The biggest snubs and surprises of the 2021 Emmy nominations

William Abadie and Lily Collins in “Emily in Paris.”
(Carole Bethuel / 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 lead to only one outcome on this Emmy nomination morning: “snubs.”

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.

“The Crown” and “The Mandalorian” dominate the 2021 Emmy nominations. Here are the honorees in the major categories.

July 13, 2021

SURPRISE: ‘Emily in Paris’ (comedy series)
Remember when the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. was ridiculed for calling this lightweight Netflix series one of the best television comedies? Emmy voters either didn’t pay attention or were too busy marveling over Lily Collins’ designer outfits to care.

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 — was always intended to be shown on television because McQueen wanted it to be accessible to a wide audience. But that didn’t stop the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. 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 no actor from the series earned a nomination. It might have benefited from a weekly rollout instead of 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 August.

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 (Its 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.

SURPRISE: ‘Conan’ (Variety talk series)
Emmy voters sent Conan O’Brien and his team a nice parting gift for their last go-around, giving the talk series its first nomination since its inaugural season.

SNUB: ‘Girls5eva’ (Comedy series)
This Peacock comedy about a one-hit-wonder girl group returning from obscurity had the imprint of Tina Fey and the fizziness of Emmy favorite “30 Rock,” plus a wonderful performance from “Hamilton” star Renée Elise Goldsberry. Apparently voters are still getting up to speed on the Peacock, though they liked Goldsberry enough to nominate her for the “Hamilton” thing.

SNUB: Ethan Hawke, ‘The Good Lord Bird’
Hawke’s remarkable turn as abolitionist John Brown on this Showtime limited series was one of the highlights of the past television year. Voters ignored it, going instead with, among others, two actors from a filmed version of a Broadway musical shot five years ago.