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2022 Emmys Preview: Handicapping the Limited Series Categories

Can Hulu's Trio Best The White Lotus?
  • Photos: HBO, Hulu.
    Photos: HBO, Hulu.

    Joe Reid isn't just Primetimer's managing editor. He's also an awards expert and one half of the popular podcast, This Had Oscar Buzz. Over the coming weeks Joe will be looking at the competition in each of the major categories at this year's 74th Annual Emmy Awards. This week: Limited Series.

    The nominees for the Limited Series categories at this year Emmy Awards combine to create a peculiar collection of storylines. With a massive haul of nominations, HBO's The White Lotus is the most nominated of the bunch, but its plentiful acting nominations lie exclusively in the supporting categories, with most of the slots for Lead Actress and Lead Actor going to a curious trio of Hulu productions — Dopesick, The Dropout, and Pam & Tommy.

    As for all of this year's other great limited series — Under the Banner of Heaven, Maid, The Staircase, and Station Eleven among them — there's nothing to indicate a groundswell of support from Emy voters beyond a few scattered nominations.

    All of which is to say, outside of The White Lotus in the supporting categories (which we'll be discussing in two weeks), there's no clear frontrunner for Limited Series. So which shows are best poised to triumph in this year's three top limited series categories?

    Outstanding Limited Series

    • Dopesick (Hulu)
    • The Dropout (Hulu)
    • Inventing Anna (Netflix)
    • Pam & Tommy (Hulu)
    • The White Lotus (HBO)

    The Frontrunner: At 20 nominations and a stranglehold on the supporting categories, The White Lotus is at the front of the pack for this year's crop of limited series. Which is a pretty impressive accomplishment for a show that aired last summer. (It's also a pretty impressive accomplishment for a show that isn't strictly speaking a limited series, since it's coming back for a second season with at least Jennifer Coolidge's character as connective tissue, but the Emmys allowed an exception.)

    The Likeliest Spoiler: Let's assume for a moment that Netflix's beleaguered Inventing Anna is just happy to be nominated (with just three total nominations, it's a decent assumption). That leaves the three Hulu shows in a scrum to play spoiler. Dopesick was the most nominated of the three and has already shown strength through last winter's precursor season, and it seems to be the prestige show of choice given the gravity of its subject matter. Pam & Tommy's surprisingly robust nomination total is worth lingering on, but it would be a major shock if it won.

    The Feel-Good Long-Shot: "Feel-good" is relative in a category full of shows about scammers, drug pushers, alleged murderers, and killer owls. But a win for The Dropout would be a win for the one good series from a Spring where seemingly every streamer had a show about a true-life scammer story. Plus it would be a win for Elizabeth Meriwether, whose New Girl was consistently undervalued by the Emmys.

    Stat to Chew On: The last time a single platform had three nominees in this category was 2011, when the category combined miniseries and made-for-TV movies. That year, HBO snagged nominations for the TV movies Too Big to Fail and Cinema Verite, as well as the miniseries Mildred Pierce. All three lost to the first season of Downton Abbey... another continuing series that was allowed to compete as a miniseries.

    Prediction: Seriously watch out for Dopesick here, especially if Hulu leans on those important themes, but The White Lotus would seem to have enthralled voters thus far.

    Outstanding Actor in a Limited Series

    • Colin Firth as Michael Peterson on The Staircase
    • Andrew Garfield as Detective Jeb Pyre on Under the Banner of Heaven
    • Oscar Isaac as Jonathan Levy on Scenes from a Marriage
    • Michael Keaton as Dr. Samuel Finnix on Dopesick
    • Himesh Patel as Jeevan Chaudhary on Station Eleven
    • Sebastian Stan as Tommy Lee on Pam & Tommy

    The Frontrunner: This is a category with some serious firepower, including an Oscar winner, two Oscar nominees, and an Oscar (Isaac). Amid this crowd, the smart money has to be on Michael Keaton, who made a sweep of last winter's precursor season, taking home awards from the Screen Actors Guild, the Golden Globes, the Critics Choice, and the all-important AARP Movies for Grownups Awards.

