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This Year's Emmy Race For Outstanding Limited Series Has a New Frontrunner

Move over HBO and Netflix, Hulu is the one to beat in 2022's buzziest category.
  • Photos: HBO, Hulu, Netflix
    Photos: HBO, Hulu, Netflix

    With the calendar having passed into June, the eligibility period for the 2021-22 Emmys has come to a close. Now it's just a matter of voters taking stock of the season's many shows, and sorting out which are most worthy of awards.

    In recent years, the limited series has emerged as the most buzzy and prestigious format on TV, with top talent flocking to streaming platforms and premium cable to make their five-to-twelve-episode masterpieces. Surveying a landscape riddled with overlapping subject matter — there were an awful lot of true crime and scammer shows this season — one might argue that we're living in a Limited Series bubble, but one happy consequence is that the limited series Emmy categories promise to be wildly competitive this year.

    While past years have seen powerhouse brands HBO and Netflix duke it out for limited series supremacy at the Emmys, an emerging third superpower is poised to shake things up. Could this be the year of Hulu?

    We've sifted through the dozens upon dozens of limited series in contention this year and broken down the top contenders by their platforms or networks. Unlike the Comedy and Drama categories, which have expanded their number of nominees in recent years, last year's Limited Series category numbered only five shows. The competition promises to be fierce.

    Hulu

    Hulu has only been nominated once ever in the Outstanding Limited Series category (in 2020 for Little Fires Everywhere), but this year the streamer would seem to be shoe-in for at least two nominations in the category, and a whole bunch of acting nominations are in play as well. Dopesick, about the origins of the opioid epidemic in America, has been raking in awards since the winter, when Michael Keaton scored SAG, Critics Choice, and Golden Globe awards for his lead performance. The show's biggest competition in this category may well be in-house, as the Elizabeth Holmes series The Dropout, which was consistently hailed as the best of the wave of 2022 scammer series, presents as a major contender. Amanda Seyfried seems like the performance to beat in the Lead Actress category, with Naveen Andrews and Laurie Metcalf leading a starry and spectacular array of supporting players.

    Athough less of a sure thing, other strong contenders from Hulu include Pam and Tommy, which is driving hard to score nominations for Lily James and Sebastian Stan as its title pair, plus Seth Rogen in the Supporting Actor category. The Girl from Plainville has been a bit more divisive, but Elle Fanning could see herself double-nominated between this and The Great in the comedy categories. And then there's Candy, the true crime series about real-life axe murderer Candy Montgomery, which features a stellar lead performance from Jessica Biel.

    Netflix

    Netflix's The Queen's Gambit bested HBO's Mare of Easttown and I May Destroy You last year, part of the platform's biggest show of strength at the Emmys ever. It's a whole different vibe at Netflix this year on a lot of fronts, including their uninspring Emmy prospects. Inventing Anna was the platform's big-ticket item this season, and although it got a lot of attention, not all of it was good. Julia Garner's a huge Emmy fave, so she'll probably contend in Lead Actress for her mystifyingly accented performance as con artist Anna Delvey, but an Outstanding Limited Series nod seems like a long shot.

    Netflix's best chance in the category would seem to be with Maid, Molly Smith Metzler's series about a young mother struggling to provide for her young toddler. The reviews were stellar, and Margaret Qualley is probably right up there with Amanda Seyfried in terms of locks for a Lead Actress nomination. (Qualley's real-life mother, Andie MacDowell, is also a contender for Supporting Actress.)

    A much longer shot, although it would be deserving on several levels, is Mike Flanagan's spooky tale of religious mania, Midnight Mass, which at the very least ought to place Hamish Linklater's terrifyingly committed performance in Lead Actor. None of Flanagan's previous Netflix series — The Hauntings of Hill House and Bly Manor — have received the Emmy recognition they deserved, and Midnight Mass's long ago September premiere doesn't help it any.

    HBO / HBO Max

    HBO has triumphed in this category in six of the last ten years, most recently in 2020 with Watchmen, and their roster of contenders is typically strong, led by The White Lotus. Mike White's biting take on white privilege is competing in the Limited Series category despite the fact that it's returning for a second season and carrying over star Jennifer Coolidge, via a semantic loophole that doesn't make a ton of sense but indicates that HBO really thinks it can win here. With one category question settled, the other will be whether the show ends up cannibalizing its own nomination tally by competing with itself in the acting categories. Everybody is counting on nominations for Coolidge and Murray Bartlett, but there are also strong cases to be made for Connie Britton, Alexandra Daddario, Jake Lacy, Natasha Rothwell, and Sydney Sweeney.

