My Predictions (And Hopes) For This Year’s Emmy Nominations, Week 3, Part 1
OUTSTANDING LIMITED SERIES
Before I get started, I’m going to break my own rule and advocate for a couple of nominees in the Best TV Movie category. I would be grateful if the Emmys would nomination Ray Donovan: The Movie and Zoey’s Extraordinary Christmas. The former was an exceptional conclusion to a series that to that point I thought overrated and overblown (and as I have written even redeemed it) and the latter is the fitting conclusion to a series the Emmys unthinkably decided to give no real acknowledgment to when it was on the air. (Whoever decided that Emily in Paris was a better series than Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist needs to have their membership revoked. All of them.) Make it up to two series you didn’t real give enough appreciation to when they were on the air.
BEST LIMITED SERIES
I’m well aware that the cap for these nominations still inexplicably comes out to five. Nevertheless, I intend to make room for six as well as one for consideration. Furthermore, there will be limitations in this category because of series I haven’t seen yet (I have yet to see either The Dropout or Under The Banner of Heaven and readers of my blog know no force on earth will make me see Inventing Anna.) Despite that, I think most of my selections will mirror the ones the Emmys will make. And some they really should.
American Crime Story: Impeachment (FX)
Let’s start with a lecture. There is absolutely no reason why this exceptional written, directed and acted series — a show that is just a relevant to today’s America as the first two installments were — have been greeted with indifference from critics and basically ignored by awards shows. Except there is a reason. It’s not fatigue from politics the last few years, it’s the simple fact that all of these good Hollywood liberals and so many great writers still don’t want to admit a simple truth.
That for the better part of a quarter of a century they have lionized and deified a sexual predator and slut-shamed everybody who dared called him one. That they were willing to consider his wife a hero and make her President in her own right for the simple act of standing by a man who had spent his life harassing and abusing women. That we shamed Monica Lewinsky, called Paula Jones a hick and Linda Tripp a buffoon not because we didn’t believe them, but because they were too ugly to bring down a president.
That’s why Impeachment, despite the fact that every performance, from Beanie Feldstein’s work as Monica to Sarah Paulson’s portrayal of Linda Tripp convinced of her own self-importance as a lowly bureaucrat to Clive Owen’s portrayal of Clinton as something close to a self-righteous demon is spot on, despite the fact that every element of the story is essential to the America we live as the trial of O.J. Simpson and the murder of Gianni Versace, despite the fact that Ryan Murphy held a mirror to our society that is essentially no less telling than his previous two installments, will almost certainly be shrugged off by the Emmys. Hollywood says they want to speak to truth to power, but its very particular truth. If Murphy had charted the safe path, said that Ann Coulter and Kenneth Starr had decided to impeach Clinton because they didn’t like him, if they’d kept in the cameos of Matt Drudge and Brett Kavanaugh and George Conway, if they shown Tripp as a self-important villain who didn’t care about anybody but herself, this would be the frontrunner like the previous two entries. But no, it showed Clinton stalking Monica and showing her as a gaslit woman, it showed him deriding his co-worker for daring to say he was a sexist, and it showed Hilary as someone everyone was afraid of, who knew the truth, and stuck with him for her own selfish reasons. Impeachment deserves to be watched by every American and given every award it can get for its bravery. It deserves to be nominated for that as well as its quality. And it’s for all those reasons Hollywood will ignore it. I won’t.
Danny Strong has built an impressive career as a writer bringing us behind the scenes of politics and contemporary situation that would previous be considered unfilmable. In collaboration with Barry Levenson he has done much the same in Dopesick creating the slightly fictionalized look at how Richard Sackler (played by Michael Stahlberg in a performance that deserves to be at the top of the list for Emmy consideration) single-mindedly created the opoid crisis for the sole purpose of cementing a legacy for himself. By taking us through the world of a West Virginia doctor and his patients, a group of drug reps who care only about winning contests than the harm their drugs are doing, a DEA agent who focused her energy on Oxycontin and lost everything to it and the prosecution that slowly but surely brought it down, Strong, Levenson and the incredible cast have created what may be the strongest work of art about the evils of the drug war since Traffic nearly twenty years ago. Some might say there’s a happy ending when this is resolved, but if you followed the story you know there isn’t one for anybody.
