Jalal Haddad looks at the competitive Limited Series Emmy race where FX and HBO compete with two acclaimed series each. In such a tight race, any could win.
The Limited Series Emmy race transformed over the past seven years. It once existed as a category so spare with viable contenders that sometimes only two programs were nominated. The Television Academy even had to merge the category with the TV movie contenders just to create competition. Flash forward seven years later where four of the most buzzed about and critically acclaimed series of the year are pitted against each other. It makes some of the comedy and drama races seem boring in comparison.
This year the Limited Series race is so tight that the new popular vote system makes predictions even more complicated knowing that a series could potentially win with just 21% of the vote. With such a tight race, it will be very telling which of the four main contenders (Feud, Fargo, Big Little Lies, The Night Of) pulls ahead after nominations with wide support from the below-the-line branches, which might be the key with an Academy-wide popular vote ballot. Until then, the Emmy is up for grabs.
Feud: Bette & Joan As the designated Emmy winner from the moment FX ordered the project, Feud had expectations to fulfill. For the most part, the new anthology exceeded them. Friends of Dorothy were given the dosage of camp and glamor they were promised, and Ryan Murphy made sure the relevancy of two aging working women pitted against each other remained central. The only question that remains is will Feud maintain enough excitement to push Murphy to his second Limited Series trophy in a row.
Big Little Lies Stealing a lot of Feud’s thunder, Big Little Lies became a TV phenomenon starring Oscar winners that the internet obsessed over boasting some of the best performances from Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, and Laura Dern since the 90’s. Big Little Lies clearly has the momentum heading into the Emmy race, and it might even have the upper hand with the new popular vote system. In the end, HBO will have to head a huge campaign overcoming the misogynistic stigma from older white male voters that the show is simply an adaptation of a frothy beach read about a bunch of upper class stay-at-home moms. If Big Little Lies can raise traction there, it might just become the most surprising winner of a top award in recent memory.
The Night Of Premiering all the way back in July, the immediate thought was that voters would have quickly moved on from The Night Of, but after a slow burning fan reaction and a strong showing at the various guild awards, that is apparently not the case. With recognition from eight different guild groups, it would be unprecedented for The Night Of to be snubbed by Emmy voters. With such strong industry support, it raises the question of whether or not The Night Of is being underestimated as a major Emmy contender especially with a new popular vote system in place.
Fargo (Season 3) The past two seasons of Fargo both left Emmy season with 18 nominations a season (36 total), and the first season even won the top award of the night as well as a directing award. Beyond that, Emmy voters have been skeptical to award the show in any major category, particularly the actors races where many of the cast members have gone into the ceremony as frontrunners only to go home empty handed.
The third season shows all the makings of a great season and even maintains a stellar critical average, but the excitement amongst fans has failed in comparison. Maybe voters just need time to catch up or maybe they’re just bored with the show. At this point, it would be surprising for Fargo to become the frontrunner and win the top award for a second time, but if it earns 18 more nominations across 12 different branches, the Coen Brothers-inspired anthology series might head into the final round of Emmy voting with the upper hand.
American Crime (Season 3) ABC struggled in building excitement around Oscar winner John Ridley’s borderline brilliant attempt at understanding American social politics on a personal level. American Crime is not an easy sell to general audiences, and most branches of the Television Academy dismissed it besides the actors. The third installment of the series quietly gives the ensemble some of their best material to date with Regina King leading the way and staking her claim as one of the best actresses on TV. The anthology series earned its spot as one of the great Limited Series of today, but after the second season (one of the best shows of 2016) was mostly left out in the cold by guild groups American Crime risks being forgotten this year.
Guerrilla After winning an Oscar for writing 12 Years a Slave, John Ridley made a successful career out of helming socially relevant dramas on television. His newest project, Guerrilla, focuses on the Immigration Act of 1971 and the British Black Panther movement. In a less crowded year, Guerrilla would be a strong contender, but in such an overcrowded category, it faces an uphill battle to catch the frontrunners.
The Young Pope There seems to be two general factions of opinions on The Young Pope. Those who simply didn’t like the show, and those who respected it but felt it was too intellectual even for them. Neither state directly translates into overall Emmy traction. This speaks to a problem Sorrentino’s English language projects tend to face in terms of exciting general audiences and industry voters. Still, no network knows how to campaign a show like HBO. If there is any sort of excitement around The Young Pope, they could market it as the foreign arthouse version of television and sneak it into the race.
Genius National Geographic debuted their new anthology series, Genius, with a first season focused on Albert Einstein throughout different moments of his life. Oscar-winner Geoffrey Rush garnered some awards chatter for his portrayal of Einstein, but National Geographic probably released the new show too late in the Emmy cycle to gain enough traction to compete against popular hits like Feud and Big Little Lies or category staples like American Crime and Fargo.
American Horror Story: Roanoke American Horror Story almost singlehandedly shaped the current TV obsession with limited series after almost every network long abandoned the idea of a prestige miniseries. Now, the horror anthology series risks being left behind by Emmy voters. In an attempt to reclaim relevancy, Murphy restructured the sixth season to first focus on a reenactment and to then refocus on the filming of a new reality series mixing the original victims and the reenactors. Likely because the sixth season was less character-driven than past seasons, audiences didn’t connect as well as they usually do. FX feels likely to push campaigns for their other limited series instead.
When We Rise Dustin Lance Black’s attempt at an epic portrayal of the modern American LGBT movement had the potential to become one of the most exciting projects on broadcast TV this year. Then, it premiered. The 8-hour series was overzealous and overstuffed with too many storylines, historical events to cover, and terrible wig choices. In the end, most viewers couldn’t get through the first episode because Black provided a script that forgot the Queer community’s tenacity to battle bigotry with culture. ABC also destroyed any chance of success for the show by dumping all eight hours into one week forcing viewers to dedicate their entire week to an incredibly dense show.