ADTV’s Jalal Haddad looks at FX’s American Crime Story and its Limited Series Emmy potential
Before American Crime Story even premiered the show was being hailed as possibly Ryan Murphy’s best work and even the Emmy frontrunner for the limited series race. Now that the pilot has premiered the general consensus has stayed the same. In the ever growing world of limited series, American Crime Story is a fresh enough kind of storytelling to remain at the forefront of Emmy voters’ minds for months until voting in just about every major category. While I am confident The People v. O.J. Simpson will be an Emmy favorite the real question is how exactly FX will campaign and submit the show and its performances in the various races?
O.J. Simpson is the titular character of American Crime Story, and no other actor in a limited series or TV movie will have more buzz going into Emmy season than Cuba Gooding Jr. Every ad will feature Gooding Jr. reciting one of O.J.’s famous lines, and voters will not ignore what is bound to be one of the most talked about programs of any genre this year. Voters will also not be able to resist the opportunity to reward Cuba Gooding Jr. in his own comeback story after winning an Oscar 20 years ago and then having his career plateau. After gaining acclaim at the beginning of his career for playing a football player he is back giving a dramatic performance as the most infamous football player of all time and viewers, voters, and journalists will eat it up.
Judging by the season trailer, O.J. Simpson is not the only character under any sort of trial. Marcia Clark seems to be one of the main focuses and not only will she be trying to take O.J. down but will also be under massive public scrutiny as well. Ryan Murphy knows that Sarah Paulson is the Leonardo DiCaprio of television and that this is her year to win an Emmy. He is clearly giving her the material for not only a nomination but also a win. The only question is how FX will submit her. Depending on how you look at Marcia Clark she is both the protagonist and the antagonist of the story and has enough material to be submitted in lead however FX might not want her to compete with their other lead actresses (Kirsten Dunst and Lady Gaga). No matter what her main competitor would be an actress from FX’s Fargo and in the end will submit her in lead which would also open her up to the possibility of receiving a nomination in supporting for her role on American Horror Story.
FX has a couple of ways they can go about submitting the ensemble defense team of David Schwimmer (Robert Kardashian), John Travolta (Robert Shapiro), and Courtney B. Vance (Johnnie Cochran). The obvious decision would be to submit every actor besides Cuba Gooding Jr. in the supporting race but FX might try to be strategic with their submissions since they will be submitting large supporting ensemble casts for three limited series. The strongest contender of the three is Courtney B. Vance. Of the three defence attorneys, Vance’s Cochran is the only performance that is without gimmick (either heavy prosthetics or a reliance on popular culture), and he is also a well-respected character actor.
FX might try to separate Schwimmer and Travolta by submitting one of them in the less crowded lead actor race. Based off of star power alone John Travolta is the biggest name in the cast and he is the only actor that is also listed as a producer so it would make sense to submit him as the male lead of the show but in the end he will probably have more luck in supporting. His role appears to be small but flashy and throughout the pilot I couldn’t help but compare it to Rob Lowe as Liberace’s plastic surgeon in Behind the Candelabra. Like Lowe, actors might look at his performance and dismiss it as all prosthetics and no substance. Depending on how the season goes, Travolta will probably deliver the manipulative character the pilot has promised and will probably be rewarded with a supporting nomination.
As a character Robert Kardashian almost comes across as the straight man to O.J. Simpson and the other larger than life personalities. Schwimmer’s Kardashian is in the background of a lot of the scenes and with his character we question what’s going on throughout the story. Submitting Schwimmer in the significantly less crowded lead race is much wiser although at the moment he has a lot of hurdles to overcome. Schwimmer’s Kardashian doesn’t stand out amongst all of the other characters because he has no standout lines and no apparent bursts of emotion. He also feels like a gimmick in our post reality TV world with multiple references to his famous family in the first episode alone. Unless voters are absolutely obsessed with The People v. O.J. Simpson Schwimmer is the most vulnerable of the main cast to not be nominated for an Emmy (in either category).
There are other performances that might stand out later in the season, specifically Connie Britton as Faye Resnick and Nathan Lane as F. Lee Bailey. Both actors are Emmy darlings that have been nominated for just about all of their recent television roles. The trailer suggests both Britton and Lane deliver deliciously crude characters and if the limited series resonates with Emmy voters both could come along for the ride.
While American Crime Story likely won’t scale the heights of its cousin American Horror Story because of its more modern production values, receiving five to six acting nominations is not uncommon in the Limited Series/TV Movie categories. We’ve seen FX pull this off before with their other limited series like American Horror Story. Based on what we’ve seen of American Crime Story and how Emmy voters have responded to certain actors in the past, I think the show will earn nominations for best series, directing, writing, and five acting nominations for Cuba Gooding Jr., Sarah Paulson, Courtney B. Vance, John Travolta, and Connie Britton. Unless Schwimmer is given flashier material he is the only member of the core ensemble to be left out of a nomination.
Cuba Gooding Jr.
Courtney B. Vance
Sterling K. Brown