The biggest snubs and surprises of the 2021 Emmy nominations

Glenn Whipp
Los Angeles Times
Ewan McGregor as the designer Halston in Netflix’s miniseries, “Halston.” (Atsushi Nishijima/Netflix)

Most of the best television these days comes via the limited series, a stone-cold fact that you know and I know, but somehow has eluded the television academy, which still hasn’t adjusted its Emmy nomination numbers to keep up with the times.

And that failure can only lead to one outcome on this Emmy nomination morning: “snubs.”

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Not true snubs, mind you. Voters aren’t actively shunning anyone. (Though this is Hollywood, so maybe I shouldn’t underestimate the potential for pettiness.) It’s just that there are too few slots for the amount of excellent work being done in the limited series format.

So what shows and actors were “snubbed”? And, on a happier note, who’s feeling glad all over now that the nominations have arrived? Let’s take a look.

SNUB: “Small Axe” (limited series): Steve McQueen’s anthology series of five movies — an epic, intimate look at London’s West Indian community from the mid-1960s through the 1980s — were always intended to be shown on television because McQueen wanted them to be accessible to a wide audience. But that didn’t stop the Los Angeles Film Critics Association from giving its best picture prize to “Small Axe” last year. Perhaps Emmy voters were confused. Were they movies? Television? And if the latter, what kind of television? Were they too British? Too smart? Yes, I’m grasping at the reason for the most lamentable omission in the crowded limited series category.

SNUB: Thuso Mbedu, “The Underground Railroad”: Mbedu is a star in her native South Africa, but Barry Jenkins’ adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s novel was her introduction to most voters. She brought a fiery intensity to Cora, the enslaved young woman journeying to freedom, transfixing viewers with every gesture. Apparently there weren’t enough viewers, though, as the weighty series didn’t benefit from being dropped all at once on Amazon.

SURPRISE: Cynthia Erivo, “Genius: Aretha”: Well … as much of a surprise as it can be for a two-time Oscar nominee and Grammy winner to earn a nomination for playing the Queen of Soul in a highly promoted limited series. Still, Erivo won a place in the Emmys’ most competitive category – lead actress, limited series/TV movie – perhaps blazing a trail for Jennifer Hudson, who will star in another Aretha Franklin biopic, “Respect,” arriving in theaters in September.

SURPRISE: Ewan McGregor, “Halston”: “Halston” sits at a 49 score on review aggregator Metacritic, but voters didn’t blame McGregor for this unusually restrained and lazily plotted Ryan Murphy limited series. I will say that nobody has looked better smoking a cigarette since Rita Hayworth in “Gilda.” Apparently, that’s worth something.

SURPRISE: The “Hamilton” acting nominations: Look, I cried when Philip died. And I still get a little verklempt hearing “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story.” But “Hamilton” isn’t a TV movie. It’s a filmed performance of a play. You’d think that television academy voters would understand the difference.

SURPRISE: “The Boys” (drama series): Talking gills, exploding whales, enormous … um … appendages, exploding heads … “The Boys” isn’t “The Crown.” And its vigilantes aren’t Marvel superheroes either. But the Amazon series’ subversive storytelling appealed to enough voters in a year when more traditional drama series were on a pandemic-mandated break.

SNUB: Pedro Pascal, “The Mandalorian”: Hey, that mustache was on point. Why no love for our soft space dad?

SNUB: “Master of None” (comedy series): Is a series a comedy if it barely delivers a smile, much less a genuine laugh? Emmy voters didn’t think so, failing to nominate the third season of Aziz Ansari’s Netflix show (It’s first two seasons, which were in fact funny, earned nods.) The latest installment of “Master of None” was not without merit. But it was without humor. It should have been shuttled to drama where maybe voters would have rewarded its Bergman-soaked detachment.