My Predictions (And Hopes) For This Year’s Emmy Nominations, Conclusion
OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A LIMITED SERIES/TV MOVIE
Gratuitous Hamilton dig here, but actually that wasn’t as bad as Supporting Actor.
I’m going to go with the assumption that there will be seven nominees in this category. I suspect that there will be fewer surprises among my choices here than anywhere else, but I may have some different selections. I’m also going to allow for some more nominations per series than I have in previous categories. Once more into the breach.
Connie Britton, The White Lotus
It’s a difficult question as to whether Connie Britton is the best actress in Peak TV who has worked entirely in Peak TV — I might just as easily vote for Juliana Margulies or Christine Baranski, maybe even Keri Russell. But it is clear that Britton is by far the most versatile. She started out in comedy in a mostly thankless role in Spin City, gradually moved up more serious ones in The West Wing and 24, then became one of TV’s most beloved characters as ‘Mrs. Coach’ in Friday Night Lights which got her her first two Emmy nominations. She followed that up in the first and probably best installment of American Horror Story, and then did some truly superb work for first few seasons of Nashville before it collapsed into a soap opera. She is to date the only actress to earn Emmy nominations for three non-comedic series. It is becoming more and more certain that her work as Nicole will earn her another one, and in a way it’s more remarkable because it is by far her least likable character.
Nicole has brought her entire family on vacation and spends almost all of it working. She does everything in her power to micromanage every element of something that might resemble fun. She treats her family with the same level of dismissal we see her handle people who might admire her and almost certainly her employees. She calls herself a liberal, but based on every she says is a closet conservative. She doesn’t even seem to notice when her son abandons the family at the end of their trip.
I don’t think I’ve mention at this point that Britton’s work is one of the funniest performances of this incredible cast. She is as oblivious in her own way as Tanya (see below) except she is so focused on her career that she honestly doesn’t even care if her family is alive or what they think of her. This is going to be a tricky category so I’m not certain, even as Britton rises among the ranks, that she has a chance of winning. But she’s done the most work of the actresses in this category and it would be hard to argue she hadn’t earned it.
Jennifer Coolidge, The White Lotus
Coolidge’s performance was, with the notable exception of Murray Bartlett, the highpoint of this series. Coolidge has been one of the greatest comic actresses I’ve ever seen, and I’ve fundamentally thought she’s been pretty much wasted in every single project she’s been in. Until The White Lotus. Everything Coolidge did in Tanya was absolutely hysterical and pitch-perfect, in part because you could see that there was a lot of baggage from her mother (that she had literally as well as figuratively brought with her) and the utter obliviousness and brutal need that she could express in every scene as well as the utter blank stupidity that was more apparent with her than any other character particularly in every scene she had with Belinda, who because she worked their Tanya thought was natural confidante. (If the Emmys can find a way to nominate Natasha Rothwell, I have no objections). And she left with no emotional growth whatsoever like almost every other guest this week. I know the series is going to take place in a different hotel next season, but that they’re trying to find a way for Coolidge to show up again. Please God, let that be so. And can she get the Emmy so she can give the speech she never got to give when she won this prize from the Critics Choice this March. There is no way on earth it won’t be as hysterical as the characters she plays
Kaitlyn Dever, Dopesick
One of the greatest outrages of the 2020 Emmys was that for reason which were utterly incomprehensible to mean than and now was the relative shafting of the nominees from the extraordinary Netflix limited series Unbelievable. The series told the saga of a serial rapist, mostly from the perspective of the two Colorado detectives chasing him. I’m angry Merritt Weyer didn’t earn a nomination. I’m still furious that Dever’s work as a woman who is the victim of a brutal assault, then by the police force’s indifference and then by her entire community for her attitude, somehow didn’t get a nomination. It is, well, unbelievable to think that Dever will get overlooked by the Emmys this time out.