The First Lady (Showtime)
I’ll admit some people might have problems with the constantly shifting timelines between the stories of three groundbreaking First Ladies. But all of that is more than overwhelming by the brilliance of the performances of three of the greatest actresses of all time as the leads: Gillian Anderson, making Eleanor Roosevelt utterly human as she adjusts to how the White House will never suit her, Michelle Pfeiffer as Betty Ford, thrust into a role she never planned for, dealing with demons from her past and the petty menaces of her husband’s aides, and Viola Davis as Michelle Obama, who becomes the first African-American First Lady, and finds every element of her life being handled by people who hate her for just being. Every single role in this series is perfectly cast and many more are worthy of nominations — my personal hopes are that Aaron Eckhart and Ellen Burstyn receive nominations for their work as Gerald Ford and Sara Delano respectively, but there isn’t a false note in a single actor in the cast. There might have been an easier way to make these series, but there wasn’t a better one.
The only thing standing between this series and the boatload of nominations it deserves is its network. If Gaslit aired on HBO or Amazon, it would be the frontrunner for Best Limited Series no question, but because it airs on a network that most cable subscribers do not know exists, there is a possibility that voters would overlook it. That possibility gets more remote by the day. It helps that the series is about Watergate, a scandal that we like to tell ourselves the good guys won but has never been shown in this form before. And the fact that Pickering as his cast tend to play so much of it not as high drama or thriller but as farce with All The President’s Men terrified to do anything to make King Richard (we never even see Nixon) angry at them, it plays perfectly. It also helps that the story is mapped up by two marriages: John and Martha Mitchell and John and Mo Dean. Promotions understandably focused most of the attention on the Mitchells, mainly because they are (superbly) played by Sean Penn and Julia Roberts respectively, each of whom doing exceptional work. But it is the courtship and marriage of the Deans, played by undervalued TV veterans Dan Stevens and Betty Gilpin, that is the heart of this series and makes us look at just how much we’re willing to sell our soul even if the buyer has no use for it and how redemption nevertheless lingers. Throw in exceptional performances from great character actors (Shea Whigham deserves a nomination for his brilliant work as G. Gordon Liddy) and you have one of the best shows of 2022. I hope the Emmys admit as much.
Some series are just too hard to binge. It does not make them any less powerful watch or less necessary. Netflix’s story of Alex, a single mother whose escape from the abusive father of her child is only the start of what becomes a Kafkaesque nightmare was one of the most horrifying series I’ve watched in decades, precisely because there wasn’t a single element that rang false, no matter how horrific the predicament for Alex became. Margaret Qualley has achieved the superstardom that she has been hinting at for the past two years, and she is given pitch-perfect support by her real-life mother Andie MacDowell, who has finally and completely realized her full potential. All of the performances are haunting all the way down because you don’t really see so many of the characters in Alex’s world as so much villainous as utterly indifferent to her problems. There are no doubt millions of Alex’s in the world every day and we just walk past them on the street, in their broken down cars, and as they clean up our houses. We need to ask more questions about the women we hire as domestic workers. I hope Maid does so.
The White Lotus (HBO)
An utter and complete rarity: a comedy that is almost certain to dominate the Emmy nominations in this category. Yes, so much of what happened in the title resort could be viewed as yet another subtle level of the class struggles between the rich and powerful as they go on vacation, but Mike White and his brilliant cast, from the incredible Jennifer Coolidge and Connie Britton to the awe-inspiring Murray Bartlett as Armond, made sure the viewer, at the very least, had fun every step of the way even as the guests and staff were going through other misery. Some critics have argued that the reason so many people love Succession is because they like seeing the rich and powerful as miserable as us. That argument works far better in The White Lotus, partly because they’re not as rich and partly because we actually get to see how miserable they’re willing to make the staff — and their wives — in order to enjoy themselves. At the very least you should when you go on this kind of vacation and act like the guests here, you deserve what you find in your luggage.
FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION
I had to make a choice between either Scenes from a Marriage or this series. Both were very ambitious stories centered on two very different couples with very different struggles at the core of their relationships. Each centered around two extraordinary actors — the actress in each case an Oscar winner, the actor in each case one of the most undervalued in their craft. And both were revelations technically. So why do I lean towards Landscapers over Scenes? Ultimately because the former was far superior technically. The former series was a marvel — it was as much as Scenes as Marriage — but Landscapers was far more ambitious on a directorial and technical level, breaking down barriers and walls that even in the era of Peak TV I truly hadn’t seen before. I honestly have no more idea of the couples’ guilt in the murders they committed at the end of the series that I did at the beginning, and unlike every single true crime story, for Landscapers that it was its strength. It made clear from the beginning “This is a Story.” And it was a hell of a one to watch.
Tomorrow I start covering Actors in TV Movie/Limited Series (Again, count our blessings Hamilton isn’t here.)