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The Emmy Awards are back to normal. Sort of.
Hosted by Cedric the Entertainer, TV's biggest night this year looked a lot more like the usual Hollywood glitz and glamour than it did during last year's entirely virtual ceremony. There were still COVID-19 precautions, but the actors and actresses all gathered together in their red carpet attire, golden statuettes were given and the expected nominees won.
But among all the predictability and commercial breaks, there were a few great moments at the Emmys and a few really terrible ones. From the wonderful tribute to TV legend Debbie Allen to terrible comedy bits that made the three-hour-plus show seem even longer, here are the best and worst parts of the 2021 Emmy Awards:
Worst: A cringe-worthy opening number
Most awards shows begin with a comedic monologue from the host, a montage of the past year of movies or TV shows, or an opening musical number. This year CBS decided to go the musical option but in the most bizarre way possible. Cedric, accompanied by a man with a TV screen for a head, opened the show rapping a version of Biz Markie's "Just a Friend" with TV-centric lyrics, and he was eventually joined by a strange grouping that included Mandy Moore, Rita Wilson, Lil Dicky, "Hamilton" cast members and LL Cool J.
The lyrics were indecipherable and boring. The staging was dull and so casual, viewers might have wondered if the cameras accidentally caught an early rehearsal instead of a live show.
Best: Seth Rogen blasting the COVID-19 protocols
After the extremely unfunny opening, Seth Rogen, the night's first presenter, walked onstage and cracked a series of jokes good enough to stand in for an opening monologue. His slightly panicked rant about COVID-19 protocols, particularly that the Emmys were taking place in an enclosed tent, was hilarious and felt very genuine. The night's DJ, Reggie Watts, then had to reassure viewers after a commercial break that CBS was, in fact, following all recommended health and safety protocols.
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Worst: Cedric the Entertainer's hosting and the endless bad comedy bits
Awards shows are long enough, so if a host is going to interrupt the evening with comedy bits, they have to be funny. Cedric's sketches were considerably less than funny. They were more often painful.
Between trotting out jokes that were 11 months old (like one about the fly on Mike Pence's head during the 2020 vice presidential debate) or shoehorning his co-stars from CBS sitcom "The Neighborhood" into a bit or bringing actors like Alyson Hannigan into a whiny sketch about not winning Emmys, Cedric stopped hosting the show and started impeding it.
Compared to the actually funny presenters including the cast of "Schitt's Creek," Bowen Yang and Jennifer Coolidge, Cedric's shtick just wasted time.
Best: Funny and moving acceptance speeches
From Hannah Waddingham's jubilant scream to the jokes about only "hot writers" accepting the Emmy for HBO's "Last Week Tonight," there were some surprisingly good acceptance speeches Sunday. It's hard to nail the right tone of humor, graciousness, emotion and sincerity in a speech at any awards show. But many of the winners hit the right notes without trying too hard. Writer-director Lucia Aniello won twice for HBO Max's "Hacks" and did both prepared and spontaneous speeches with ease and panache. British actor, writer and director Michaela Coel won for writing last year's exceptional HBO limited series "I May Destroy You" and gave a speech as well written as her show, dedicating her Emmy to survivors of sexual assault.
Worst: Playing off speeches or not
Everybody knows that the music starts playing when someone is taking up too much time with their acceptance speech, but awards shows have long been selective about who gets to drone on and who gets cut off.
Trying to stop Governors Award winner Debbie Allen after barely a minute of her speech was a mistake, as was playing off good speeches from comedy writers like Aniello. But then the producers let "The Queen's Gambit" director Scott Frank go on for far too long. Frank repeatedly shouted down the playoff music in an increasingly rude manner, awkwardly overstaying his welcome on stage for an inane speech that had little to say. It was the most uncomfortable moment of the night.
Best: Jean Smart wins
Not many actors get an instant standing ovation when they win an Emmy, but not every actor is as beloved, talented and respected as Smart, an industry veteran who had a fantastic year with "Mare" and "Hacks," following her brilliant supporting performance in HBO's 2019 series "Watchmen." Her starring role in "Hacks" deservedly won her the Emmy (she even played her own wax figurine), and her speech honoring her late husband Richard Gilliland, who died earlier this year, was genuinely heartfelt and moving. When the right people win the awards and have something beautiful to say about it, award shows are at their very best.
Best: The Debbie Allen tribute
This year's recipient of the Governors Award was the legendary Debbie Allen, a dancer, director, actor, producer and artist, who was given a fitting tribute for her immense talents. TV Academy President Frank Scherma honored her contributions to television, a montage of her great work wowed the audience and a quartet of her stars and peers – Jada Pinkett Smith, Ava DuVernay, Ellen Pompeo and Michael Douglas – introduced her with "Fame" canes, so the Emmys did right by Allen. And she did not disappoint with her own speech, and was not allowing herself to be played off. "I am trembling with gratitude and grace and trying not to cry and being equal to the situation because it’s been many years in the making it's taken a lot of courage to be the only woman in the room most of the time."
Best and worst: Conan O'Brien crashes
Late-night host Conan O'Brien didn't win an Emmy Sunday night, but his presence was certainly felt in the Emmy ballroom. John Oliver gave a shoutout to his late-night competitor (Conan's TBS show ended this summer) while accepting the award for variety talk series, and later, O'Brien kept popping up. He jumped up and heckled Scherma during his speech and spontaneously joined the producers and writers of "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" on stage when they won for live variety special for an election-night program on Showtime. The comedian gets the distinction of best and worst because he brought some joy to the night but also made a long awards show just a bit longer.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Emmys best and worst moments, from Seth Rogen to Conan O'Brien