Emmys 2023: Limited series power rankings

Ali Wong and Steven Yeun stand in nature with their phones, looking for cell service in "Beef."
Ali Wong and Steven Yeun star in the Netflix limited series “Beef.”
(Andrew Cooper / Netflix)
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The last couple of years I’ve had to jettison a couple of my annual Emmy screeds, grievances I’ve harbored and held close to my heart. Here’s one: Last year, Television Academy voters finally nominated Rhea Seehorn for her indelible work as attorney Kim Wexler in “Better Call Saul,” erasing an oversight that was as lengthy as it was inexplicable. She’s all but a shoo-in to be nominated again for the show’s final season.

And now this year, I’m going to have to put aside my usual tirade about how the Television Academy needs to expand the number of nominees for limited series, home to television’s most creative and boundary-pushing work. It’s not that there was any shortage of shows vying for viewers’ — and voters’ — attention. But there wasn’t a “White Lotus” or “Watchmen” or “Big Little Lies” or “Mare of Easttown” in the bunch.

The good news? There won’t be a sweep. The bad news? There’s not as much intrigue. Unless you really like shows about serial killers. Then this is really your year!


Let’s sort through the contenders in our Emmy limited series power rankings. (Note: The total haul predictions include all categories, not just the ones specifically mentioned.)

A woman with long black hair in a sweatshirt crying
Dominique Fishback in a scene from Prime Video’s “Swarm.”
(Prime Video)

10. ‘SWARM’
Might be nominated: Limited series, lead actress Dominique Fishback
Total haul: A handful, if things break right?
Could go on to win: Donald Glover and Janine Nabers’ limited series was intended as dark commentary on stan culture, but it rarely seemed sure of what it wanted to say about fan devotion or how it wanted to say it. But the muddied tone did not dim our appreciation of Fishback, who managed to keep us with her character (mostly), even in the most trying of circumstances.

Steve Carell sits chained to a bed and Domhnall Gleeson sits out of reach on a chair in a scene from "The Patient."
Steve Carell plays a therapist kidnapped by his patient, played by Domhnall Gleeson.
(Suzanne Tenner / Hulu)

Might be nominated: Limited series, lead actor Steve Carell, supporting actor Domhnall Gleeson
Total haul: Maybe a couple
Could go on to win: I felt bad for some of the situations that the therapists in “Shrinking” found themselves in … but then I remembered poor Steve Carell playing a therapist kidnapped by a serial killer in “The Patient.” This might be Carell’s best dramatic work, playing a clever man, understandably terrified but also determined to escape. It premiered last August. Will voters remember?


A woman looks startled in a scene from "A Small Light."
Bel Powley stars in “A Small Light.”
(Dusan Martincek / National Geographic for Disney)

Might be nominated: Limited series, lead actress Bel Powley, supporting actor Liev Schreiber
Total haul: Probably less than it deserves
Could go on to win: NatGeo’s “A Small Light” took history we thought we thoroughly knew — the WWII story of Anne Frank — and shows it from a different perspective, that of Miep Gies, one of the Dutch civilians who helped hide the Frank family from the Nazis. It’s a moving portrait of courage and resolve, inspiring and illuminating, the best limited series I watched this year.

A man and woman look lovingly at each other as they stand in front of microphones in "George & Tammy."
Jessica Chastain as Tammy Wynette, and Michael Shannon as George Jones, in “George & Tammy.”
(Dana Hawley / Showtime)

Certain to be nominated: Lead actress Jessica Chastain
Might be nominated: Limited series, lead actor Michael Shannon
Total haul: Enough, but not enough to break out the good whiskey
Could go on to win: Oscar-winner Chastain picked up her first Tony nomination this year for “A Doll’s House” and will likely earn her first Emmy nod for her showstopping turn as country legend Tammy Wynette. Shannon is equally dazzling as George Jones. I’ll be singing a sad song — how about “I Fall to Pieces”? — if he doesn’t join his co-star as a nominee.

