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Emmy 2020 predictions, limited series: All ‘Watchmen’ all the time

Regina King in a scene from “Watchmen.”
Regina King in a scene from “Watchmen.”
(Mark Hill / HBO)

Last year, television’s best dramas — Ava DuVernay’s wrenching “When They See Us” and “Chernobyl,” the haunting history of nuclear catastrophe and bureaucratic rot — were limited series, and that’s again the case this year. In fact, the 2020 class is so deep that an engaging program like “Belgravia,” Julian Fellowes’ gorgeous “Downton Abbey” follow-up, doesn’t stand much of a chance in breaking through a crowded lineup.

Maybe the Television Academy needs to expand the nomination slots for these categories too, as it did for comedy and drama series. There’s going to be some serious disappointment here when nominations are announced on July 28.

LIMITED SERIES

“Watchmen”

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“Unbelievable”

“Normal People”

“Mrs. America”

“Little Fires Everywhere”

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Next up: “Unorthodox,” “Hollywood,” “I Know This Much Is True,” “The Plot Against America,” “Defending Jacob,” “Belgravia”

Netflix’s searing crime drama “Unbelievable” was first out of the gate in September, and with its superb, empathetic storytelling, it established itself as the front-runner ... until a month later when “Watchmen” began its run on HBO and became the series of the year, an audacious tour de force that tackled America’s stain of racism. Three other exceptional series arrived in the spring: Netflix’s immersive story of self-discovery, “Unorthodox”; Hulu’s emotionally intimate portrait of love, “Normal People”; and FX’s extraordinarily alive history lesson “Mrs. America.” Still, given the urgent way “Watchmen” speaks to our current moment, it’s hard to see it not prevailing when the Emmys are awarded in September.

LEAD ACTRESS, LIMITED SERIES/TV MOVIE

Regina King, “Watchmen”

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Merritt Wever, “Unbelievable”

Kerry Washington, “Little Fires Everywhere”

Cate Blanchett, “Mrs. America”

Reese Witherspoon, “Little Fires Everywhere”

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Shira Haas, “Unorthodox”

Next up: Kaitlyn Dever, “Unbelievable”; Octavia Spencer, “Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker”; Daisy Edgar-Jones, “Normal People”

As is the case in the lead actress comedy and drama series categories, this is a field that will require some painful choices. “Little Fires Everywhere” often felt adrift in its storytelling, but it tackled race and parenting and privilege in an audience-friendly manner that made it one of the most-watched shows in Hulu’s history. Its success owed much to its leads, Washington and Witherspoon, and their résumés likely will give them an advantage over younger contenders such as Dever, Edgar-Jones and Haas.

LEAD ACTOR, LIMITED SERIES/TV MOVIE

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Mark Ruffalo, “I Know This Much Is True”

Hugh Jackman, “Bad Education”

Aaron Paul, “El Camino”

Paul Mescal, “Normal People”

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Russell Crowe, “The Loudest Voice”

Jeremy Irons, “Watchmen”

Next up: Andre Holland, “The Eddy”; Jeremy Pope, “Hollywood”; Chris Evans, “Defending Jacob”; Matthew Macfadyen, “Quiz”

From its shocking, opening moments, it’s clear that “I Know This Much Is True” affords Ruffalo the kind of material that wins awards. Ruffalo plays twin brothers, one a paranoid schizophrenic, the other a weary working man making sacrifices out of familial love and duty. It’s probably the best work of Ruffalo’s career — but I found myself bailing after just one episode because the show felt like a self-indulgent dirge. (I’m happy to be told I’m wrong. But in this particular moment, I don’t have the stomach to press on and finish it.)

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I would, however, love to rewatch all 12 episodes of “Normal People” and luxuriate in its moving, melancholy love story that’s anchored by the intense, expressive work from Mescal and Edgar-Jones. Newcomer Mescal is an absolute find, conveying Connell’s endearing mix of confidence and insecurity with an intensity that never feels false or forced. Plus, he embodies the wise words of one Jeffrey Lebowski: “Strong men also cry.”

SUPPORTING ACTRESS, LIMITED SERIES/TV MOVIE

Toni Collette, “Unbelievable”

Jean Smart, “Watchmen”

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Allison Janney, “Bad Education”

Patti LuPone, “Hollywood”

Rose Byrne, “Mrs. America”

Margo Martindale, “Mrs. America”

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Next up: Sarah Paulson, “Mrs. America”; Uzo Aduba, “Mrs. America”; Tracey Ullman, “Mrs. America”; Holland Taylor, “Hollywood”; Melissa Leo, “I Know This Much Is True”

You could fill out this entire field with women from “Mrs. America.” I mean, I wouldn’t, because then you’d be ignoring the noteworthy performances from dependable favorites — Collette, Janney, LuPone and Smart. But that still leaves two spots for the “Mrs. America” ensemble, and I could just as easily see any of the past Emmy favorites Paulson, Aduba and Ullman making the cut ahead of Byrne or Martindale. (Ullman has 24 nominations and six Emmys alone.) Who do you choose from a show that wove together its characters and story with such skill? I’d vote for Byrne, searing as Gloria Steinem, and Martindale, for her poignant take on Bella Abzug. But ask me tomorrow, and I might have a different answer.

SUPPORTING ACTOR, LIMITED SERIES/TV MOVIE

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, “Watchmen”

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Tim Blake Nelson, “Watchmen”

Jim Parsons, “Hollywood”

John Slattery, “Mrs. America”

Joe Mantello, “Hollywood”

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Jesse Plemmons, “El Camino”

Next up: John Turturro, “The Plot Against America”; Ray Romano, “Bad Education”; Louis Gossett Jr., “Watchmen”; Darren Criss, “Hollywood”; Dylan McDermott, “Hollywood”; Tituss Burgess, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs. the Reverend”; Michael Sheen, “Quiz”; Tom Wilkinson, “Belgravia”; Jovan Adepo, “Watchmen”

I understand and appreciate Emmy voters’ history of appreciation for Burgess, Parsons and Slattery. But Mateen plays the most important character on the year’s most essential series, and he had to play pivotal scenes with his face completely obscured or spray-painted blue or in the nude. He made the most powerful being in the universe sublimely human, turning the series’ eighth episode, “A God Walks Into Abar,” into one of the most heart-wrenching hours of television this year. Please reward the work, Emmy voters.


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