My Predictions For This Year’s Emmys: Limited Series, Part 1

OUTSTANDING LIMITED SERIES

Please explain why this wasn’t nominated for Best Limited Series…nytimes.com

Before I begin with the nominees for Limited Series I feel some editorializing is in order.

Ever since the era of Peak Limited Series began in earnest — I’d say it was around 2015 with the arrivals of Fargo and The People V. O.J. Simpson — I have had issues with why the Emmys which has expanded to more nominees in every other category is still at five in Limited Series. That said I tend to think that they have done an excellent job overall with their selections over that time. I haven’t always been thrilled by them — I’ll never understand why in 2017–2018, they focused so much on the traditional Godless over the extraordinary Twin Peaks, and I couldn’t fathom why they gave so many nominations to the superficial Hollywood over the more substantive Little Fires Everywhere and Unbelievable in 2019–2020 — but overall, I think they’ve done a very good job with their selections in both series and acting nominations. This year, however, I believe with every fiber of my being, the Academy dropped the ball.

I have no problem with The White Lotus and Dopesick being the leading nominees, and I actually think The Dropout should have gotten more nominations. But the nominations for Best Limited Series for Inventing Anna and Pam and Tommy strike me as the worst the Emmys have given since Limited Series became so competitive. Both series fundamentally strike me as superficial compared to some of the more daring series that aired in the last year — Gaslit, which was more or less shut out, Scenes from a Marriage and Impeachment which received almost no major recognition, and Maid was far superior and substantive especially compared to Inventing Anna. What makes this even harder to comprehend is why the Emmys saw so much in them. Neither series was particularly well regarded by critics, and there’s a pretty good argument that neither story required being told as a limited series. (It is particularly telling that while the HCA was willing to give nominations in Limited Series: Streaming to Maid, Under the Banner of Heaven and Candy, Inventing Anna did not receive a single nomination.)

The only explanation for Inventing Anna is the power of Shondaland. That’s all I can think of. That it was more fun to binge than Maid was which I guess is the standard for Netflix series these days. Pam and Tommy doesn’t compare favorably to Gaslit or Under the Banner of Heaven, and hell, The Thing about Pam was more fun. This is a major step backwards for the Emmys, one I hope they can recover from. (They can start by expanding to six nominees in this category next year.)

Anyway rant over. Let’s deal with the nominees.

OUTSTANDING LIMITED SERIES

Dopesick: 19–5.

For: If the Emmys decide — as they have had a tendency to do for the past seven seasons — to give the award for a limited series that is substantive as well as extremely high quality, then the choice among these five is clear. Telling the story of how the creation of Oxycontin — the single-minded decision by Richard Sackler to create an epidemic in order to line Purdue Pharma’s pocket book — led to the opoid epidemic that America has been struggling with for over thirty years was one of the most riveting and haunting shows of the entire season. Creators Danny Strong and Barry Levenson took what should have been an impossible narrative and transformed into one of the most horrifying series in recent years, showing how Oxy destroyed the lives and existences of so many communities, how Purdue did everything in its power to manipulate a broken regulatory system to keep making money, how the justice system was blocked by them at every term, and how even the destruction of the company did nothing to even harm the Sackler fortune. When Danny Strong accepted his prize for Best Limited Series from the HCA, he called upon the Justice Department to indict the Sacklers. If you knew nothing about them before this, you would come away from Dopesick demanding they be drawn and quartered. This series told a story that needed to be told and that no network wanted to touch. That it did so with some of the most powerful performances this year — led by an extraordinary Michael Keaton — was just icing on the cake. Against: Any other year, this series would be the out and out favorite to win. But when The White Lotus got twenty-three nominations, you get the feeling that the Academy might be more interested in having fun than making a point.

…but her series was. denofgeek.com

Inventing Anna: 9–2.

