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 airs on FOX Sunday, Sept. 22. Tune in week after week as we tackle all things Drama, Comedy, Limited Series and Variety.
In the past, the Emmy category of Outstanding Television Movie may have felt a bit oxymoronic. Long dismissed as the low budget, melodramatic fare on the Lifetime channel, made-for-TV movies have a bit of a reputation. But with the expansion of streaming and premium networks, there has been an emergence of high-quality television movies that often rival theatrical releases. As one-off films, it’s often difficult to establish patterns that can indicate the types of TV movies Emmy voters like.
But one thing’s for sure: anthology series and television shows with unusually long episodes—long enough to qualify for this category even though they are arguably part of a TV series, such as “Sherlock”—have found a home in this category. For the past two years, “Black Mirror” has won Outstanding Television Movie with its anthology of science fiction and horror stories. Will it take home the Emmy for the third year, or will another TV movie knock it off its pedestal?
AND THE NOMINEES ARE…
- “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch”
- “Deadwood: The Movie”
- “King Lear”
- “My Dinner with Hervé”
Nominee #1: “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch”
Episode Synopsis: In 1984, a young programmer begins to question reality as he works to adapt a fantasy novel into a video game. (IMDB)
“Black Mirror: Bandersnatch” is without a doubt the most innovative and original entry into the Emmys this year. It details the efforts of a young video game programmer in the 1980s determined to build an adaptation of an endlessly complex fantasy novel. What makes “Bandersnatch” a truly unique piece of television is that it’s essentially a filmed Choose Your Own Adventure story, where Netflix viewers can make decisions that take the narrative in different directions using their remote. The possibilities are not quite limitless, but far more varied and interactive than we’ve seen before.
Fionn Whitehead and Will Poulter provide enigmatic performances that simultaneously ground the film and lean into its more abstract elements. Despite this, it received mixed reviews, with many audiences criticizing the fact that it sacrifices the narrative in favor of the gimmick, and suggesting that the novelty factor wears off fairly early in the proceedings. Still, it’s hard to deny the momentum “Black Mirror” has at the moment. In the past two years it won for its widely acclaimed episodes “San Junipero” and “USS Callister.” All that remains to be seen is if “Bandersnatch” has enough support to win for the third time.
Nominee #2: “Brexit”
Episode Synopsis: Political strategist Dominic Cummings leads a popular but controversial campaign to convince British voters to leave the European Union from 2015 up until the present day. (IMDB)
“Brexit” was always destined to ruffle some feathers. In it, Benedict Cumberbatch plays Dominic Cummings, the lead political strategist for the Leave campaign, while Rory Kinnear plays Craig Oliver, his counterpart on the Remain campaign. The film is a uniquely frustrating viewing experience, as it depicts every single manipulation and unethical act of bad faith employed to convince the British people to leave the European Union. Naturally, “Brexit” faced criticism from the right for its supposed bias and decision to draw conclusions about the ramifications of historical events that are still very much in flux.
But no one can argue that “Brexit” isn’t an important, timely television event that accomplishes the dual tasks of educating and entertaining viewers. It features strong performances from the lead actors playing the strategists on both sides, each of whom are worthy of awards consideration individually. The one factor that could limit its potential at the Emmys is, ironically, the thing that makes it such a significant piece of work in 2019: its subject matter. It’s an incredibly difficult watch because it picks at wounds that haven’t even begun to heal. Are enough viewers going to be willing to dredge up feelings of anger and injustice without even the promise of an ultimate sense of catharsis?
Nominee #3: “Deadwood: The Movie”
Episode Synopsis: As the residents of Deadwood gather to commemorate Dakota’s statehood in 1889, saloon owner Al Swearengen and Marshal Seth Bullock clash with Senator George Hearst. (IMDB)
Of all the entries in this category, “Deadwood: The Movie” was perhaps the most eagerly anticipated. The show “Deadwood” ran on HBO for three years from 2004 to 2006, earning critical acclaim and a cult following that has ensured its enduring legacy. No stranger to the Emmys, “Deadwood” was nominated 28 times and won eight, for directing, sound editing, makeup, hairstyling, costumes, cinematography, and art direction. In some ways, “Deadwood: The Movie” had a lot to live up to, but on the other hand, this is the kind of beloved show where fans will take any additional content that they can get just to spend a little more time in its universe.
Even if the new “Deadwood” was a totally average, slightly long episode of the show, fans probably would have been satisfied. But it accomplishes a great deal more than that. “Deadwood: The Movie” picks up several years after the series left off, and provides a sense of closure that was lacking in the original finale. This is the last chance “Deadwood” will have at the Emmys, and considering how well it was received, it could go all the way.
Nominee #4: “King Lear”
Episode Synopsis: An aging King invites disaster, when he abdicates to his corrupt, toadying daughters, and rejects his loving and honest one. (IMDB)
“King Lear” is the ultimate prestige project. Stacked with some of the greatest actors currently living, it features incredible performances from Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, Emily Watson, Jim Carter, Jim Broadbent, Andrew Scott, and Florence Pugh, among others. This adaptation has a modern twist, using the original dialogue from Shakespeare’s famous tragedy “King Lear” and placing it in a militaristic present day, which adds a chilling relevance to the proceedings. The production received plenty of positive reviews, specifically praising Anthony Hopkins for his performance as the mad king.
But Shakespeare isn’t exactly made for television, and its limitations are readily apparent even under the best of circumstances. There’s always the question of engagement among ordinary viewers and, more importantly, Emmy voters. Shakespeare has been adapted frequently for the small screen, but his work has very rarely been so much as nominated at the Emmys. Can “King Lear” be the one to break the trend? If anything can make it happen, it’s the combined power of Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson.
Nominee #5: “My Dinner with Hervé”
Episode Synopsis: A look at the life of French actor Hervé Villechaize, co-star of the hit ’70s TV series “Fantasy Island”, who took his own life in 1993 at the age of 50. (IMDB)
A struggling journalist (Jamie Dornan) flubs an interview with the famously prickly Gore Vidal and instead finds himself listening to the life story of Hervé Villechaize (Peter Dinklage), the actor with dwarfism who was best known for his work on “Fantasy Island.” Who hasn’t been there?
It’s an engaging and often tragic tale (Hervé famously committed suicide shortly after the interview was conducted), and it’s entirely reliant on the lead performance of Hervé for its success. Luckily, Dinklage, a capable three-time Emmy winner who has been nominated again this year for his work on “Game of Thrones,” is more than up to the challenge. He brings wit, charm, and a sense of melancholy to the role of Hervé, in addition to the trademark accent. Without his strong leading performance and chemistry with co-star Jamie Dornan, there really isn’t a film here.
The thing that may work against “My Dinner With Hervé” is its lack of buzz. It aired on HBO, a network that is more than capable of drawing attention to its productions, but this one seems to have gone by more or less unnoticed. Will enough voters have seen “My Dinner With Hervé” to make it a legitimate contender in this category? It’s certainly not outside the realm of possibilities given the critical reception of the two lead performances, but it’s nevertheless a bit of a long shot.
CURRENT OUTSTANDING TELEVISION MOVIE PREDICTIONS
- “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch”
- “Deadwood: The Movie”
- “King Lear”
- “My Dinner With Hervé”