Emmy Circuit: Looking Ahead at the Race for Outstanding Limited Series

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Welcome to the 2019 Emmy Circuit series, where we analyze and predict all your favorite TV series and their chances with the Television Academy (at least at this time of publishing).  The series examines the shows and performances about their awards potential, most notably the Emmy Awards.  Emmy nomination voting opens June 10 and closes on June 24.  The official Emmy nominations will be announced on Tuesday, July 16 while the ceremony airs on FOX Sunday, Sept. 22.  All Emmy pieces run with the following schedule: Mondays (Dramas), Tuesdays (Network Spotlight), Wednesdays (Comedies), Thursdays (Network Spotlight), Fridays (Limited Series, Variety Series, Below-the Lines).

After years of Limited Series showcasing the strongest work on television, there was a reasonable argument to expand the nominee count. With only five nominees, Limited Series had become one of the most competitive categories at the Emmys, often not having enough room to reward the incredible work being created in the medium. Yet in 2018, Emmy voters could barely fill the category with five worthy nominees. To make matters worse, the Television Academy inexplicably snubbed “Twin Peaks,” in favor of “Genius: Picasso” and “Patrick Melrose,” both of which were contentious nominees at best. It was no surprise “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story” ran away with the season, capturing the Emmy, Golden Globe, and Critics Choice prizes.

Luckily, the 2018-2019 season has been a return to form for the medium. Celebrity directors, established auteurs, and relative newcomers pushed the storytelling envelope. The reverberations of the 2017 season, which saw “Big Little Lies,” “Fargo,” “Feud” and “The Night Of” as nominees, finally paid off across multiple platforms. Netflix, HBO, Hulu, Starz, and more networks joined the fray. Star power and character actors found room to give incredible performances. With as many as fifteen legitimate contenders, voters are spoiled with choices. But who can rise above the scrum?

The Frontrunners

There are three shows that have emerged as the likely nomination leaders on Emmy morning. “Escape at Dannemora” already made its case at several precursors and with audiences early in the Fall. Wins for Patricia Arquette at SAG, Globe, and Critics Choice seem to back up its narrative strengths. Paul Dano, Benicio Del Toro, and Eric Lange all picked up nominations at Critic’s choice as well. Depending on how they split Dano and Del Toro (with some category fraud likely),  there’s a path for all three to pick up Emmy nominations. Ben Stiller’s directorial showcase changed much of the dialogue about his work as a director. It was at least a strong new angle for him to take after the perceived disappointment of “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” a few years ago. The pieces are in place for “Dannemora” to run the table.

However, we know that Hollywood loves to watch stories about other show business legends. “Fosse/Verdon” brings to life the iconic director and his equally (if not more so) talented wife. While Verdon rarely received her due in the Fosse narrative, the series has already moved mountains in explaining her importance to his success. “Fosse/Verdon” also drips with artistic and stylized approaches to the subject matter. The series shines thanks to its incredible direction from Thomas Kail. Steven Levenson, who both wrote the series and served as its showrunner, assembled an excellent team behind the camera to bring the Broadway legends to life. Michelle Williams and Sam Rockwell could easily be our winners in the lead categories. Can “Fosse/Verdon” be the late-breaking series to take home Gold?

While “Fosse/Verdon” has the momentum now, Netflix may hold the winning hand. “When They See Us” released its first trailer weeks ago and it could be one of the best series to hit television in the past few years. The story of the Central Park Five brings together an all-star cast and talented newcomers. Ava DuVernay directed all four episodes, and it may be an impossible show to ignore. Like “The People Vs. O.J. Simpson” or “Big Little Lies,” the story has the ability to create shockwaves throughout pop culture. While we have not seen the finished product yet, it will be hard to imagine an Emmys without this as one of the big contenders.

Previously At the Emmys…

While there are few continuations of limited series or anthologies stories, there are several shows that can be considered spiritual sequels. HBO clearly wanted to continue its relationship with Jean-Marc Vallée and depending on who you ask, it was a home run. Gillian Flynn penned “Sharp Objects,” and the adaptation gave us at least two acting contenders. Patricia Clarkson will find herself in the hunt for an Emmy win. She already picked up a win at the Globes for Best Supporting Actress across all television. She also picked up a nomination, as did her co-star Amy Adams, in the TV Movie or Limited Series Best Actress category at SAG. Adams has underperformed thus far, and there are some who were bored by the show. The fact that Adams has not won a big prize may show weakness when much of its competition arrived in the Spring.

Still, HBO should position “Sharp Objects” as their pony in the category. With “My Brilliant Friend” moving over to Drama Series – look for “True Detective” Season 3 to be their other push. While the new season was received favorably by the press and audiences, it failed to reach the heights of Season 1. Mahershala Ali, Carmen Ejogo, and Stephen Dorff will all be in the hunt for acting prizes, but can HBO revive the show that already feels like it aired five years ago?