    After The White Lotus, HBO has a deep bench, highlighted by HBO Max's The Staircase, which has the benefit of being fresh in voters' minds, not to mention stellar performances by Colin Firth, Toni Collette, and Parker Posey. Firth ought to be a major contender in Lead Actor for his brilliantly ambiguous performance. Meanwhile, the hope is that voters have memories that stretch back a bit further to December for Patrick Somerville's achingly beautiful post-apocalyptic Station Eleven, one of the year's best shows in any genre but which might not have enough flash or star power to hang in such a competitive category. Performances by Mackenzie Davis, Himesh Patel, and Danielle Deadwyler would make for great surprises on nomination morning.

    While Scenes from a Marriage proved to be divisive, the fact that it was such a naked performance showcase for stars Oscar Isaac and recent Academy Award winner Jessica Chastain ought to position the both of them for nominations, even if the show itself misses out. Meanwhile, here we are again with David Simon and his new series We Own This City, back on the beat of urban corruption in Baltimore. From The Wire through Tremé up til more recent miniseries like Show Me a Hero, The Deuce, and The Plot Against America, Simon can't ever seem to get arrested by the Emmys, and given the battle for attention among the top shows in this category, it's not looking good that this year will break the streak.

    FX

    The only other network to really compete with HBO in the Limited Series category this past decade has been FX, and although they don't have the volume of top contenders like some of the other platforms, they're likely be a part of the mix. Under the Banner of Heaven — which released under the sundowning "FX on Hulu" label — was a gripping true-crime story from Oscar-winner Dustin Lance Black, and its lead performance by Andrew Garfield should have him squarely in the Lead Actor conversation. Whether the supporting categories have room for co-stars Wyatt Russell, Gil Birmingham, Denise Dough, or Daisy Edgar-Jones is another story.

    And then there's the case of Impeachment. Ryan Murphy's American Crime Story anthology series has won the Limited Series award twice before, but this iteration was significantly less well-received, and felt a bit buried on FX, now that cable has taken such a severe backseat to streaming. But you underestimate Ryan Murphy's shows at the Emmys at your peril. Even if they don't end up snagging Best Series nods, recent acting nominations for the stars of Halston, Ratched, and Hollywood mean that we won't be surprised if Beanie Feldstein or Sarah Paulson crash the Lead Actress lineup for their performances as Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp, respectively.

    Apple TV+

    While the 2022 Emmys are looking pretty sweet for Apple in the Comedy and Drama categories with Ted Lasso and Severance, don't expect quite the same level of success in Limited. WeCrashed got caught up in the gluttonous scammer series trend, although Anne Hathaway's delicious performance definitely had its fans and could contend. Otherwise, it's Tom Hiddleston and Claire Danes doing lush period stuff in The Essex Serpent, a show that might have done very well at the Emmys a decade ago before everybody got on the limited series gravy train.

    Paramount+

    This is likely to be the year that Yellowstone breaks into the Drama Series category, so it'd probably be wise not to underestimate the Yellowstone spinoff 1883, especially in a category that, if you go back more than a decade, really used to favor the western. 1883 is returning for a second season, but as an anthology series starring David Oyelowo, which means it can still compete as a limited series. There's also the much ballyhooed The Offer, which told the true-life behind-the-scenes tale of how The Godfather got made. After a lot of hype, the series wasn't exactly a hit with critics, but it does boast a few truly excellent performances, in particular Juno Temple, as well as Matthew Goode playing legendary producer Robert Evans.

    Elsewhere…

    Starz could be up for their first nomination in this category since 2014 with their extravagant Watergate drama Gaslit. Certainly when you've got the likes of Julia Roberts and Sean Penn on a ballot, they're going to attract some votes (although it's no guarantee; Roberts was snubbed in 2019 for her performance in Homecoming).

    At Amazon, they're hoping to repeat — or even improve upon — the showing for A Very English Scandal, which won Ben Whishaw an Emmy in 2019. For A Very British Scandal, Paul Bettany and Claire Foy will vie for nominations as the his and hers of a scandalous 1960s divorce case.

    And finally, a network miniseries hasn't been nominated in this category since 2016's American Crime at ABC. This year, NBC will attempt to buck that trend with Renee Zellweger's transformative performance in The Thing About Pam. If Zellweger and The First Lady's Viola Davis can crack the Lead Actress category, along with Jessica Chastain, that would be a lot of Oscar-winning competition for Amanda Seyfried.

    Nominations for the 74th Emmy Awards will be announced on Tuesday, July 12, 2022, with the ceremony to follow in September.

    Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: 74th Primetime Emmy Awards, 1883, Candy, Dopesick, The Dropout, Gaslit, The Girl From Plainville, Impeachment: American Crime Story, Inventing Anna, Maid, Midnight Mass, The Offer, Pam & Tommy, Scenes From a Marriage, The Staircase (2022), Station Eleven, The Thing About Pam, Under the Banner of Heaven, A Very British Scandal, WeCrashed, We Own This City, The White Lotus