The Snubs And Surprises Of The 2021 Emmy Nominations

We're scratching our heads at "Emily in Paris," while delighted for "PEN15."

The 2021 Emmys had a smaller field of contenders than usual, as pandemic production delays sidelined many acclaimed shows. But still, there were plenty of snubs and surprises among this year’s nominees, announced Tuesday morning. Below, HuffPost reporters break down what we were excited to see and what we were sad to discover was omitted this year. The ceremony, hosted by Cedric the Entertainer, will air on Sept. 19 on CBS.

SNUB: Thuso Mbedu, “The Underground Railroad,” Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series

Thuso Mbedu’s performance in Amazon Prime Video’s “The Underground Railroad” was one of the most arresting portrayals of the year. As Cora, an enslaved woman who is on a journey to freedom across the antebellum South, Mbedu captures her audiences through her eyes and body language. The Barry Jenkins limited series, which is an adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s acclaimed novel of the same name, is a huge undertaking. Mbedu’s captivating performance makes all the emotional ups and downs of the limited series truly worth the ride. — Erin E. Evans

Thuso Mbedu as Cora in "The Underground Railroad."
Thuso Mbedu as Cora in "The Underground Railroad."
Kyle Kaplan via Kyle Kaplan/Amazon Studios

SURPRISE: “Emily in Paris,” Outstanding Comedy Series

For some reason, we thought the Emmys would be slightly more discerning than the Golden Globes when it came to Netflix’s “Emily in Paris.” Sure, the show goes down smooth as a weekend binge and serves up some eye-popping Parisian locales and fashions, but it’s as fluffy as a pain au chocolat ― and not in the good way. The nod is especially egregious considering how the series edged out far more deserving projects including “Girls5eva,” “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist,” “Made For Love” and “Superstore.” — Cole Delbyck

SNUB: “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” Outstanding Variety Talk Series

Another year, another snub for Seth Meyers and the “Late Night with Seth Meyers” team. What do they need to do to get nominated in this category?! Most of the late-night shows adeptly navigated the pandemic by using the DIY production to their advantage — including Meyers, who made goofy, meta jokes about his makeshift attic studio, like accumulating copies of “The Thorn Birds” and wondering who would emerge from the trap door behind him. Come for the pandemic-era absurdities, stay for the essential “Closer Look” segments, which succinctly and searingly bring audiences up to speed on the news. And Meyers always takes the time to recognize when he isn’t the right person to tell a joke or when he doesn’t need to weigh in on something, giving the spotlight to the show’s great writers, like Amber Ruffin (who rightfully now has her own Emmy-nominated show on Peacock), Jenny Hagel and Karen Chee. This category often rewards consistency. Then why not Meyers, consistently a great and must-see late-night presence, especially over the last year? — Marina Fang

SURPRISE: “PEN15,” Outstanding Comedy Series

Listening to the list of nominees in Outstanding Comedy Series was a real roller coaster of emotions. I hadn’t yet processed the confusion of hearing “Emily in Paris” when I screamed in delight at hearing “PEN15” among the nominees. For its first season in 2019, the Hulu show received an Emmy nomination for writing. But it’s gratifying to finally see the entire series get recognized in a major way. With “PEN15,” co-creators and co-stars Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle have flipped the script and broken the mold on so many topics and comedy tropes: the agony of middle school, gender and sexual norms, Asian immigrant moms, and so much more. Its second season was somehow even more brilliant than its first, digging deeper into its themes and finding ways to make me cackle one minute and feel utterly devastated the next. There’s really no show quite like it, so good work, TV academy, for recognizing their singular vision. — Marina Fang

This image released by Hulu shows Anna Konkle, left, and Maya Erskine in a scene from "Pen15." The program was nominated for an Emmy Award for outstanding comedy series. (Hulu via AP)
This image released by Hulu shows Anna Konkle, left, and Maya Erskine in a scene from "Pen15." The program was nominated for an Emmy Award for outstanding comedy series. (Hulu via AP)
via Associated Press

SNUB: Renee Elise Goldsberry, “Girls5Eva,” Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

Pull up a seat and play a mournful ballad on your sometimes invisible piano, because Renee Elise Goldsberry’s “Girls5Eva” performance got zilch. Yes, the star of stage and screen did receive a nod for her work as Angelica Schuyler in the filmed version of “Hamilton,” but her most recent turn as the gloriously self-obsessed and slightly delusional pop diva Wickie on the Peacock series went unrecognized by the Television Academy. The series not only allowed Goldsberry to flex her vocal talents, but also showed us that she’s a first-rate comedian (on that note, we need a full version of “The Maskical” immediately!) Luckily, “Girls5eva” was renewed for a second season, so the Emmys have a chance to right their wrongs. Until then, as Wickie would say, cease and desist, bitch! — Cole Delbyck

SURPRISE: Paapa Essiedu, “I May Destroy You,” Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series

