Emmy Circuit: Lead Actress in a Limited Series is a Showdown Between Patricia Arquette and Michelle Williams

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Michelle Williams and Sam Rockwell in FX's "Fosse/Verdon"

Welcome to the 2019 Emmy Circuit series. We are now in the Emmy post-nomination phase, where we watch all the nominated Emmy episodes and predict their chances of winning. The Creative Arts Emmy winners will be revealed Saturday, Sept. 14 while the Primetime Emmy Awards aires on FOX Sunday, Sept. 22. Tune in week after week as we tackle all things Drama, Comedy. Limited Series and Variety.

OPENING STATEMENTS

For Leading Actress in a Limited Series, the Television Academy has named six women who have delivered some of the finest work on the small screen this year. These actors have managed to capture vastly different aspects of the human condition—more specifically, the female condition. They represent mothers, daughters and wives, all trying to find their place in a world that much too often leaves them completely alone. Whether rising above or simply carrying on, this group of women have brought to life stories that are at their heart distinctly familiar.

In this category (unlike many others), the nominees are not limited to submitting a single episode. Their acting will rightfully be judged on their work as a whole. Any of these performers could justly be named winner, but two performers are pulling ahead of the pack. Four months ago, our own Christopher James wrote that this category was going to come down to Patricia Arquette and Michelle Williams. His prediction seems to be right on track—a real toss up. With no clear winner pulling ahead, this category will be one to watch with anticipation come September 22.

AND THE NOMINEES ARE…

• Amy Adams – “Sharp Objects”
• Patricia Arquette – “Escape at Dannemora”
• Aunjanue Ellis – “When They See Us”
• Joey King – “The Act”
• Niecy Nash – “When They See Us”
• Michelle Williams – “Fosse/Verdon

Amy Adams – “Sharp Objects”

Amy Adams in “Sharp Objects”

Show Synopsis: “A reporter confronts the psychological demons from her past when she returns to her hometown to cover a violent murder.” (From IMDb)

Amy Adams continues to show audiences why she is one of the greatest actors of her generation. With her choices, Adams has proven that she will not be boxed into any particular role. Since her career took off, Adams has made her mark in film. She has earned countless nominations from all major film academies, but wins have been few and far between. “Sharp Objects” marks her first major television endeavor and her first Emmy nomination.

HBO’s “Sharp Objects” is based on the novel by Gillian Flynn. The miniseries is a thriller-mystery with incredibly dark undertones about an alcoholic writer who returns to her hometown to report on the murder of a young girl. Adams plays Camille Preaker, a writer with mother issues and a habit for self-mutilation, with a depression that never lifts. It is an exhausting portrayal that has both a positive and negative side. Although her performance is realistic and often gripping, there is little room to play with other emotions because the character is so miserable.

When “Sharp Objects” premiered in July of 2018, Adams was a shoo-in for a nomination and looked destined to win her first Emmy. But as an entire year of television has aired since, her performance has lost traction. This nomination is Adams’ win.

Patricia Arquette – “Escape at Dannemora”

Patricia Arquette in “Escape at Dannemora”

Show Synopsis: “An employee at a prison in upstate New York becomes romantically involved with a pair of inmates and helps them escape.” (From IMDb)

Patricia Arquette has relinquished all vanity with her portrayal of prison worker Joyce Mitchell in Showtime’sEscape at Dannemora.” For her role, Arquette gained weight, dons greasy hair, wears unflattering outfits and caps her teeth with a dental prosthesis that gives her a massive overbite. This is the type of transformation that wins awards just for the initial “wow” factor. But Arquette’s physical metamorphosis is paired with an incredibly nuanced performance.

Arquette captures the essence of a woman caught in a dreary life. Married to a dud, uneducated and working at the Clinton Correctional Facility in New York, Arquette’s Joyce is herself imprisoned in many ways. Her only escape is initially through sexual escapades with two inmates (Emmy nominees Benicio del Toro and Paul Dano), and later as an active participant in their plan to break from prison. As the story progresses, she walks the line between victim and accomplice. Arquette takes an unlikable character and has the audience questioning her motives.

Earlier this year, Arquette won the Golden Globe for this role, but she was nominated with almost an entirely different group of actors. This fact alone makes a win here less of a sure thing. Although Arquette has some tough competition, she is still one to watch.

Aunjanue Ellis – “When They See Us”

Aunjanue Ellis in “When They See Us”

Show Synopsis: “Five teens from Harlem become trapped in a nightmare when they’re falsely accused of a brutal attack in Central Park. Based on the true story.” (From IMDb)

Netflix’sWhen They See Us” is a dramatic depiction of the events surrounding the Central Park Jogger Case from 1989. The series spans years, breathing life into the event, the subsequent trial and the false conviction and imprisonment of the five children involved. What makes the series a true standout is its focus on the far reaching effects of this type of racial injustice. Ava DuVernay, the series’ writer and director, spends equal time with the boys/men involved and their families. Aunjanue Ellis grandly captures a piece of the “ripple effect” playing the mother of Yusef Salaam, one of the now Exonerated Five.

“When They See Us” captures various portraits of parents in an unthinkable situation. Although love is always palpable, each parental figure is unique in their handling of the events unfolding. Ellis gives a passionate portrayal of a mother who is the epitome of strength. Her Sharonne Salaam never falters. She is brave, proud and a fierce protector of her son. In a story fraught with grievances and heartbreak, Ellis captures the soul of the mom we all would hope for during trying times.

However strong Ellis’ performance, there is one big factor that stands in the way of her winning: her co-star, Niecy Nash (more below). If voters are looking to shower “When They See Us” with much deserved love, votes in this category will most likely fall one of two ways. Nash gets the vote over Ellis because her part is ultimately more complex, or these two women split the vote. Either way, Ellis does not come out on top.

