Emmys 2016: Sorting Out the TV Movie/Limited Series Categories

Courtney B. Vance is looking to receive his first Primetime Emmy Award nomination for his portrayal of Johnnie Cochran on FX’s American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson.

It’s usually the case that the limited series and TV movie races at the Emmys are the most dull, with it often being the case that the winners are normally a foregone conclusion prior to the ceremony, and sweeps are often common. However, this year’s races are so packed with really great and original television, that it is taking a hold of the conversation this awards season.With past Emmy favourites such as Fargo, American Crime, American Horror Story, Sherlock, and Luther, all back, and facing off against critically acclaimed new shows such as American Crime Story: The People v. O.J.Simpson, Roots, Show Me a Hero, All the Way, and Confirmation, it is one of the tightest, and most exciting, races in recent Emmys history in these categories.

On the minds of every awards follower is ‘who’s going to win Outstanding Limited Series?’, mainly because the competition is so strong this year that it is near-impossible to get a consensus choice. There are people who think Fargo is out front, and it is currently the frontrunner, and there are others who think The People v. O.J. Simpson has the edge, myself being one of them. I just feel like the buzz is stronger for O.J. at the moment, which is palpable as we are incredibly close to the show’s finale. I think FX will campaign harder for O.J., with Fargo maybe suffering from House of Cards-type fading buzz, or the feeling that it has already been taken care of, with the first season winning this category in 2014. I’d actually go so far as to say that Fargo is in 3rd, with American Crime in 2nd right now for its second season. It’s gained a lot of buzz following its change in plot-line from season 1, and is likely to score a lot of nominations across the board. Last year, it surprised many in how well it did at the Emmys, gaining surprise nominations for Timothy Hutton and Richard Cabral, and a shock win for Regina King in Supporting Actress. With critically acclaimed performances from Lilli Taylor and Connor Jessup joining the ensemble, it’s definitely the one to watch. Yet, perhaps the biggest spoiler is the unknown quantity: Roots, which premieres next month on the History Channel. A remake of the Emmy winning mini-series, it has an all-star cast, including Oscar winners Forest Whitaker, and Anna Paquin, and looks something really special if it can be pulled off to a decent quality. Then, fighting it out for the final slot is HBO’s Show Me a Hero, FX’s American Horror Story: Hotel, Hulu’s 11.22.63,  BBC’s The Night Manager, and War & Peace. My money is on Show Me a Hero, which had good reviews when it was first shown last September, and HBO often do very well in this category, shown by Olive Kitteridge’s sweep last year.

Bryan Cranston as Lyndon B. Johnson in All the Way.

Over on the Television Movie side of things, it looks like a straight head-to-head battle of the two HBO biographical dramas: All the Way, and Confirmation. Both are yet to air, but both have almighty buzz, making them strong favourites, in what is an admittedly weak year. I think All the Way is outfront for now, mainly due to it’s prestigious subject (Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidency), it’s success as a play (winning multiple Tonys), and that it stars Emmy darling Bryan Cranston in the lead. But Confirmation certainly has a shot, especially if it gets better reviews. We’ll wait to see on that, and it will get clearer as we edge closer to the ceremony, but for now, they’re safely in. Then we come to 3 offerings from the BBC, which will likely take up the last 3 places: Sherlock: The Abominable Bride, Luther, and The Dresser, which will premiere on Starz in May. Given Sherlock’s past successes at the Emmys (in 2014, both Benedict Cumberbatch, and Martin Freeman won for the show, beating hot favourites Billy Bob Thornton, and Matt Bomer), it should safely get in, despite somewhat middling reviews. Luther has also been given some love from Emmy voters in the past, mainly for star Idris Elba, and The Dresser I also see getting in, mainly to do with it’s prestige, and show-stopping performances from Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Anthony Hopkins. Also in contention are NBC’s Coat of Many Colours, Netflix’s A Very Murray Christmas, and Special Correspondants, but I don’t see any upsetting the presumed 5. But we are used to surprises in this category, remember Grace of Monaco last year?

British actor Idris Elba as John Luther in Luther.

In the Lead Actor category, the clear frontrunner at the moment is Bryan Cranston, for reprising his Tony-winning role as Lyndon B. Johnson in All the Way. However, hot on his heels is Courtney B. Vance, looking for his first Emmy nomination for playing defense attorney Johnnie Cochran in The People v. O.J. Simpson. Vance has done outstanding work in the show, and Cranston will have to really blow voters away with his performance if he wants to win yet another Emmy. Not far behind is Idris Elba, for his role as Detective John Luther in Luther, a performance that has earned him Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations this time around, as well as SAG and Critics’ Choice Award wins. Then we have Oscar Isaac, looking to follow up his Golden Globe win with an Emmy for the mini-series Show Me a Hero. Following him is former Emmy champ in this category, Benedict Cumberbatch, for Sherlock: The Abominable Bride, who should easily get another nod. The final place is a tough call, but I’m going for Patrick Wilson for Fargo, which could be helped by a potential sweep in the acting categories. He needs to hope there is enough love for the show, as Ian McKellen, and Anthony Hopkins (The Dresser), Cuba Gooding Jr. (The People v. O.J. Simpson), Tom Hiddleston (The Night Manager), and James Franco (11.22.63), are all looking for a slot in that last place.