The Emmys rightfully corrected the Golden Globes’ snub by raining nominations down upon Michaela Coel for her masterwork, “I May Destroy You.” While the staggering HBO series, which explores consent and sexual assault, lives and dies by Coel’s hand, the supporting cast is just as exemplary and deserving of recognition. To see Essiedu get his flowers for his heartbreaking and sensitive turn as Kwame, a queer Black man whose life is also upended by a sexual assault, is cause for celebration. The actor brought a welcome dimension to the series with his story providing a vital complement to Coel’s character’s experience. Still, we would’ve love to have seen their fellow co-star Weruche Opia get some love for her performance as Terry, the final member of the core trio at the center of the series. — Cole Delbyck

Paapa Essiedu in HBO's "I May Destroy You."
Paapa Essiedu in HBO's "I May Destroy You."

SNUB: Naomi Ackie, “Master of None,” Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series

The long-awaited third season of “Master of None” takes a different turn from its Aziz Ansari-centered plot and turns to the relationship between Denise (Lena Waithe) and her wife, Alicia (Naomi Ackie). The season felt much less like a comedy and more like a dramatic five-part series. But it is Ackie’s performance in Episode 4 that deserves some love here (and the writing is phenomenal, too). In the episode, audiences watch Alicia deal with the many struggles of having a child on her own — and at every turn, you’re rooting for her to win. — Erin E. Evans

SNUB: “Small Axe,” Outstanding Limited Or Anthology Series

Director Steven McQueen’s five-part anthology film series stood as a literal giant on the small screen. Each distinct film in the series is based on the experiences of London’s West Indian community from 1969 and 1982, some fact and some fiction. And it features stellar performances from some heavy hitters, including John Boyega, Letitia Wright and Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn. Though it received one nomination for Best Cinematography for a Limited or Anthology Series, the Amazon Prime Video series deserved better for the depth of Black British life it explored. — Taryn Finley

SNUB: “Black Is King,” Outstanding Variety Special

It’s a shame that the Television Academy totally ignored “Black Is King,” Beyoncé’s most ambitious and global visual project to date. “Black Is King,” which builds on the Bey-produced “The Gift” album released in 2019 to accompany the live-action “Lion King” film, highlighted the versatile beauty and power of Africa. The film, which premiered on Disney+, tapped into the continent’s sounds, creatives, clothing and overall culture. It was a beautiful triumph and its impact was celebrated as visuals for “Brown Skin Girl,” “Mood 4 Eva,” “My Power” and more stunned. This film worked intentionally to bring the power and expansiveness of Africa to the forefront and succeeded. Justice for “Black Is King.” — Taryn Finley

SNUB: “It’s A Sin,” Outstanding Limited or Anthology Series

Russell T. Davies’ HBO Max dramedy, which followed a group of queer, 20-something pals living in London at the onset of the HIV/AIDS crisis, was simultaneously sexy, devastating and heartfelt. Olly Alexander, already a star in his native England as the frontman of the pop group Years & Years, carried all five episodes of the show with a nuanced, wide-ranging performance as Ritchie Tozer, an aspiring thespian who is initially an AIDS denier, while actors Lydia West and Callum Scott Howells were standouts among the show’s diverse ensemble. Though it was reportedly unintentional, the series also deserved more credit for the dramatic parallels it drew between the devastation wreaked by AIDS and the lives lost to COVID-19. — Curtis M. Wong

Lydia West (left) and Nathaniel Curtis (right) in the HBO Max limited series "It's a Sin."
Lydia West (left) and Nathaniel Curtis (right) in the HBO Max limited series "It's a Sin."
Ben Blackall/HBO Max

SNUB: Jane Levy, “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist,” Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

Levy proved herself to be a triple threat as Zoey Clarke, a San Francisco software developer who mysteriously gains the ability to hear people’s innermost thoughts as songs. In June, the NBC musical comedy series was canceled after two seasons, prompting Levy and her cast mates to rally fans on social media in hopes of finding it a new home. The show’s overall lack of Emmy love, however, isn’t a vote of confidence in its favor. At least Levy’s performances of “I Melt With You,” “A Moment Like This” and other pop hits have been captured for posterity on streaming platforms. — Curtis M. Wong

SNUB: “Snowfall,” Outstanding Drama Series

FX drama “Snowfall” was once again iced out of the Emmys. The 1980s-set drama, which follows the story of Franklin Saint (Damson Idris) and the origins of the crack cocaine epidemic, has yet to be recognized by the Television Academy. The series, boasting captivating storylines and an impressive cast, was created by the late John Singleton, along with Eric Amadio and Dave Andron. The show has seen its viewership significantly grow since it first premiered in 2017. It released its fourth season to wide acclaim in February, and Idris’s ability to mask his British accent to do a Los Angeles accent for the role deserves TV industry recognition on its own. Despite the lack of industry recognition, FX announced in the spring that “Snowfall” was renewed for a fifth season, much to the excitement of viewers at home. — Kimberley Richards

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