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Emmys 2021 limited series predictions: ‘Mare of Easttown’ looks primed for big wins

Kate Winslet wears a winter coat and holds a Styrofoam cup beside a river in a scene from "Mare of Easttown."
Kate Winslet in “Mare of Easttown.”
(Michele K. Short/HBO)

After spending the last few months bemoaning how overcrowded the limited series categories are and how the Television Academy needs to expand the number of nominees and how choosing between all these worthy shows and actors is pretty much impossible, could it be that one series might end up dominating the field?

Yes, it’s been a minute since “Mare” mania gripped us on Sunday nights, the weeks when we popped open a Rolling Rock or three and contemplated the best spots for hiding unsatisfactory duck liver pâté. But the show and Kate Winslet’s lead performance linger, and I’m wondering if that recency bias might have a steamroll effect when the Emmys are presented Sept. 19. Read on as I consider that possibility.

LIMITED SERIES

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

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Should win: “Mare of Easttown”
Will win: “Mare of Easttown”

Kate Winslet and Guy Pearce in  "Mare of Easttown."
Kate Winslet’s detective and Guy Pearce’s novelist share a happy moment in “Mare of Easttown.”
(Sarah Shatz/HBO)

“The Queen’s Gambit” has won enough awards to fill several storage lockers, including honors from every guild imaginable — sound, costumes, writers, makeup artists, art directors, editors. Most of these prizes were handed out in the spring, and if the Emmys had been held then, I’m sure Scott Frank’s smart, lavishly produced series would have swept the honors. But its October drop date feels like a lifetime ago, and it’s possible that voters will choose to go with the enthralling “Easttown,” which transcended its murder-mystery trappings to become a moving portrait of a woman battling to move beyond a grief that seems inescapable.

ACTRESS, LIMITED SERIES/TV MOVIE

Michaela Coel, “I May Destroy You”
Cynthia Erivo, “Genius: Aretha”
Elizabeth Olsen, “WandaVision”
Anya Taylor-Joy, “The Queen’s Gambit”
Kate Winslet, “Mare of Easttown”

Should win: Winslet
Will win: Winslet

First off, they all should win, OK? Every one of these performances is special and deserving of all the praise and accolades that have come their way. But someone has to prevail. There are no ties at the Emmys, outside of, say, “Family Ties,” which did OK for Michael J. Fox. (Please keep reading in spite of that line.) Like series, it’ll probably come down to a race between “Mare” and “Queen’s Gambit” and the two lead women who displayed an astonishing physical and emotional command of their characters. Winslet has the slight edge, thanks to her show’s late air date and the sheer delight everyone took from watching her eat a hoagie.

ACTOR, LIMITED SERIES/TV MOVIE

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Paul Bettany, “WandaVision”
Hugh Grant, “The Undoing”
Ewan McGregor, “Halston”
Lin-Manuel Miranda, “Hamilton”
Leslie Odom, “Hamilton”

Should win: Grant
Will win: Grant

Hugh Grant in "The Undoing."
(Niko Tavernise/HBO)

Unlike actress, not much to choose from here. “Hamilton” is a filmed version of a stage performance, not a TV show. As much as I like the musical, its performers should not have been nominated, particularly for something recorded five years ago. McGregor elevated “Halston,” but you needn’t win an Emmy for the elegant way you smoke a cigarette. That leaves Bettany, charming in a Marvel series that became less interesting as time went along, and Grant’s deliciously shifty turn as the self-involved cad in “The Undoing.” Grant lost to last year’s Emmy winner, Mark Ruffalo, at the SAG Awards, so he deserves his turn in the spotlight here, if only to make up for the criminal lack of honors for “Paddington 2.”

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SUPPORTING ACTRESS, LIMITED SERIES/TV MOVIE

Renée Elise Goldsberry, “Hamilton”
Kathryn Hahn, “WandaVision”
Moses Ingram, “The Queen’s Gambit”
Julianne Nicholson, “Mare of Easttown”
Jean Smart, “Mare of Easttown”
Phillipa Soo, “Hamilton”

Should win: Hahn
Will win: Nicholson

Kathryn Hahn carrying a rabbit cage in 'WandaVision'
Kathryn Hahn as Agnes in a black-and-white scene from Marvel Studios’ “WandaVision.”
(Marvel Studios)
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Can you win an Emmy basically for just one scene? Nicholson’s climactic catharsis in “Mare of Easttown” might provide the answer to that question, provided voters don’t choose to go with the well-liked Hahn, a mainstay of indie films and (mostly) unheralded TV shows, who finally found a mainstream audience with her sly work in a Marvel superhero project. Thinking about it, this does feel like it could be a nice spot to spread the wealth. Nobody had more fun with a role this year than this wonderful actor.

SUPPORTING ACTOR, LIMITED SERIES/TV MOVIE

Thomas Brodie-Sangster, “The Queen’s Gambit”
Daveed Diggs, “Hamilton”
Paapa Essiedu, “I May Destroy You”
Jonathan Groff, “Hamilton”
Evan Peters, “Mare of Easttown”
Anthony Ramos, “Hamilton”

Actor Evan Peters talks on his cell next to a "City of Brotherly Love" mural in a scene from "Mare of Easttown."
Evan Peters in “Mare of Easttown.”
(Michele K. Short/HBO)
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Should win: Essiedu
Will win: Peters
Essiedu’s searing work in “I May Destroy You,” particularly the series’ fourth episode in which his character works through the trauma of sexual assault, is raw, remarkable and the standout in this category. I’d like to think that voters would remember it — and the show — which premiered on HBO more than a year ago, but that’s usually not how the Emmys work. That’s especially true when he’s up against Peters’ terrific turn as the lovesick, doomed detective in “Mare of Easttown.” Peters deserves some kind of prize alone for his drunk bar scene opposite Winslet (“Well howdy-do there, partner ...”) ... and that award may well be an Emmy.

Paapa Essiedu in "I May Destroy You" on HBO.
(HBO)

TV MOVIE

“Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square”
“Oslo”
“Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia”
“Sylvie’s Love”
“Uncle Frank”

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Danielle Brooks stars as Mahalia Jackson in "Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia"
Danielle Brooks stars as Mahalia in “Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia.”
(Lifetime)

Should win: “Mahalia”
Will win: “Sylvie’s Love”

Which brings us, finally, to the television movie category, something of a Land of Misfit Toys, as networks and streamers don’t invest much in this format these days. I’d guess Amazon’s languid throwback story of heartbreak “Sylvie’s Love” found the most viewers, though I’m partial to “Mahalia” for the music and Danielle Brooks’ persuasive turn playing gospel singer Mahalia Jackson. She was so good, it made me wish I could see her stretch out in a limited series.


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