one of her former teammates, a new murder upends her existence. Mare's life overflows with complications anyway, with her ex-husband (David Denman, Brightburn) getting remarried, and her mother (Jean Smart, Watchmen), teenage daughter (Angourie Rice, Spider-Man: Far From Home) and four-year-old grandson all under her roof. With town newcomer Richard Ryan (Pearce, The Last Vermeer), she snatches what boozy and physical solace she can. As compelling and textured as she always is, including in this year's Ammonite, Winslet turns Mare of Easttown into a commanding character study. That said, it's firmly an engrossing crime drama as well. Although yet again pondering the adult life of an ex-school sports star, The Way Back's Brad Ingelsby isn't just repeating himself by creating and writing this seven-part series, while The Leftovers and The Hunt's Craig Zobel takes to his directing gig with a probing eye.
Won: Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie (Kate Winslet), Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie (Julianne Nicholson), Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie (Evan Peters).
Where to watch it: Binge.
What it's about: It sounds like an obvious premise, and one that countless films and TV shows have already mined in the name of laughs. In Hacks, two vastly dissimilar people are pushed together, with the resulting conflict guiding the series. Ava Daniels (Hannah Einbinder, North Hollywood) and her new boss Deborah Vance (Jean Smart, Mare of Easttown) couldn't be more different in age, experience, tastes and opinions. The former is a 25-year-old who made the move to Hollywood, has been living out her dream as a comedy writer, but found her career plummeting after a tweet crashed and burned. The latter is a legendary stand-up who hasn't stopped hitting the stage for decades, is approaching the 2500th show of her long-running Las Vegas residency and is very set in her ways. They appear to share exactly one thing in common: a love for comedy. They're an odd couple thrust together by their mutual manager Jimmy (Paul W Downs, Broad City), neither wants to be working with the other, and — to the surprise of no one, including each other — they clash again and again. There's no laugh track adding obvious chuckles to this HBO sitcom, though. Created by three of the talents behind Broad City, Hacks isn't solely interested in setting two seemingly mismatched characters against each other. This is a smart and insightful series about what genuinely happens when this duo spends more and more time together, what's sparked their generational conflict and what, despite their evident differences, they actually share beyond that love of making people laugh. And, it's a frank, funny and biting assessment of being a woman in entertainment — and it's also always as canny as it is hilarious.
Won: Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series (Jean Smart), Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series (Lucia Aniello, Paul W Downs and Jen Statsky), Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series (Lucia Aniello).
I MAY DESTROY YOU
What it's about: Newly returned from a working trip to Italy, struggling to write her second novel after her first struck a sizeable chord and pushing up against a draft deadline just hours away, Arabella (Michaela Coel, Chewing Gum) takes some time out from an all-nighter to procrastinate with friends over a few drinks in a couple of London bars. The next morning, the Twitter-famous scribe is shaky, hazy and feels far from her normal self — and across the next 11 episodes of this instantly blistering 12-part series, I May Destroy You delves into the aftermath. Arabella realises that she was raped that evening, and that devastating event understandably rattles everything in her life. As she faces the situation, the series she's in is nothing short of phenomenal. Not only created and written by the unflinching and captivating Coel, but inspired by her own real-life experience with sexual assault, the result is as bold, raw and frank as it is sensitive and affecting. It also feels personal at every single moment. An immensely powerful show that intimately interrogates power on multiple levels and features an unsurprisingly potent performance by Coel, I May Destroy You was easily 2020's number-one must-see show, and its absolute best. It also sits among the best series of the 21st century so far as well, and won't be losing that title any time soon.
Won: Outstanding Writing for a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie (Michaela Coel).
Where to watch it: Binge.
What it's about: If you haven't been lucky enough to catch Hamilton on the stage — and, let's face it, most of us haven't — a filmed "live capture" version of the popular hip hop musical here to fill the gap. The story, for those who aren't intimately acquainted with US revolutionary history, chronicles the Caribbean-born eponymous "bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman" from his arrival in New York in the early 1770s. As the informative opening number explains, Alexander Hamilton will go on to become "the ten-dollar Founding Father without a father", with the production charting how he "got a lot farther by working a lot harder, by being a lot smarter and by being a self-starter." And, as shot on Broadway back in 2016, the results really are as exceptional as we've all been hearing for the past five years. The entire cast, including not only creator, writer and star Lin-Manuel Miranda but Tony-winners Daveed Diggs (Snowpiercer) and Leslie Odom Jr (Murder on the Orient Express), Mindhunter's Jonathan Groff and Waves' Renee Elise Goldsberry, is superb, as is every element of the production. Infectiously exuberant from its first moments, and not only lively but frequently funny, Miranda's rich, dense but always-accessible words and songs interrogate US history with passion, intelligence and energy. They'll also become firmly lodged in your head, too, so don't say we didn't warn you.
