Emmys 2022: Limited series race again offers too many choices, not enough slots

Two hotel employees stand ready to greet guests in “The White Lotus.”
Jolene Purdy and Murray Bartlett in the HBO limited series “The White Lotus.”
(Mario Perez / HBO)

Here we are, six months into the year and the front-runners in the limited series categories remain the same shows we watched and loved from 2021 — HBO’s sharp satire of entitlement, “The White Lotus” (which premiered nearly a year ago) and two series from October, Netflix’s intimate drama “Maid” and Hulu’s heroic “Dopesick.” You’ve already heard “Dopesick” star Michael Keaton deliver a couple of moving speeches while accepting awards for his poignant work in the series. He’ll likely give another one at the Emmys as well.

All this is rather surprising, given the number of splashy limited series that networks and streamers dumped on audiences before the May 31 Emmys eligibility deadline. These shows boasted such A-list stars as Viola Davis, Gillian Anderson (“The First Lady”), Andrew Garfield (“Under the Banner of Heaven”) and Julia Roberts and Sean Penn (“Gaslit”). HBO gave us a terrific true-crime series starring Colin Firth (“The Staircase”). There were in-depth examinations of the rise and fall of Theranos (“The Dropout”) and WeWork (“WeCrashed”) and ... and ... and ... you get the picture.

Maybe the reason the early favorites remain the favorites is that voters couldn’t possibly have the time, energy or (let’s be honest) the inclination to delve into all these titles that arrived around the same time.


That and those initial favorites, particularly “Maid” and “The White Lotus,” remain the best limited series of this Emmy year. These shows — and their casts — figure prominently in my predictions here. One note: The number of acting nominations in the lead and supporting categories is determined by submission totals, which weren’t available at the time of writing. So I’m going by last year’s numbers.


“Under the Banner of Heaven”
“The White Lotus”
“The Staircase”

Possible surprise: “The Dropout”
Possible snub: “The Staircase”

Our annual plea to the Television Academy to expand the number of nominees in this category has yet to prod change. So although the comedy and drama series categories have an (over?) abundance of eight shows nominated, we’re still limited (sorry) here to five measly nominees in a category that produces much of the year’s most discussed programming.

With just five slots and the three early standouts seemingly secure, that doesn’t leave much room for the latecomers. “The Staircase” didn’t arrive with the hype of many of its competitors, but its sophisticated approach to its true-crime genre hooked viewers, aided by an ensemble of first-rate stars (Firth, Toni Collette and Michael Stuhlbarg). I think it’ll slip in ahead of “The Dropout” ... though “Under the Banner of Heaven” could also be the snub. I don’t know. Both series merit nominations. Have I mentioned that we need to enlarge this category?


Jessica Chastain, “Scenes From a Marriage”
Claire Foy, “A Very British Scandal”
Julia Garner, “Inventing Anna”
Margaret Qualley, “Maid”
Amanda Seyfried, “The Dropout”

Possible surprise: Viola Davis, “The First Lady”
Possible snub: Chastain

I’m reluctant to toss around the phrases Emmy-bait or Oscar-bait when it comes to movies and TV series competing for awards. But if any project comes close to that designation, it’s Showtime’s “The First Lady,” a disappointing, conventional look at the three legendary FLOTUSes — Eleanor Roosevelt, Betty Ford and Michelle Obama. The best performance in the series — certainly the most performance in the series — belongs to Michelle Pfeiffer’s insightful turn as a lonely Betty Ford, but voters may gravitate toward Viola Davis or Gillian Anderson’s mannered Roosevelt ... or show a measure of restraint and ignore the series altogether. If there’s an inclination to reward an A-list star turn, Julia Roberts’ flashy and altogether excellent performance in “Gaslit” should scratch that itch.


Our panel of veteran TV journalists predicts the winners in 14 categories of the 2022 Emmys. Now you can make your picks in all the categories.

Sept. 6, 2022


Paul Bettany, “A Very British Scandal”
Colin Firth, “The Staircase”
Andrew Garfield, “Under the Banner of Heaven”
Samuel L. Jackson, “The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey”
Michael Keaton, “Dopesick”

Possible surprise: Ben Foster, “The Survivor”
Possible snub: Jackson

There are a number of different routes voters can take in this category, which, like its actress counterpart, is crowded with contenders. Sebastian Stan was more convincing as nutty rock god Tommy Lee in “Pam & Tommy” than the show was in its attempt to give Pamela Anderson an authentic voice. (We’ll have to wait for the Netflix documentary for that.) Jared Leto channeled the charismatic narcissism of WeWork founder Adam Neumann in “WeCrashed.” The always superb Ben Foster gave a powerful performance as an Auschwitz prisoner forced to box fellow inmates to the death in “The Survivor.” All are worthy; there are just not enough spots.


Connie Britton, “The White Lotus”
Toni Collette, “The Staircase”
Jennifer Coolidge, “The White Lotus”
Kaitlyn Dever, “Dopesick”
Andie MacDowell, “Maid”
Anika Noni Rose, “Maid”

Possible surprise: Ellen Burstyn, “The First Lady”
Possible snub: Rose

I’m doubling up on both “The White Lotus” and “Maid.” The underappreciated Andie MacDowell is the name-brand choice for the latter show for her portrayal of of single mom Alex’s (Margaret Qualley) bipolar mother. (That she’s Qualley’s real-life mother makes for a lovely story.) But Anika Noni Rose was equally good and pivotal in the show’s examination of privilege and poverty. You could also make a strong case that “Dopesick” deserves multiple nominees, as Rosario Dawson was outstanding as the dogged DEA agent going after Purdue Pharma. Or voters could double down on Juno Temple, who will likely be nominated again for “Ted Lasso” and was the best thing about the behind-the-scenes “Godfather” saga “The Offer.”


Naveen Andrews, “The Dropout”
Murray Bartlett, “The White Lotus”
Matthew Goode, “The Offer”
Nick Robinson, “Maid”
Peter Sarsgaard, “Dopesick”
Michael Stuhlbarg, “The Staircase”

Possible surprise: Seth Rogen, “Pam & Tommy”
Possible snub: Robinson

“The White Lotus” will likely win Emmys for Jennifer Coolidge (of course) and for Murray Bartlett, who, playing the fussy, put-upon resort manager, was essentially the lead of the series. Watching Bartlett unravel over the course of the show’s six episodes was one of the TV year’s great pleasures, bringing back memories of John Cleese’s Basil Fawlty, up until now our favorite high-strung hotelier.