With “Big Little Lies,” “The People v. O.J. Simpson,” “Olive Kitteridge” and “Fargo,” the limited series Emmy categories have offered some of the ceremony’s most memorable moments the past few years. The current group of nominees doesn’t quite measure up — don’t get me started on the absence of “Twin Peaks” and its star, Kyle MacLachlan — but those races are still among the year’s most competitive. Here’s an early look.
“The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story”
Winner: “The Assassination of Gianni Versace”
Analysis: “Versace” earned a leading 18 nominations, with “Godless” picking up 11. Both series netted noms for writing and directing, with “Versace” hauling in six nods for its actors and “Godless” scoring three. On volume alone, then, “Versace” is the favorite, although the ambitious and often alienating follow-up to the Emmy-winning “The People v. O.J. Simpson” didn’t earn the ratings or buzz of its predecessor. It was lurid, uneven and often inert, but also a fascinating depiction of what it was like to be gay in America in the ’90s.
As for “Godless,” though well-acted, it, like many Netflix programs, poked along in telling its story. It wasn’t boring, but it never quite again reached the peak of its strong opening episode, either.
This lull won’t last. HBO’s “Sharp Objects” will be eligible next year, giving five-time Oscar nominee Amy Adams a chance to win television’s top prize.
“USS Callister” (“Black Mirror”)
Winner: “The Tale”
Analysis: “Black Mirror” won this Emmy last year, and the Netflix anthology series could repeat with “USS Callister,” a stinging critique of toxic masculinity that ranks with the show’s finest episodes. It also works as a hilarious sendup of the original “Star Trek” series and a tense sci-fi thriller romp, meaning there’s something for just about everyone. And Jesse Plemons’ Shatnerian line readings are just the best.
And yet I’m leaning toward “The Tale,” a groundbreaking and disturbing look at a woman excavating suppressed trauma. Jennifer Fox’s unflinching film earned raves when it debuted at Sundance in January and will likely earn its star, Laura Dern, a second consecutive Emmy. All that momentum will help it prevail here.
LEAD ACTRESS, LIMITED SERIES / TV MOVIE
Jessica Biel, “The Sinner”
Laura Dern, “The Tale”
Michelle Dockery, “Godless”
Edie Falco, “Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders”
Regina King, “Seven Seconds”
Sarah Paulson, “American Horror Story: Cult”
Analysis: As mentioned, Dern, playing a woman coming to terms with being molested at the age of 13, is the pick here for a delicate, assured turn that fully understands how devastating denial can be. If it’s not the best work Dern has done, it certainly ranks with her finest.
LEAD ACTOR, LIMITED SERIES / TV MOVIE
Antonio Banderas, “Genius: Picasso”
Darren Criss, “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story”
Benedict Cumberbatch, “Patrick Melrose”
Jeff Daniels, “The Looming Tower”
John Legend, “Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert”
Jesse Plemons, “USS Callister” (“Black Mirror”)
Analysis: It’s probably either Criss or Cumberbatch, two dazzling performances in difficult-to-watch projects. I lean toward Criss as more voters probably saw his creepy, chilling, all-in work playing killer Andrew Cunanan. And though Cumberbatch owns six nominations, television academy members have given him just one Emmy over the years. That reluctance is a mystery that would puzzle even the best detective.
SUPPORTING ACTRESS, LIMITED SERIES / TV MOVIE
Sara Bareilles, “Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert”
Penélope Cruz, “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story”
Judith Light, “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story”
Adina Porter, “American Horror Story: Cult”
Merritt Wever, “Godless”
Letitia Wright, “Black Museum” (“Black Mirror”)
Analysis: This comes down to Cruz or Light, with Wever, a past winner for “Nurse Jackie,” a possible spoiler for her surprising, tough and thoroughly amazing turn in “Godless.”
Cruz owned the bigger role as the grieving (and, in flashbacks, competitive) Donatella Versace, a part that required a remarkable physical transformation. But when I think back on viewing “Versace,” what sticks is Light’s haunting portrayal of beauty empire entrepreneur Marilyn Miglin, wife of Lee Miglin, one of the men Andrew Cunanan murdered. The scene in which Marilyn finally breaks down, asking, “Am I a good wife now?” is absolutely devastating.
I think Cruz wins for the prominence of her part, but this is Light’s fourth nomination and there’s going to be some sentiment to finally reward her with an Emmy. This is a real toss-up.
SUPPORTING ACTOR, LIMITED SERIES / TV MOVIE
Jeff Daniels, “Godless”
Brandon Victor Dixon, “Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert”
John Leguizamo, “Waco”
Ricky Martin, “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story”
Edgar Ramirez, “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story”
Michael Stuhlbarg, “The Looming Tower”
Finn Wittrock, “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story”
Analysis: “Looming Tower” had been the favorite to dominate this category. Instead voters looked to “Versace,” nominating three of its actors. Is there a standout in terms of buzz among the trio? I don’t think so, though I’m partial to Wittrock, excellent in the series’ wrenching “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” episode.
Daniels was one of two actors nominated for “The Looming Tower,” but given the lack of enthusiasm for the program, I think voters will focus on his portrayal of fearsome, trigger-happy outlaw Frank Griffin in “Godless,” likely giving him a second Emmy following his win five years ago for “The Newsroom.”