Won: Outstanding Variety Special (Pre-Recorded).
What it's about: When we say that fans of The Crown had been particularly looking forward to the show's fourth season, that isn't meant as a criticism of anything that preceded it. No disrespect is directed towards the regal drama's previous episodes, or to the past cast that took on the program's main roles before an age-appropriate switch was made at the beginning of season three. But, now more than halfway through the program's planned six-season run, this latest chapter focuses on two big showdowns that changed the shape of the royal family in the 80s. Firstly, Queen Elizabeth II (Oscar-winner Olivia Colman) and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (The X-Files icon Gillian Anderson) don't quite see eye to eye, to put it mildly. Also, with Prince Charles' (God's Own Country's Josh O'Connor) marriage to Lady Diana Spencer (Pennyworth's Emma Corrin) a big plot point, the latter clashes with the entire royal establishment. Among a cast that also includes Helena Bonham Carter (Enola Holmes) and Tobias Menzies (Outlander), Colman, Anderson, O'Connor and Corrin are all astounding — and in a show that's always been buoyed by its performances, that's saying something.
Won: Outstanding Drama Series, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series (Olivia Colman), Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series (Josh O'Connor), Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (Gillian Anderson), Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (Tobias Menzies), Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series (Peter Morgan), Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series (Jessica Hobbs).
Where to watch it: Netflix.
THE QUEEN'S GAMBIT
What it's about: In much of The Queen's Gambit, Beth Harmon sits at a chessboard. As a child (Isla Johnston), she demands that orphanage janitor Mr Shaibel (Bill Camp, The Outsider) teach her the game. As a teenager (Anya Taylor-Joy, Radioactive), she earns a reputation as a chess prodigy. As her confidence and fame grows, she demonstrates her prowess at tournaments around America and the globe, while also spending her spare time hunched over knights, rooks, bishops and pawns studying moves and tactics. None of the above sounds like innately thrilling television unless you're a chess grandmaster, but this seven-part miniseries proves that you should never judge a show by its brief description. Based on the novel of the same name by Walter Tevis, written and directed by Oscar-nominee Scott Frank (Out of Sight, Logan), and dripping with lavish 50s and 60s decor and costuming to reflect its period setting, The Queen's Gambit doesn't expect that all its viewers will be chess aficionados; however, it's made with an acute awareness that anything can be tense, suspenseful and involving — and that every different type of game there is says much about its players and devotees. The series doesn't lack in creative and inventive ways to depict chess on-screen. It knows when to hang on every single move of a pivotal game, and when to focus on the bigger story surrounding a particular match or Beth path through the chess world in general. And it's especially astute at illustrating how a pastime based on precision and strategy offers an orphaned girl a way to control one lone aspect of her tumultuous and constantly changing life.
Won: Outstanding Limited or Anthology Series, Outstanding Directing for a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie (Scott Frank).
What it's about: American fashion designer Roy Halston Frowick, better known just as Halston, has already received the documentary treatment. But the wild tale of his successes, struggles, ups and downs, as well as his frequent presence at Studio 54, his list of celebrity friends and his ill-advised business decisions, similarly drives the five-part Netflix miniseries that also shares his name. Proving as chameleonic as ever, Ewan McGregor (Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)) plays the titular part. He's charismatic, dynamic and all-round fantastic, as he always is, and the series wouldn't be the same without him. Indeed, this is a case of a performance — and a vibe, because Halston embraces exactly the atmosphere you'd expect given that it's set from the 60s to the 90s — doing most of the heavy lifting. Still, that central portrayal and the mood around him makes this a must-see. Because Halston was famously pals with Liza Minnelli, Krysta Rodriguez (Lisey's Story) also steps into famous shoes and, off-screen, Ryan Murphy (American Horror Story, American Crime Story, Pose, Glee) adds yet another series to his lengthy resume. Watching the doco as well is recommended, but this is entertaining viewing nonetheless.
Won: Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie (Ewan McGregor).
Where to watch it: Netflix.
Published on September 20, 2021 by Sarah Ward