Part 3: Limited Series
There are a lot of viable contenders, particularly from HBO which went in very big for them this year. How many of them are viable depends on how they are ranked by the academy. I have my opinion; they have theirs. So assuming things are going to go up, here are my choices for the six nominees that I think will fill this category
I Know This Much is True (HBO)
This was one of the most painful experiences in a year that was full of agonizing series. But after getting through the wrenching anguish, I realized that you can’t deny the strength of this series. I imagine everyone will focus on the incredible work of Mark Ruffalo’s dual performances of Dominic and Thomas, twin brothers who each seem to be acting out their version of the Book of Job. But from the top down, the cast was impressive, and it made the revelations of the final episode actually give an element of relief to those who were left. It may have hard to watch, but you couldn’t look away. And for that reason, it deserves to be considered for Best Limited Series.
Little Fires Everywhere (Hulu)
One of my favorite experiences of this blasted lockdown was going through this impressive adaptation of Celeste Ng’s book, showing the deeply contrasted relationships of two very flawed mothers, one white who seems to have it all, one black who seems not to, and both with secrets they refuse to admit. Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington gave towering performances in a year filled with brilliant female triumphs. But it was the performances of the children, particularly Lexi Underwood and Megan Stott that pushed this adaptation to the level of Peak TV. Considering how much of what has happened in the last few months about racial inequality, it’s hard to think of a more telling series about this era — well, there is one more, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
Mrs. America (FX on Hulu)
Supporting Actress this year is going to be crowded with so many of the greatest actresses from television of the past decade playing some of the greatest feminist icons of all time. Of course, the main attraction is one of the greatest actress period, Cate Blanchett paying Phyllis Schaffly, that horrendous or beloved (depending on your political orientation) nemesis of the ERA who became exactly what she was arguing women shouldn’t become in the name of inequality. We all know how close the ERA may come to passing thanks to current events, so we should remember the fight that happened then — and why it’s still going on
The Outsider (HBO)
I’m not sure why this show is being considered under the regular series band wagon, considering how much work Richard Price did to make sure it took place outside the Stephen King universe and that there isn’t yet room for a sequel. What I do know that this is one of the more perfect adaptations of King’s work for the small screen, particularly because so much of it focused on it not being a typical horror story until we were nearly at the halfway point. The creepiness began to rise very gradually, and it was maintained pitch perfectly by the cast, especially the exceptional Cynthia Erivo as the Holly Gibney who didn’t fit King’s description and yet you couldn’t imagine anyone else in the role. I don’t know if or how it’ll be brought back for a second season. But I am eager to see it recognized.
So many of these limited series this year focused on exceptional female performances. Unbelievable centered around three women at the center of the acts of rapist — Kaitlyn Dever as Marie, a battered teenager who’d been battered by the system so much that her assault was neither the beginning nor the end of her traumatic experiences, and Merritt Weyer and Toni Collette as two Colorado detectives, who slowly but surely begin to put the pieces together to put a predator behind bars. A lot of people (myself included) have been asking questions of the police procedural recently. Unbelievable shows the best of police by also showing the worst of them, and we can’t deny that this story is anything but pertinent to the world we live in.
Who would’ve thought that the most fantastic television series visually would be, by this point, the most relevant one on of the bunch? Set in the future of the world of Watchmen on the centennial of the massacre at Tulsa, the series did the best job of demonstrating the ferocity of race relations, past and present. Of course, it did all this by feature one of the most dazzling stories with some of the greatest performances of the year, from Regina King to Hong Chau to Don Johnson. In many ways, this series is the best comic book adaptation you’ve seen in a long time. In other ways, it’s so familiar to our world it hurts. The almost certain favorite to win the big prize.
FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION
After all of the darkness that we’ve gone through the last few months, on and off the screen, couldn’t we all use a laugh? Comic limited series rarely happen these days, so why not consider something that was actually joyful. Kathryn Hahn, that incredible talent who never seems to get recognized despite more than fifteen years of superb performances, got to play a woman whose son went off to college, and tried to fill the void in her life with continuing education, friends at her job… and a very specific type of online pornography. Meanwhile, her son, a borderline bully who cruised all his life found he was totally unprepared for what college could bring him. Admittedly, we didn’t get to the end of the book… but we did get the scene that Tom Perotta deliberately went out of his way to avoid. This series gave me so many small laughs over the end of 2019. It may not be HBO’s most ambitious project or powerful, but it was one of the most fun.