Emmy Spotlight: Will ‘Roanoke’ Return to Emmy Glory?

Roanoke

ADTV considers the Emmy potential for Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story: Roanoke

Well, that happened…

American Horror Story: Roanoke premiered mid-September in an exciting cloud of mystery. Previous seasons all but spilled their guts with highly stylized trailers that often felt more cohesive than the actual seasons they forecasted. Roanoke saw none of that. We actually only learned the theme and title of the new season when it originally premiered. Something inspired Ryan Murphy to work against his basic instincts, and, for a while, it really paid off. The sixth season of his Emmy-favorite series finally wrapped last night, wrapping a gruesome bow around wildly mixed results.

First, the good: Kathy Bates dipped into her inner Annie Wilkes to give us The Butcher in the first half of the season. Literally no one on Earth could wrap their tongues such clunky horror dialogue that invoked both the blood moon and “consecrate” so deliciously. Then, Murphy flipped the script halfway through and gave us Kathy Bates playing the actress who played The Butcher in “My Roanoke Nightmare.” This twist became the ultimate meta/snake eating its own tale saga, and Bates played the new role to the hilt. That is, until Murphy and crew killed her off just when things were getting great.

That leads to the bad: the back half of the year felt new and different, pulling American Horror Story into something of a bloodthirsty Big Brother scenario. It seemed to really work for exactly one episode until the  entire cast started dropping left and right. In excruciatingly gory ways. Forget emotional connections or logic and reason. Roanoke devolved into “here a slice, there a cut” with the attention of a teen off his ADD meds. Potentially, I’m the only person in the world that found this disappointing. Granted, it offered a more horrific take on the material than any season since Asylum. These events actually depicted a horror story over the recent costume dramas Murphy seemed to favor. Yet, I always relished the moments where Murphy and his writers combined the horror with great performances – namely Murder House and Asylum.

And then there’s that finale, which danced uncomfortably between tabloid and reality TV satire and the horror pathos that closed the season. After weeks of exceedingly graphic deaths and real scares, the finale felt like an unnecessary coda. It seemed at once both choppy and rushed and meandering. I’m not sure how really you could have ended this series, but Chapter 10 is not what I wanted it to be. It left a bad taste that effectively diminished any good will engendered by such a raw approach.

But that’s just my take.

Roanoke
(Photo: FX)

What will Emmy think of Roanoke?

In its heyday, the American Horror Story series received recognition for both its creative flourishes and its accomplished acting. Neither are likely to factor heavily into the Emmy 2017 conversation. First, the unplugged nature of the season eliminates much of the opportunity for extravagant set designs. I’m still not over Hotel losing that race. Perhaps, the Television Academy will appreciate the construction of the Roanoke house, but its spartan interiors pale in comparison to much that came before. The costumes are effectively modern save the flashbacks and the dead colonist garments. Maybe there’s a slight opportunity there. The creative, reality TV influenced, and often hand-held cinematography could warrant attention as well, but many complained about the overall darkness of the series. That could indicate that the cinematography branch won’t look kindly on the proceeding for not effectively solving the problem of available light sources (much of the show takes place at night during the “blood moon.”)

So, with such limited creative arts potential, that leaves the actors. Kathy Bates is the strongest possibility here, even with Emmy favorite Sarah Paulson taking three roles. Her midseason monologue illustrating a descent into madness offered some of the finest moments in the entire American Horror Story series. However, beyond Bates, pickings are indeed slim, and we have the series framing to blame for that. The reality show whoring and adherence/devotion to horror movie tropes didn’t give the actors much room to grow or develop their characters. Paulson offered a fine trifecta, but her British accent bordered on comic. When she wasn’t “on camera” recounting her story in the first half of the season, Lily Rabe began to develop an emotionally resonant storyline as the characters returned to Roanoke. But then she died. As did everyone else in a fit of running and screaming and bloodletting.

Yes, it’s good horror, but it doesn’t make for great acting.

Given the Television Academy’s polite refusal of HotelRoanoke isn’t likely to stem that tide. It provided a definite uptick in overall quality, but this season as it finished didn’t provide Emmy a reason to return. I’m not saying it will be shut out, but last season’s eight nominations may not be as low as it gets.

Guaranteed Nominations

Kathy Bates, Supporting Actress

Possible Nominations 

Limited Series
Sarah Paulson, Actress (or Supporting Actress)
Lily Rabe, Actress (or Supporting Actress)
Production Design
Editing
Cinematography
Costumes

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