My Predictions For This Year’s Emmys: Limited Series, Part 3
OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN A LIMITED SERIES…
Nearly two months after the nominations, I still have the greatest problem with the nominees in this category. The logic behind three of the nominees fundamentally baffles me.
I find it incomprehensible that when looking at the work of three of the greatest actresses of all time in Limited Series — Jessica Chastain in Scenes from a Marriage, Michelle Pfeiffer in The First Lady and Julia Roberts in Gaslit — the Emmys in their infinite wisdom chose to nominate Lily James for Pam and Tommy and Julia Garner for Inventing Anna. The depths in the former performances were some of the greatest work on television in years, compared to the superficiality of James and Garner. Even if they didn’t want to nominate those three actresses, there were so many other second tier choices: Viola Davis, Olivia Colman for Landscapers, even Renee Zellweger for her work in The Thing about Pam if they wanted to do high-level of trash. The Emmys have bungled some acting choices in the Limited Series category over the last few years; but few times have they seemed to be doing their upmost to ignore great work over the trivial.
All right. I’ll try to be calm and measured with the odds. Here are the nominees.
Toni Collette, The Staircase: 13–2.
For Playing: Kathleen, the murder victim at the center of a controversial investigation. For Her: Just as with Firth’s nomination for Best Actor, I have no real objection to Collette’s presence in this category. For nearly thirty years, Collette has been one of the quietest great actresses in history, rarely getting credit for the brilliant performances she gives in so many landmark movies. When she took an Emmy for United States of Tara back in 2009, it was a shock to many who didn’t consider the series a true comedy, even though it truly was a master class for Collette in that very way. Throughout this decade, she has rarely gotten the credit she deserves for her work, even in superb limited series such as Unbelievable and now she plays several versions of a victim, seen in the varied points throughout her life that continue to demonstrates that she’s one of the actresses of our time. Against Her: There wasn’t a lot of Emmy love for The Staircase and compared to some of the spouses who could have gotten nominations, Collette’s character had the least depth.
Julia Garner, Inventing Anna: 11–2.
For Playing: Anna Delvey, the German heiress and Internet sensation who engaged in a series of remarkable cons. For Her: Garner is one of the great discoveries of this decade. Ever since I became acquainted with her as the daughter of a state department employee that Matthew Rhys’ character had to slowly seduce, Garner has become an expert as playing girls wise far beyond their years. You can understand why she would be a natural fit for the role of Anna, a character who had the appearance of a hopeless waif but the cunning of a Ruth Langmore. For all the flaws of this series, one can’t say that Garner was one of them. Viewers couldn’t believe Anna got away with what she did. Those of us who watch Garner know her characters are capable of it. Against It: Inventing Anna has the fewest Emmy nomination of the nominated Limited Series, and controversy has surrounded it since it premiered (just this week one of the victims of the real-life Delvey announced she was suing Netflix for her portrayal in this series). Plus, if the Academy wants to give an Emmy to Garner, they’ll have a far better chance to do so for her work on Ozark, which will count against her winning her.
Lily James, Pam and Tommy: 9–2.
For Playing: Pamela Anderson, the Baywatch bombshell who unwittingly finds herself at the center of her husband’s sex tape. For Her: Well, if you’ve seen Lily James in just about any of her other roles, it’s hard not to be impressed by this performance. Lady Rose from Downton Abbey and Natasha from War and Peace as the most notorious example of classlessness from the 1990s? That’s impressive. How can the girl known for playing so many timid version of intelligent affection play the archetypical dumb blonde? And James is by far the best thing about this series, adding depths and dimension to someone that so many of us (me among them) accused of having only one in her acting. This is a significant accomplishment. Against Her: Of all of the celebrities and famous women who were given life to by so many actresses this year, why did the Emmys have to choose the least interesting one and certainly the one whose major story was the most trivial? James seems to have gotten nominated for the reasons far too many actors and actresses do — for disappearing into their characters. To be clear, compared to the work of Julia Roberts and Michelle Pfeiffer, that wasn’t even close the most chameleon-like. I won’t be angry if she ends up winning the Emmy, but I will be disappointed.
Sarah Paulson, Impeachment: American Crime Story: 7–1.