    The Likeliest Spoiler: Colin Firth and Andrew Garfield both gave phenomenal performances that are more than worthy of an Emmy win, but their respective series were all but otherwise ignored (The Staircase only got one other nomination, for Toni Collette, while Garfield was Under the Banner of Heaven's only nomination). Meanwhile, Pam & Tommy hugely over-achieved on nomination day. Does that make Sebastian Stan the true dark horse in this category?

    The Feel-Good Long-Shot: Himesh Patel is the only acting nominee from the tremendous Station Eleven, one of the best TV shows of the year, and if he manages to win an upset victory, it would be a hugely celebratory moment, especially for anybody who remembers this, the most emotional scene of the 2021-22 TV season.

    Stat to Chew On: The only people in this category previously nominated for Emmys are Colin Firth, nominated all the way back in 2001 for playing a Nazi in the HBO TV movie Conspiracy, and Michael Keaton, nominated in 2004 in Outstanding Nonfiction Special for Fred Rogers: America's Favorite Neighbor.

    Prediction: If Firth or Garfield had even a little bit of support for their shows in other categories, I'd say this was a tight race, but Keaton looks like he's going to walk away with it.

    Outstanding Actress in a Limited Series

    • Toni Collette as Kathleen Peterson on The Staircase
    • Julia Garner as Anna Delvey on Inventing Anna
    • Lily James as Pamela Anderson on Pam & Tommy
    • Sarah Paulson as Linda Tripp on Impeachment: American Crime Story
    • Margaret Qualley as Alex Russell on Maid
    • Amanda Seyfried as Elizabeth Holmes on The Dropout

    The Frontrunner: From the moment people heard Elizabeth Holmes's peculiar voice coming out of Amanda Seyfried's mouth, award watchers put their chips on her to win the Emmy, and to this day there's every reason to think they'll be right. But The Dropout under-performed a bit in nominations, with nods for writing, directing, and for Seyfried's performance, yes, but Naveen Andrews, Laurie Metcalf, and William H. Macy — all former Emmy nominees — were snubbed. This leaves Seyfried vulnerable.

    The Likeliest Spoiler: Will it be a battle of ridiculous accents for the win? Julia Garner's multi-continental accent choices for Anna Delvey were the subject of much attention, both positive and negative. But Garner is a big-time Emmy fave, having won twice for her performance on Ozark, so let's not count her out. Also not out of the question? Lily James, who dropped jaws everywhere for her uncanny visual transformation into Pamela Anderson. Pam & Tommy's surprisingly strong showing in the nominations doesn't actually have too many avenues for wins, so this might be voters' best chance to express their appreciation.

    The Feel-Good Long-Shot: Every once in a while, awards voters will vote not purely for the performance but also because they're rooting for the character to succeed. If that's the case this year, it could mean good news for a couple people in this category. Margaret Qualley's performance in Maid was hugely acclaimed, and the audience really roots for her character to emerge with a win. Meanwhile, Toni Collette delivered an intense and demanding performance in The Staircase, a show that imagines several different scenarios for Kathleen Peterson's death. After watching that series, no matter what you think of who (or what) may have killed her, you probably believe that she deserved better.

    Stat to Chew On: If you count Maid — which is an adaptation of Stephanie Land's memoir, even though the main character goes by Alex — every single nominee in this category is playing a real person. That hasn't happened in this category since 2009, when Jessica Lange won for playing "Big Edie" Beale on HBO's Grey Gardens.

    Prediction: Amanda Seyfried likely holds on for the win, but it's always best to watch your back when Anna Delvey is around.

    The 74th Primetime Emmy Awards are scheduled to air September 12th on NBC.

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    Joe Reid is the senior writer 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, Dopesick, The Dropout, Inventing Anna, Pam & Tommy, The Staircase (2022), Under the Banner of Heaven, The White Lotus, Amanda Seyfried, Andrew Garfield, Colin Firth, Julia Garner, Lily James, Margaret Qualley, Michael Keaton, Sebastian Stan, Toni Collette