Joey King – “The Act”

Joey King in “The Act”

Show Synopsis: “Dee Dee Blanchard is overprotective of her daughter, Gypsy, who is trying to escape the toxic relationship she has with her mother. Gypsy’s quest for independence opens up a Pandora’s box of secrets, which ultimately leads to murder. The stranger-than-fiction true-crime series is based on a 2016 BuzzFeed article that detailed the shocking 2015 crime.” (From IMDb)

HULU’sThe Act” is the true story of Gypsy Rose Blanchard, a young woman who murdered her mother in 2015. Her mother, Dee Dee Blanchard, allegedly abused her for years, fabricating her daughter’s illness and disabilities. Joey King has secured her first Emmy nomination for Lead Actress in Limited Series for her portrayal of Gypsy Rose. Interestingly, King is squaring off against her on-screen mom, Patricia Arquette, who is nominated in the lead category for her work in “Escape At Dannemora.” For “The Act,” Arquette is nominated in the supporting category.

King and Arquette make for a fascinating on screen mother-daughter pair. There is a sublime tug of war between the two women, who succeed in presenting a deep seeded co-dependency that the could (and does) translate into intense hurt.

Viewers know of Arquette’s talents, so in “The Act,” it is King who truly makes her mark. She is all in with a shaved head, an emaciated body and a high pitched squeal of a voice. King gives a fully realized performance as an ever questioning daughter in false constraints. King’s performance is on par with all of the women in this category, but she is also the youngest of these nominees. King proves with “The Act” that she has the potential for many years of Emmy-worthy work ahead. Look for voters to award a more seasoned performer in this category.

Niecy Nash – “When They See Us”

Niecy Nash in “When They See Us”

Show Synopsis: “Five teens from Harlem become trapped in a nightmare when they’re falsely accused of a brutal attack in Central Park. Based on the true story.” (From IMDb)

Audiences may be most familiar with Niecy Nash, the comedian. She starred in Comedy Central’s mockumentary “Reno 911!” She was nominated for two Emmys for her work on the HBO comedy series “Getting On” and won an Emmy in 2010 for hosting “Clean House” on the Style Network where her large-than-life personality helped make the series a hit. Since 2017, Nash has stared in TNT’sClaws” about a group of manicurists laundering money through a nail salon. In each of these endeavors, she has proven to be comic gold. If anyone had any doubt about her abilities as a dramatic actress, they should look no further than her performance in “When They See Us.

Netflix’s dramatic miniseries about the Central Park Five (now known as the Exonerated Five), is a showcase for Nash. She plays Delores Wise, mother of wrongly accused and convicted Korey Wise, with heart aching realness. Nash’s Delores often finds herself unable to help in situations because of her ignorance, her social status and her financial constraints. Of all of the female performances in “When They See Us,” Nash’s performance is the standout.

Singularly, there is no reason Nash does not walk off with this Emmy, and in any other year, she just might have. But when comparing her performance to that of Patricia Arquette or Michelle Williams (read below), Nash may just be third best. What might push her ahead, is that her performance is in the best limited series of the year. “When They See Us” will win big on Emmy night, the show’s momentum may work out in her favor.

Michelle Williams – “Fosse/Verdon”

Michelle Williams in “Fosse/Verdon”

Show Synopsis:An inside look at the romantic and creative partnership between influential choreographer/director, Bob Fosse, and Gwen Verdon, one of the greatest Broadway dancers of all time.” (From IMDb)

It is hard to believe that this is Michelle Williams’ first Emmy nomination. She has been a staple during award seasons ever since 2005’s “Brokeback Mountain.” Subsequently, Williams has secured four Oscar nominations, five Golden Globe nominations (with one win) and six Screen Actor’s Guild nominations, among others. After The WB teen drama “Dawson’s Creek” ended in 2002, she has largely stuck to film. If Williams had spent more time on the small screen, accolades would most assuredly been reaped. Case in point- “Fosse/Verdon.”

Williams has chosen a winner for her return to the small screen. FX’s “Fosse/Verdon” is a character study masked as a relationship drama. The miniseries focuses not only on the tempestuous marriage of Fosse and Verdon, but also on their creative union spanning 30 years. During their partnership, the duo tackled the stage with “Damn Yankees!” and the screen with “Sweet Charity” (1969) and “Cabaret” (1972). In “Fosse/Verdon,” Williams and Rockwell (also an Emmy nominee) do this legendary pair justice.

Williams completely embodies Gwen Verdon. And I say “embodies” because this is such a physical performance. Williams sounds like Verdon, walks like Verdon, sings like Verdon and dances like Verdon. She has managed to capture both her quirkiness and her grace. Williams is such a remarkable talent and once again shows audiences that she capable of taking on any part with glorious results.

“Fosse/Verdon” is not the strongest limited series this year. With eight episodes, the show does begin to feel somewhat redundant towards the middle of its run. But Williams never gets old. She keeps this show alive, and she may just dance off with her first Emmy.

CURRENT LEAD ACTRESS IN A LIMITED SERIES PREDICTIONS

  1. Michelle Williams – “Fosse/Verdon
  2. Patricia Arquette – “Escape at Dannemora”
  3. Niecy Nash – “When They See Us”
  4. Amy Adams – “Sharp Objects”
  5. Joey King – “The Act”
  6. Aunjanue Ellis – “When They See Us”

WILL WIN: Michelle Williams – “Fosse/Verdon”
SHOULD WIN: Michelle Williams – “Fosse/Verdon”
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED: Connie Britton – “Dirty John”

What do you think will win Lead Actress in a Limited Series this year? Let us know in the comments below. 

CHECK OUT ALL THE OFFICIAL PREDICTIONS ON THE CIRCUIT HUB AND MAKE YOUR OWN!