Betsy, the character Dever memorably portrays is fundamentally different from the character, but there are core similarities. From the start Betsy does not feel belong in her West Virginia community. Most people view her as crazy for taking on the job of a coal miner, and her family can not accept her as a lesbian. It is as much the desperation to escape to a friendlier climate as the back injury she gets while mining that put her down the path to addiction, and everyone else that happens as a result is just like dominoes falling. I’m not sure yet of Betsy’s fate, but given what I saw in the Pilot, it’s not going to be pleasant.
Ever since she broke on to the scene in an unforgettable turn on Justified (at fifteen!) Dever has put together one of the most remarkable set of roles on television in the past decade. Even if she doesn’t win this year, she will win an Emmy eventually. She’s too much of a force to be stopped.
Dakota Fanning, The First Lady
Ellen Burstyn is far more likely to earn a nomination for her superb work as Sara Delano, Eleanor’s mother-in-law who is so protective of her son’s future that she refuses to let an affair that should have ended it do so because she cared more for her family’s reputation then the feelings of the people involved. I will not object if she is nominated; Burstyn is one of the greatest actresses in history. But if I had my own way (and we all know I don’t) I’m inclined to push for Dakota Fanning’s work as Susan Ford.
I realize I may be emphasizing the saga of the Ford family at the expense of the other two First Ladies but in Fanning’s case I have an actual reason. The First Lady covers a lot of ground as its title characters political lives, but also has to cover their jobs as wives and mothers. The Obama children, while prevalent in later episodes, spend much of the series as background characters, and though the Roosevelt’s had five children, we see very few of them. Betty Ford is the only character we see have a real relationship with her children, and that is done mostly through Susan. Fanning shows her as a woman who is clearly the most politically engaged and has the added problem of being a teenager in the White House. She is supportive of her mother through good times and (as we know) many bad times and we also see far more of their relationship before, during and after the White House. Fanning goes out of her way to make Susan Ford fully dimensional and it helps matters that she and Pfeiffer have been down this road before in previous movies.
Fanning has grown immensely from her career as a cutesy child actress and a lot of it has to do with her work on television. She played a groundbreaking woman of a different sort on the undervalued The Alienist and I look forward to seeing what she does in the most recent retelling of the notorious Tom Ripley. I actually look forward to seeing what she can do as a different version of Hilary Clinton in the recent announced Rodham. Fanning will get her share of awards eventually. I’d just like it if it started now.
Betty Gilpin, Gaslit
I have admired Betty Gilpin for years, almost against my will. It takes a lot of work to like an actress who goes out of her way to play character — as she did in Nurse Jackie and her Emmy nominated role in GLOW — who go out of their way to not want to follow the rules or even acknowledge that you should play by them. I actually find it interested that playing Maureen Dean; Gilpin may very well be playing for the first time in her career a basically heroic character.
I have serious doubts that Maureen was the motivating force behind John Dean’s actions in real life but in the context of Gaslit and Gilpin’s performance I didn’t doubt it for a moment. I think John Dean pursues Maureen so avidly because even while she hates every aspect of his job, she is the only character who believes that he’s a good man capable of doing the right thing. During the greatest power struggle in history, she gives him the hints he needs to come out looking on the right side while going through a personal tragedy. It might be a cliché to say Maureen is John’s redemption, but they have been married for fifty years. Watching Gilpin’s work, I can totally understand why. She has long odds of getting a nomination, but I’m pushing for her anyway
Andie MacDowell, Maid
Andie MacDowell’s entire career has been one of no respect from anybody. She was considered a minor figure in her breakout role in Sex, Lies and Videotape. In Four Weddings and a Funeral she was considered the weakest link in the cast. She was too sexy to be considering a serious actress; not sexy enough to be able to lead a film. I’m not saying that her role on Paula is revenge of some sort, but it’s hard to look at every note she hits as the bipolar mother in Maid as if she’s daring the critics who spent her entire career writing her off as daring to prove so.
Paula spends the entire series in a world of her own. At no time in Alex’s ordeal is she a source of even the slightest help; in fact, she does everything in her power to drag Alex down and blame her for doing in the first place. Some might find it unbelievable that Alex goes through the entire series and never has the clichéd shouting match with her mother as to how she destroyed her life. You get the impression that Alex has spent her entire life basically living under Paula’s roof and dealing with her making her life miserable that at this point she fundamentally finds it easier to just accept Paula as being a burden, someone she’s actually raised more than she has herself. The fact that Qualley and MacDowell are real life mother and daughter adds power in every scene there in.