For Playing: Linda Tripp, the federal employee who betrays a friend in order to bring down Bill Clinton. For Her: In a category where I have a problem with half the nominees, Paulson’s nomination was a pleasant surprise. As I have written in multiple articles over the past year, I thought Impeachment deserved far more love from most awards show then it ended up getting. I will admit to being a little stunned that Paulson managed to emerge the winner from the HCA awards for Best Actress in A Broadcast or Cable Limited series over so many of the actresses I listed above. But that’s not because I wasn’t in awe of her work. Controversy over the fat suit she wore aside, Paulson’s work as Tripp ranks among the finest performances this actress — one of the greatest talents of the new Golden Age for more than twenty years — has ever given. And that because as much as we see Tripp as the villain of the piece — someone who instigates a scandal and betrays a friend more out of pushing for her own self-importance rather than any real wrongdoing — Paulson makes her come out at least partially as a victim as much as any of the women that Bill Clinton abused. Yes, Linda Tripp had an inflated impression of her self-worth and a true misunderstanding of Clinton’s abuses. But she was used by the far right just as much as they used everybody else. I came away from Impeachment with sympathy for Linda Tripp. And considering everything she did, that’s as much a tribute to Paulson’s performance as anything else. Against Her: The HCA were the only major critical group this year to give Impeachment its due. While the Emmys did give it more recognition than I expected, the fact that it wasn’t nominated for Best Limited Series (but Pam and Tommy was? Seriously?) shows that the Emmys are less inclined to look as favorably on the third installment of American Crime Story then the previous two. Paulson was shocked to win the Best Actress from the HCA, but it was a decent consolation prize.
Margaret Qualley, Maid: 5–1.
For Playing: Alex, a young mother fleeing an abusive relationship and the horrors of poverty to find a better life for herself and her daughter. For Her: Until after the nominations, I thought Qualley was an absolute lock to win the Best Actress prize. And if you saw her work in Maid, there’s no way you could disagree. The only actress in this category who plays a fictional character (or at least a fictionalized version of one) Alex was more relatable to almost anyone in any series in this entire group of nominees. We watched Alex undergo a series of struggles that would break the spirit of a person far stronger than her, and halfway through the series it clearly seemed to do. The domestic abuse she suffered at the hands of her boyfriend paled in comparison to the Kafkaesque system of the social and legal world she had to maneuver through in order to find a better life for her daughter. And unlike any character in this category, we found ourselves rooting for her to prevail and overjoyed when she made it out. Qualley’s performance was one of the greatest of all season. Against Her: Timing. Qualley spent the first half of this year losing the Best Actress prize to last year’s big sensation, Kate Winslet for Mare of Easttown. By the time she was in a category by herself, The Dropout had premiered. Throw in the shocking lack of respect for Maid by the Emmys, and a certain win has now dropped to the possibility of a dark horse.
Amanda Seyfried, The Dropout: 69–20
For Playing: Elizabeth Holmes, the head of Theranos who cons Silicon Valley and the entire country. For Her: Knowing the story of Elizabeth Holmes and the fraud she committed on Silicon Valley and the world of medicine, I didn’t think I could come away from The Dropout and not loathe Holmes. But the writers and most certainly Seyfried do everything in their power to make you feel empathy and — in the early episodes — sympathy for this woman. Don’t get me wrong; in the later episodes the series does an extraordinary job of making Holmes seem barely a human being (another triumph of Seyfried) but throughout the first three episodes, you see the kind of person she was before all this, how she started with good intentions, and how she may have ended up being used by the monstrous world of technology. You don’t come away from The Dropout understanding how Holmes did what she did, but maybe that’s the point. Maybe none of us can. Seyfried is also one of the greatest actresses in the history of television and movies, who has deserved an Emmy at least since she was stealing scenes as the youngest daughter at the center of Big Love. Her win at the HCA almost ensured that she will triumph in a few weeks time. Against Her: The Emmys didn’t give quite as much recognition to The Dropout as they could have (Dopesick was at least partially responsible for that) and perhaps the Emmys sensibilities will make them reluctant to give the top prize to someone who plays a real-life sociopath who may not yet have paid for her crimes.
Prediction: I really want Qualley to win this one, but I have absolutely no problem with it going to Seyfried, and I think she’s the more likely winner.
Tomorrow I handle Supporting Actor in a Limited Series, or The White Lotus versus Dopesick.