For: Sometimes girls just wanna have fun. And such is the case of Anna Delvey, a legendary German heiress who the social scene worshipped so much they didn’t seem to notice that she was robbing them blind in the most creative of ways. Told from the perspective of two of the greatest young actresses of the past decade on television — Julia Garner in the title role and Anna Chlumsky as the journalist telling the story — we learn just how Anna managed to pull of some cons so implausible that you wouldn’t believe them if they hadn’t actually happened. With some of the best actors working today — Anna Deavere Smith, Laverne Cox and Terry Kinney, just to name a few — the viewer is drawn into the webs that Anna spins. This is the kind of story that Shonda Rhimes, in her writing debut for Netflix spins so well. Against: The series got three nominations altogether, the least of the five nominated series. And really the question is: how’d it get that many? On imdb.com, Inventing Anna is by far the lowest rated of the five nominees (for the record Gaslit and The Thing about Pam rank higher by fans and critics as well and its not even in the same ballpark as Maid.) Inventing Anna is the worst aspects of a Netflix series; it’s has all the makings of binge-watching, but when you get involved you realize there’s no there there. There were quite a few examples of great Netflix limited series this year that could have been nominated. I’m baffled that Inventing Anna conned the Academy.

Pam and Tommy: 9–2.

For: The story of the most infamous sex tape in the history of the medium, even after the internet made tapes ubiquitous. The story of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee is one of the most infamous in the history of scandals, and with so many series trying their hardest to be about serious subjects, it’s kind of refreshing to see one on any platform that embraces bad behavior and the utter trashiness of its subject. With astonishing performances by Lily James and Sebastian Stan in the title roles and some of the most memorable creative forces (and you know, a penis you’ll never forget) Pam and Tommy delves into the lives of one of the biggest and most fun tabloid stories in years. Against: Much like with Inventing Anna, you really wonder why this story couldn’t have been told in a two-hour movie rather than an eight part limited series. I’m all for having fun and celebrating bad behavior among the elite — hell, The White Lotus was exceptional at this — but even more than Inventing Anna, I think the Emmys really went overboard with recognition for this series. There were more powerful limited series about failed marriages this year, and more interesting stories about sex scandals that became late night staples. I’m not sure what was so special about Pam and Tommy that made it more deserving then them.

The Dropout: 4–1.

For: If we’re going to nominate a serio-comic series about an attractive blonde woman who conned some of the most powerful people in the world, this is the series they should have given more nominations too. Because make no mistake: The Dropout is the Best Limited Series of 2022. We come away from this series no closer to understanding what makes Elizabeth Holmes tick or even if she has any recognition of what she did was wrong. But paradoxically, you come away from it with far more empathy for Holmes than you ever did Anna Delvey, which is astonishing considering the scope of her crimes. Amanda Seyfried is one of the greatest actresses in any medium, the likely frontrunner for the Emmy but it’s unfair that so many of her fellow actors in this extraordinary cast — from Naveen Andrews and William H. Macy to Sam Waterston and Laurie Metcalf — walked away with no recognition. This series is a tour de force and an object lesson in believing in a lie despite all the evidence. Against: The series is nominated against two absolute gorillas in this category, one of which tells a story of tragedy on a far grander scope. Timing is everything.

The White Lotus: 16–5.

For: We almost never see Limited Series nominated, much less win the Emmy for pure entertainment value — I think the last one to do so was Big Little Lies, another HBO behemoth with a big talent behind the camera and great actors in front of it. There are two fundamental differences between the two — most of the names connected with Lies were bigger, the story a bit darker, and the lead characters infinitely more likable. But The White Lotus revels in the bad behavior of the very rich, who walk away from their vacations saying they’ve learned deep life lessons but all of them being basically superficial. It’s the help that suffers, sometimes paying with their life. The White Lotus is as much a screed about the rich and powerful as Succession is but infinitely more fun to watch. I may not agree with basically the entire cast being nominated by the Emmys (we’ll get to that) but it was entertaining to watch so many great actors behave so badly. I was overjoyed when the show was renewed for a second season; I’ll be thrilled if (just as at the HCA where it took five prizes) it wins big for its first. Against: Is The White Lotus too much fun for the Emmys to give the grand prize too? Historically, humorously themed limited series do not do well when it comes to the big prize (even Big Little Lies was fundamentally serious at its core). It did get over twenty nominations, but as we’ve learned over the years at Emmys; just because you’re the most nominated show, doesn’t necessarily mean you win the grand prize.

PREDICTION: It comes down to a battle between Dopesick and The White Lotus. Given the number of nominations and the fact that HBO has a far better track record in this category than any streaming network, I will give the edge to The White Lotus.

Tomorrow I tackled with marginally more enthusiasm, Best Actor in A Limited Series.

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David B Morris

After years of laboring for love in my blog on TV, I have decided to expand my horizons by blogging about my great love to a new and hopefully wider field.