Elizabeth Olsen and Jesse Plemons wear athletic gear in a gym in a scene from "Love & Death."
Elizabeth Olsen and Jesse Plemons in “Love & Death.”
(Jake Giles Netter / HBO)


Might be nominated: Limited series, lead actress Elizabeth Olsen, supporting actress Lily Rabe, supporting actors Jesse Plemons and Tom Pelphrey
Total haul: Eight? 10?
Could go on to win: If you saw “Candy” last year, another limited series that covered the 1980 case of a Texas woman accused of murdering her lover’s wife with an ax, “Love & Death” didn’t offer much new. If you didn’t see “Candy,” there still wasn’t much in this true-crime series that made you think about the case in a different way. But Olsen made it watchable — and it was watched, meaning it could pick up a few nominations.

Sam Claflin and Riley Keough perform a song onstage in a scene from "Daisy Jones & the Six."
Sam Claflin and Riley Keough in “Daisy Jones & the Six.”
(Lacey Terrell / Prime Video)

Might be nominated: Limited series, lead actress Riley Keough, lead actor Sam Claflin
Total haul: The series’ ‘70s trappings will be good for a bunch of crafts nominations, plus there’s the original music. So figure at least a dozen.
Could go on to win: A perfectly OK adaptation of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s bestselling 2019 novel but still felt like (to borrow a title from a Fleetwood Mac song from the era) secondhand news. Keough, though? She’s a star.

Lizzy Caplan and Jesse Eisenberg stand outside talking in "'Fleishman Is in Trouble."
Lizzy Caplan and Jesse Eisenberg star in “Fleishman Is in Trouble.”
(Linda Kallerus / FX)

Certain to be nominated: Supporting actress Claire Danes
Might be nominated: Limited series, lead actress Lizzy Caplan, lead actor Jesse Eisenberg
Total haul: Swipe left for five. Swipe right for 10.
Could go on to win: You spent most of the series wondering why Danes signed on board. Then you arrived at the penultimate episode, a showcase for her acting abilities and cry face, and you understand. The series abandons Danes’ character again in the frustrating finale, but its nuanced look at marriage, mortality and the morass of middleage was sharp, funny and, at times, quite moving.


Paul Walter Hauser and Taron Egerton sit across a table wearing jail jumpsuits in "Black Bird."
Paul Walter Hauser and Taron Egerton star in “Black Bird.”
(Gavin Bond / Apple TV+)

Certain to be nominated: Limited series, lead actor Taron Egerton, supporting actors Paul Walter Hauser and Ray Liotta
Total haul: Around 10
Could go on to win: Between Hauser’s whispering psycho in “Black Bird,” Evan Peters’ portrayal of Jeffrey Dahmer in “Monster” and Gleeson’s murderous foodie on “The Patient,” it’s been quite the year for the serial killer dudes on television. The clear standout is Hauser, a key factor in the series’ harrowing examination of toxic masculinity. A bonus for this show: A last chance to honor the late Liotta, excellent as a compromised father trying to help his troubled son.

A police officer escorts a man down a hallway in "Dahmer -- Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story."
Evan Peters plays Jeffrey Dahmer in “Dahmer — Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story.”

Certain to be nominated: Limited series, lead actor Evan Peters, supporting actress Niecy Nash-Betts, supporting actor Richard Jenkins
Might be nominated: Supporting actress Michael Learned
Total haul: Around 15
Could go on to win: While I’d prefer that Peters win his Emmy for that “Mare of Easttown” prequel about the adventures of dorky Det. Zabel (not a real thing — yet), he could well take it for playing Dahmer.

Steven Yeun and Ali Wong star in "Beef."
Steven Yeun and Ali Wong star in “Beef.”


1. ‘BEEF’
Certain to be nominated: Limited series, lead actress Ali Wong, lead actor Steven Yeun

Might be nominated: Supporting actress Maria Bello, supporting actor Young Mazino

Total haul: At least a dozen, probably more

Could go on to win: Lee Sung Jin’s twisty character study comes with the cache of the A24 imprint and the best reviews of any of the contenders. It tackled depression, deprivation and influencer culture in a manner that was generous and darkly funny. Bonus points if it prompts even one person to lay off the horn in a shopping mall parking lot on a busy Saturday afternoon.