The Little Drummer Girl” gives AMC a legitimate spoiler. Featuring Emmy winner Alexander Skarsgård, emerging star Florence Pugh, and Oscar nominee Michael Shannon, the spy thriller captured the attention of some critics. This represents the latest AMC adaptation of a John le Carré property. The cable network found success with “The Night Manager” just a few years ago, earning a directing Emmy for Susanna Bier. Director Chan-wook Park looks to keep the streak alive. “The Little Drummer Girl” should have Emmy consideration written all over it. However, many pundits have not, forgive the pun, beaten the drum for the series, which dropped in the middle of the 2018 Oscar season. AMC needs to put the show out in front of voters to get the ball rolling.

Finally, “The Spanish Princess” serves as the third entry of the lesser known “The White Queen” franchise. “The White Queen” found considerable success when it was nominated for Limited Series back in 2014. “The White Princess” could not cash in on the goodwill, but “The Spanish Princess” hopes to rekindle Emmy’s flame for Starz.

Directors Galore

One of the more fascinating aspects of this year’s Emmys will be the number of auteur directors and popular names that will enter the fray. George Clooney moved to television to bring the iconic novel “Catch-22” to life for Hulu. The series will certainly hit with some, and Clooney’s Coen-esque approach sets the tone for the dark comedy. The cast shows some real comedy chops, with Kyle Chandler and Hugh Laurie taking on key roles. Christopher Abbott works well as the lead, and the cast includes a few other up and comers (Lewis Pullman comes to mind). Clooney split directing duties with Grant Heslov and Ellen Kuras, and the three created some outstanding visuals. Paramount and Hulu hope the series puts them into the race in a big way.

Stephen Frears also found success by working with the stars of “Paddington 2,” even though “A Very English Scandal” is a very different type of show. Hugh Grant and Ben Whishaw deliver some of their career-best work in the wacky story. Grant went three for three with Critic’s Choice, SAG, and Globe nominations. Whishaw won the Globe and Critic’s Choice prizes, despite missing out in the reduced SAG lineup. Frears brings a story of corruption to life while channeling timely themes about politics and LGBTQ+ issues to light.

Cary Joji Fukunaga tries to return to the Emmys after winning the award for directing “True Detective” in Season 1. “Maniac” certainly deserves recognition for it’s “Total Recall” weirdness and strange turns. Will the Emmys be cool enough to nominate it? It seems unlikely, even if they go for Emma StoneJonah Hill also earns some love for his performance, and hopefully, the crafts eat up the ever-changing worlds of the show.

Horror fans may have reason to return to the Emmys, with Mike Flanagan bringing “The Haunting of Hill House” into the cultural zeitgeist. The series popped with audiences and was a surprise hit when it landed. A seventeen-minute one shot broke through the noise and made audiences rewatch the series with a fine-tooth comb. The Emmys have been open to genre fare in the Limited Series category. After all, “American Horror Story” became the defining franchise that revived the form. However, as we’ve seen time and time again, the reaction on Twitter to a series may not translate to Emmy love.

With DuVernay, Stiller, Vallée, Park, Fukunaga, Clooney and more, the director’s lineup is crowded. Yet with more visionaries bringing their stories to the small screen, the quality has undeniably grown.

Guess They’re Contenders

There are several other series that could push their way into the race for Outstanding Limited Series. Hulu will try to help Patricia Arquette double-dip with “The Act,” and her performance screams for a nomination. The disturbing story is no “American Crime Story,” but the fascinating subject matter can be chilling.

Chernobyl” has the ability to raise its ceiling higher than almost any series left to air. The footage looks amazing, but will HBO make this their main pony? Will they even make it the second pony? The presence of both “Sharp Objects” and “True Detective” make it unlikely. The quality should be there, and TV vet Johan Renck looks to capitalize on another great cast assembled by HBO. Jared Harris looks to be someone to watch.

For whatever reason, “Castle Rock” seems to be out of the game. However, never underestimate the Stephen King boost, as well as the bevy of veteran actors in the show. “I Am the Night” could help Chris Pine crash the party, or it could disappear from the discussion. “Les Miserables” has been overshadowed by “Game of Thrones” but critics came to bat for it. Recently minted Oscar winner Olivia Colman could grab a supporting actress nomination under the right circumstances. Dominic West, Adeel Akhtar, David Oyelowo and Lily Collins all-star as well. That amount of talent and the iconic nature of the subject makes this a deceptively strong player.

Finally, the combination of “Dirty John” (BRAVO), “The Widow” (Amazon) and “Mrs. Wilson” (PBS) all feature Emmy worthy quality but may not get into the race. For “Mrs. Wilson” and “The Widow,” the distributors have stronger contenders. Sadly, “Dirty John” may not get the support it deserves because of its home network. However, each deserves a spotlight and are still very much in the game for a nomination.

CURRENT OUTSTANDING LIMITED SERIES PREDICTIONS

  1. “Fosse/Verdon” (FX)
  2. “When They See Us” (Netflix)
  3. “Escape at Dannemora” (Showtime)
  4. “A Very English Scandal” (Amazon)
  5. “Sharp Objects” (HBO)

Spoilers: “The Act” (Hulu), Catch-22 (Hulu), “Chernobyl” (HBO), “Maniac” (Netflix), “True Detective” (HBO)

Who are your five nominees right now? Which will take the top prize? Let us hear your thoughts in the comments below! 

CHECK OUT ALL THE YEAR-IN-ADVANCE PREDICTIONS ON THE CIRCUIT HUB AND MAKE YOUR OWN!