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The Five Most Interesting Categories at the 2021 Creative Arts Emmys

Bo Burnham, Maya Rudolph, and Legendary are all up for early Emmys this year.
  • (Photos: Netflix/NBC/HBO Max)
    (Photos: Netflix/NBC/HBO Max)

    Joe Reid isn't just Primetimer's managing editor. He's also an awards expert and one half of the popular podcast, This Had Oscar Buzz. In recent weeks he's handicapped each of the major categories at the 73rd Primetime Emmy awards. Today he turns his focus to this year's Creative Arts Emmys.

    A week before the Primetime Emmy Awards air on CBS, the Television Academy will present its annual Creative Arts Emmys, the two-night ceremony where TV cinematographers, costume designers, sound technicians, and editors join the guest actors, commercials, and all the other various and sundry categories that won't fit into the flagship ceremony on September 19th. The Creative Arts Emmys don't get the kind of attention that the main Emmys telecast does, but with the increasing proliferation of TV into more widespread genres, networks, and platforms, these categories get more interesting every year.

    Here are five categories that promise to be among the most competitive and/or interesting for the talent therein:

    Outstanding Contemporary Makeup for a Variety, Nonfiction, or Reality Program (Non-Prosthetic)

    • Dancing with the Stars (ABC)
    • Legendary (HBO Max)
    • Mariah Carey's Magical Christmas Special (Apple TV+)
    • RuPaul's Drag Race (VH1)
    • Saturday Night Live (NBC)

    RuPaul's Drag Race finally took this category last year, after four previous losses to Saturday Night Live. This year, both shows are up again, but they face off against HBO Max's stellar vogueing competition Legendary and a Mariah Carey Christmas Special, making this almost by default the queerest category on the Emmy ballot. SNL, by the way, is nominated for the Elon Musk-hosted episode, which would be a hell of a way for this very queer category to end up, but that's 2021 for you.

    Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series

    • Jane Adams as Nina Daniels in Hacks
    • Yvette Nicole Brown as Judge Anita Harper in A Black Lady Sketch Show
    • Bernadette Peters as Deb in Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist
    • Issa Rae as Jess in A Black Lady Sketch Show
    • Maya Rudolph as Host in Saturday Night Live
    • Kristen Wiig as Host in Saturday Night Live

    Saturday Night Live has taken this category four out of the last five years, with Maya Rudolph winning last year, despite also being nominated for her performance on The Good Place and potentially splitting her vote. This year her performance as Vice President Kamala Harris earned headlines, which could give her the edge to repeat her victory (something that hasn't happened in this category since Jean Smart won back-to-back for Frasier in 2000 and 2001), but the competition is tough, including two nominees from A Black Lady Sketch Show. The most interesting competition, however, comes from Broadway legend Bernadette Peters, who's looking to win her first Emmy Award ever, having first been nominated in 1978 for The Muppet Show. And honestly, if this legend of stage and screen can't take home an Emmy Award for her performance of Sia's "Cheap Thrills," then honestly what are we all doing here?

    Outstanding Character Voice-Over Performance

    • Stacey Abrams ias herself in black-ish: Election Special
    • Julie Andrews as Lady Whistledown on Bridgerton
    • Tituss Burgess as Cole Tillerman on Central Park
    • Seth MacFarlane as Various Characters on Family Guy
    • Maya Rudolph as Connie the Hormone Monstress on Big Mouth
    • Stanley Tucci as Bitsey Brandenham on Central Park
    • Jessica Walter as Mallory Archer on Archer

    Truly no category on the entire Emmy ballot has what this category has. No other category has an Oscar-winning acting legend nominated for her performance as the Gossip Girl of Regency-era England; a former gubernatorial candidate and hero of the voting rights movement who pretty much delivered the 2020 election; a defending Emmy champion who may very well repeat the double win she received last year; two performers nominated for their singing performances in a new animated series; and a beloved (and recently departed) actress who last won an Emmy in the 1970s. Oh, and also Seth MacFarlane. Knowing the Emmys, they may well just give the award to Rudolph for the second year in a row, but how do you not vote for the legendary Julie Andrews, whose sparkling narration gave Bridgerton such a spirited boost in its debut season? (The fact that Bridgerton is the only Outstanding Drama Series nominee in this group can't hurt.) Or, failing that, how does sentiment not take over and lead to a vote for the late Jessica Walter, whose career on Archer is more than worthy of a lifetime achievement award?

    Outstanding Directing for a Variety Special

    • Bo Burnham for Bo Burnham: Inside
    • Spike Lee for David Byrne's American Utopia
    • Julia Reichert, Steven Bognar and Dave Chappelle for 8:46 - Dave Chappelle
    • Ben Winston for Friends: The Reunion
    • Thomas Schlamme for A West Wing Special to Benefit When We All Vote

    Spike Lee won two Emmy Awards fourteen years ago for his acclaimed documentary When the Levees Broke about Hurricane Katrina. He could absolutely win again for his staging of David Byrne's Broadway show, a directorial effort that is brimming with energy and some really clever choices that make the production feel alive. But my sense is that this category is going to boil down to two productions where the COVID-19 pandemic loomed large. Bo Burnham's one-man show about his deteriorating mental state during lockdown has been acclaimed since the day it was released, and feels like one of the defining documents of the pandemic. Without very many places to recognize it in the bigger Emmy categories, voters could want to see its creator honored here. On the other side of the coin from Bo Burnham's solitary achievement is the great many talents who were harnessed and corralled for the West Wing reunion special. Tommy Schlamme won two Emmys for directing West Wing episodes back in that show's original run (among nine career Emmys), and giving him one more for the road is not at all out of the realm of possibility.

    Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics

    • "Comedy" for Bo Burnham: Inside
    • "Never Truly Vanish" for The Boys
    • "I Can't Remember Love" for The Queen's Gambit
    • "The End Titles" for Soundtrack of Our Lives
    • "Agatha All Along" for WandaVision
    • "Crimson Love" for Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist

    This is always one of the most fun categories, and while this year's lineup is no exception, it demands to be noted that the lineup could have been even MORE fun had the voters nominated one (or more, ideally more) song from Girls5Eva, a show that was pretty much created to dominate this category and could have filled up all six slots on its own. Alas. Instead, this category will likely come down to Bo Bunrham — whose chances are strong here for all of the reasons listed in the above category — and WandaVision's "Agatha All Along," which was easily the year's most talked-about, memed, and plot-significant song of the year. WandaVision may well not end up winning in any of the major categories in which it's nominated, but it can still triumph here for one of its best contributions to pop culture, which would be nice.

    The 2021 Creative Arts Emmys will be handed out over two nights on September 11th and 12th, with an edited ceremony airing Saturday, September 18 on FXX.

    People are talking about the Emmys in our forums. Join the conversation.

    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards, Big Mouth, Bo Burnham: Inside, Bridgerton, Legendary, RuPaul’s Drag Race, Saturday Night Live, Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, Bernadette Peters, Jessica Walter, Julie Andrews, Maya Rudolph, Spike Lee