Due to the sad state of the once-vibrant television movie, the now-separate category for TV movies has largely changed the definition of what that really means, and not necessarily for the better. Last year there were nominees in the category that were essentially episodes of an ongoing series, and even one theatrical feature (Grace Of Monaco) that had been sold off to Lifetime — hardly the definition of a movie made for television.
HBO’s Bessie was the eventual winner, and that was almost by default, considering the “competition.” As usual, HBO is the savior of the form, and has the two highest-profile nominees in All The Way and Confirmation, which they premiered toward the end of the season in order to own this category once again. BBC America’s Luther and PBS’ Sherlock are back in this race, where in past years they have been entered alternatively as either a movie or miniseries or combination of the two. Netflix’s A Very Murray Christmas seems like a variety special.
A Very Murray Christmas
Bill Murray’s satirical Christmas special is really stretching the definition of what a “television movie” has been traditionally thought to be, but this category is a grab bag for all sorts of things these days. With only one other nomination for Music Direction, this uneven but at times amusing outing for Murray and guest stars would seem the longest of shots against four dramas.
All The Way
With a heavyweight executive producer in Steven Spielberg and a built-in pedigree by way of its Tony Award-winning roots on Broadway, this film focusing on efforts by President Lyndon Johnson to pass the Civil Rights Bill is an expert adaptation of the play that inspired it. Bryan Cranston’s towering performance as LBJ leads all comers in his category and should help boost this into the winners’ circle here as well. With eight nominations, All The Way leads the TV Movie contenders.
This dramatic retelling of the hot-button congressional hearings for Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas and his confrontation, alongside sexual harassment accusations from Anita Hill, is still compelling and timely stuff and has been expertly brought to the small screen. But with only two nominations, including one for star Kerry Washington, it probably falls behind HBO’s other entry, above.
Idris Elba’s compelling character continues to drive this occasional series of “movies,” though in both 2012, when the category was combined, and 2014, when it was entered as a miniseries, it does seem to be defining itself differently in various years. Its chances to break out as a stand-alone movie would seem to be minimal, and BBC America probably chose this category because of far less competition than in the Limited Series contest this year.
Sherlock: The Abominable Bride (Masterpiece)
A class series of the continuing adventures of Sherlock and Watson, as played by Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman—both past Emmy winners for their efforts—is now once again nominated as a stand-alone TV Movie, just as it was in 2014. Like Luther, it was also in the combined Miniseries/Movie category in 2012. Voters love this show, but will they regard it in the spirit this category intends?
PETE’S PICK: All The Way should go all the way.
This post was originally published August 22, 2016.