And as much as we want to hate Paula — it would be easy to see her as much a villain as everything else Alex deals with — we know that Paula is as much a warning sign to Alex as she is her mother. In the final scene between the two, Alex realizes that the best life for her and her daughter is to let go of her mother. Paula believes that this is another temporary situation. Alex knows it isn’t, and it breaks your heart.
I know that are great performers in this category some who do deserve this Emmy more than MacDowell. But I’m not gonna lie. It would do my heart good to see her up there. It really would.
Cobie Smulders, Impeachment: American Crime Story
Sometimes girls just want to have fun, and you can’t deny that about Smulders’ performance as Ann Coulter. I could very easily be arguing for any of the other great supporting performances in this category: Annaleigh Ashford and Sarah Paulson did extraordinary work as Paula Jones and Linda Tripp respectively. And even though her role was far smaller than any of these many are arguing Edie Falco should be nominated for her work as Hilary because, well, she’s Edie Falco. But let’s be clear: in what could often be a relentlessly grim series that showed us just how devious people are in the corridors of power, Smulders’ work was a ray of light. I think that’s because there was practically no difference from the public face cable news sees and the one we saw behind the scenes. For Smulders’, Bill Clinton’s fate was completely Wonderland; sentence first, verdict afterwards, and then maybe consider trivial things like a trial or even a crime. Everybody spoke in such guarded terms throughout Impeachment it was actually refreshing to hear Smulders basically say that she wanted Clinton out of the White House. “I don’t like the guy, I don’t care what the people think, we’re getting rid of him. We’ll work out the details later.” Clinton is portrayed as a predator in this series, to be sure, but Impeachment makes a clear that was irrelevant to why they were hunting him. Nowhere is that more clear than in Smulders’ performance, and I think she’s earned a nomination for it.
FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION
Judy Greer: The Thing about Pam/The First Lady
At this point, it should be clear to everyone that Judy Greer is one of the most remarkable character actresses working today. But as is her want, she’s always overlooked. Such as likely to be the case this year, even though she gave two exceptionally different performances in two very different series.
For all the flaws that were absolutely evident in The Thing about Pam, Greer’s delightful performance as Leah Askey, a Missouri prosecutor who more or less fabricates a murder case against an innocent man, ignores just how cagey her star witness, delights in hanging out with the police chief, judge and jury foreman during the case, basically ignores every aspect of law railroading the guy, runs a successful political campaign on it, and then basically does everything in her power to pretend that none of it happened when things starting going wrong, was entertaining from beginning the end. The only reason you didn’t recoil in the utter miscarriage of justice was because Greer basically played as someone who didn’t care and in her textbook portrayal of the mean girl who gets her comeuppance. It was delightful.
Greer gave a completely different kind of performance in The First Lady as the no-doubt fictional Nancy Howe, a friend of Betty Ford’s who becomes one of her most vocal allies, a loyal companion, and who the powers that be (Cheney and Rumsfeld) work to destroy just to get rid of. There was so much power in Greer’s work and so much energy that the audience felt sorrow for her even when her character’s fate was inevitable.
At a certain point Judy Greer will get recognized for being more than well, the Judy Greer character. She’s been on so many undervalued series and done so much great voice work (hi Cheryl!) that it’s going to happen.
I’ll wrap things up with a few thoughts about sketch comedy and late night. Can we find a way to recognize Seth Meyers and Desus Mero before they become, well, traditional? I’ll settle for writing in the latter case. Maybe we can find a way to nominate Michael Che for his work on HBO Max and Ziwe for, well, being her. And I don’t know what category the series fits in, but let’s find a place for Pause with Sam Jay.
I have finished this long and winding road. I will see you a week from Tuesday when I get to tell you in somewhat less detail how much the actual nominations have disappointed me. (And if Euphoria gets nominated for Best Drama, I will go nuclear. Just a warning.)