Kerry Washington as Anita Hill in Confirmation.

In Lead Actress, it is probably the category with fiercest competition, as it harbors some of the best performances on television in the past year. Looking to finally win her first Emmy is Sarah Paulson, who may finally have the role that gets her over the line, as Marcia Clark on The People v. O.J. Simpson. She would be helped even more if the Emmys introduced episode submissions for lead candidates, as they did in Supporting last year, as she has a killer episode in Episode 6, and should be enough to get her over the line. But there are two other actresses ready to spoil Paulson’s party: Kerry Washington for Confirmation, and Kisten Dunst for Fargo. While Dunst’s performance on Fargo was one of the most critically acclaimed performances of the past year, I think that Golden Globe defeat to Lady Gaga may really hurt her chances: if she can’t beat a singer’s acting debut, what shot does she have against Emmy darlings Paulson and Washington? As for Washington, she has a big, demanding role in Confirmation, as Anita Hall, and if she pulls it off, she’s in the race. Also not to be discounted are Audra McDonald, who reprises her Tony-winning role as blues singer Billie Holliday in a filmed stage production of Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, which premiered on HBO last month, and the two leads from American Crime: Felicity Huffman, who is the only likely returning nominee, and Lili Taylor, who has just been pushed up from supporting to lead. That looks like the probable six, but also in the hunt is former winner Kathy Bates for American Horror Story: Hotel, and Anika Noni Rose, for History’s Roots.

Kirsten Dunst (L), and Jesse Plemons (R) in FX’s Fargo.

Of all the acting categories at this year’s Emmys, I don’t think any category is as stacked as Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie, so much so that it is difficult to narrow the competition to 6 nominees (I can definitely see the 10% rule coming into action here). Leading the way in terms of odds is Jesse Plemons for Fargo, a role that has already earned him a Critics’ Choice Award. I think he definitely gets in, despite internal competition from Bokeem Woodbine and Ted Danson, but I think the most likely winner at the moment is Anthony Mackie for All the Way, in which he portrays Martin Luther King Jr.. It’s a baity role, and if All the Way sweeps, he’s a logical pick to go along with it. Then in third I have John Travolta to receive his first Emmy nomination for playing Robert Shapiro in The People v. O.J. Simpson. It’s a divisive performance, but one that the TV Academy will likely want to reward. After that there is Wendell Pierce for Confirmation, Denis O’Hare for American Horror Story: Hotel, and Sterling K. Brown for The People v. O.J. Simpson rounding out my current 6, with the latter 2 being real scene stealers of their shows, and Pierce’s role being particularly baity. Also in contention are Martin Freeman for Sherlock, a former winner in this category, Hugh Laurie for The Night Manager, and Oscar winners Chris Cooper and Forest Whitaker, for 11.22.63 and Roots, respectively. All of them are viable options, and this category is far from a done deal.

Vanessa Hudgens as Rizzo in Grease: Live.

In Supporting Actress, the path is quite a bit clearer, mainly because the competition is a lot less crowded. Far out in front is Jean Smart, for her role in Fargo. This seems like an ideal place for Fargo to be rewarded in the acting categories, and I’ll stick with it up until nominations, at least. Next we have last year’s winner, Regina King, for American Crime, who’s chances have increased dramatically after Lili Taylor’s move to lead, therefore decreasing the chances of a split vote. After that, Emayatzy Corinealdi has a decent shot if she gets some material similar to Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years a Slave, in Roots, as that could be an opportunity for her to break through and challenge. There’s also Oscar winner Melissa Leo for All the Way in contention, a likely default nominee no matter the quality of her performance, Sarah Paulson for American Horror Story: Hotel, a potential double nominee, and Vanessa Hudgens, whose performance in Grease: Live was critically acclaimed, and gained a lot of buzz. I’m sure more contenders will emerge, but I don’t see any of the Show Me a Hero actresses (Catherine Keener, and Winona Ryder) getting in, and I’m not sure who else has a chance. As we always say, time will tell.

What’s exciting about this year’s races is that we have no idea who’s winning, and who’s getting nominated, which is what we like to see. These categories are usually a foregone conclusion, like last year’s Olive Kitteridge clear-up, so when we have an open race like this, it makes for a great season. Bring it on!

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