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Emmy Analysis: Outstanding Limited Series

If I were to say I struggled with predicting the Outstanding Limited Series category would be an understatement. I have felt like The Queen Gambit’s Beth Harmon, wide awake at night staring at my ceiling watching the Limited Series nominees rankings move across my ceiling in numerous combinations searching for the right one.

It has literally been churning in the back of my mind for months, maybe as far back as the moment the credits began rolling on the first episode of The Queen’s Gambit. I was under its spell and figured I was watching the Emmy winner. Nothing could even challenge it. Never. Boy was I wrong. Which is why just hours before the Emmys ceremony is set to air, I am still pacing the room wondering to myself, ‘Did I make the right choice?’ As I type this I know I must commit and I have come to terms with my decision. Shortly I will learn if the mental tug of war these nominees put me, and I am sure many a voter, through ends with success.

This is one of the best categories in recent memory. From top to bottom it is stacked with memorable performances and stories that captivated, thrilled, challenged, and captured the imaginations of the audiences. They all left their mark and all deserve to be in this list. I said it before and I will say it again – no matter who wins or who loses – we, the audience, are all winners because we had the honor to watch this amazing group of nominees.

And the nominees are…

I May Destroy You // HBO
HBO’s I May Destroy You certainly could do just that to even the most prepared of viewers. It deals with an incredibly upsetting subject, sexual assault in the most gripping of ways. Created, written, co-directed, executive produced and starring Michaela Coel, the series takes us through the events of a terrible night when her character, Arabella, is drugged and raped. As she pieces together the mystery of that night many more layers are explored in the most powerful of ways. Coel’s work is simply remarkable.
The series is up for an impressive 9 Emmys including Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series. In any other year this could be a runaway, but unfortunately for Coel and company they are up against a very strong and popular group of nominees. The odds are not in favor of ‘I May Destroy You’ taking home this statuette, but it certainly has some roads to an upset win.

Mare of Easttown // HBO
Just when We were ready to call this a three woman-led show race, HBO pulls the rug out from under Emmy pundits by adding adding a fourth series with the powerhouse actress in lead. This was no ordinary actress though – Mare was anchored by awards darling, Kate Winslet. She has already been honored with four Emmy nominations and one win – oh yeah… plus some Oscars and more.

Mare of Easttown premiered to good numbers and continued to snowball. So much so that by the end of its run the ravenous viewers dying to see the mystery wrapped up crashed HBO’s servers. If you weren’t watching Mare of Easttown then you were left out of a lot of Monday morning zoom meeting sleuthing conversations. An impressive performance by Kate Winslet in the titular role is enough to put this series in contention.

But Mare was more than one great performance. It was an ensemble piece full of impeccable acting, leading to four Emmy acting nominations and 16 Emmy nods in total. The series that kept us guessing from the start to its breathtaking final episodes is neck and neck as the frontrunner. My question is, how rewatchable is Mare?  Once the mystery is solved how likely is it to be revisited? Several other nominees carved out something completely fresh and stylish that almost beg to be rewatched and explored again, keeping them fresher in voters’ minds. Will this hurt its chances of taking home the trophy? I cannot say for sure, but it certainly factors into my decision making process.

The Queen’s Gambit // Netflix
When The Queen’s Gambit aired not everyone was drawn to it. At first many people I know, including one I am married to, dismissed my recommendations to watch as a ‘boring chess series’ or ‘not my thing.’ That is until they gave it a chance. Then suddenly the talk changed to ‘this amazing series I’M watching’ and ‘you have to watch this!’ Credited with turning the world onto chess, Scott Frank’s limited series is much more than a chess competition series. It is a stylish character study that tackles addition and obsession while entertaining the life out of audiences.

Like the lead character Beth Harmon, played to perfection by Emmy-nominated Anya Taylor-Joy, there’s been nothing like it before or since. It is a masterful mix of creativity from the script to the editing to the costumes, production design, music, hair and more. This explains its trail of awards – Golden Globes, SAG, and even 9 Emmys to date after cleaning up at the Creative Arts Emmys last weekend. The visuals alone are almost iconic even though it only debuted last October.

Logic seems to say that this series is more of a phenomenon than your average show. After airing almost a year ago the love for it is still there. If the voters think this series is something special they will not mind letting it make its mark with double digit Emmy wins. ‘Mare’ is breathing down her neck but I have to think Beth has the moves to hold her back, setting the trap for another checkmate.

The Underground Railroad // Amazon Studios
There was no better person to reimagine Colson Whitehead’s popular novel than Mr. Barry Jenkins. The results are a sweeping and grand – a fictionalized retelling of history with a magical realist twist. Critics and viewers loved the series, but unfortunately, Emmy voters held back some of their love leaving it with a total of seven nominations and only one in the major categories. You are looking at it right here. Not a single acting nod.

Now this may be due to split votes among its large ensemble but that only changes my mind so much. Also weighing heavy on its outlook are the lack of Creative Arts Emmy wins – most of which went to The Queen’s Gambit. This is a series you must watch. Do not be deterred if it walks home empty-handed, but of all five series in the Limited Series category, this is the one I am having trouble finding a path to victory.

WandaVision // Disney+
There was something special about WandaVision. It may have been the timing or perhaps the pandemic making us all a little nostalgic for days of family television viewing gone by – whatever it was, for the first time in years it brought about the return of family TV viewing. Appointment television in the era of instant gratification and personal streaming devices. Something about the series clicked and had families gathering every Friday to watch the tales of a super-powered witch and an equally super-powered android play house in different eras of television suburbia.

The series cast a wider net than expected pulling in not only families, but also your friendly neighborhood Marvel fanatics, appreciators of classic television and the geek crowd – like me. I enjoyed it so much it partially inspired my podcast The ‘Verse! (which you can find right here on Awards Radar). It is this reach across demos, plus some incredibly clever production design, and a handful of memorable performances that turned this series into a contender. A 23 nomination (three in acting categories) and 3 Emmy wins to date kind of contender. Wanda performed some magic on the series and it would not surprise me too much to see her work some on Emmy night too. In this category the only thing that would surprise me is to not be surprised.

PREDICTIONS: There is so much to factor into predicting this category. This isn’t your typical one or two favorites, these are five of the most appreciated series of the year. While my brain is saying The Queen’s Gambit the inner struggle continues and will until the envelope is opened. Good luck to all and thanks for the incredible entertainment.

Prediction: The Queen’s Gambit
Preference: The Queen’s Gambit
Sleeper: WandaVision

The Queen’s Gambit
Mare of Easttown
I May Destroy You
The Underground Railroad


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Written by Steven Prusakowski

Steven Prusakowski has been a cinephile as far back as he can remember, literally. At the age of ten, while other kids his age were sleeping, he was up into the late hours of the night watching the Oscars. Since then, his passion for film, television, and awards has only grown. For over a decade he has reviewed and written about entertainment through publications including Awards Circuit and Screen Radar. He has conducted interviews with some of the best in the business - learning more about them, their projects and their crafts. He is a graduate of the RIT film program. You can find him on Twitter and Letterboxd as @FilmSnork – we don’t know why the name, but he seems to be sticking to it.

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