HBO tends to dominate this category, with numerous victories over the years, so there is no reason to believe that their two entries this year, The Wizard of Lies and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks aren’t immediate frontrunners. But this could be a year for PBS as well in a critically uneven field of contenders that pale compared to their Limited Series counterparts.
The broadcast networks long ago virtually abandoned this format, which they once championed, so the presence of NBC’s Dolly Parton holiday sequel is something of a breakthrough, or evidence that the cablers and streamers are focusing more on the once endangered Limited Series format.
Black Mirror: San Junipero
Hardly a “movie”, this episode of the Twilight Zone-like Netflix anthology series only ran an hour, but that was enough to stand out in what is really an exceptional TV series in the spirit of those classic kinds of spooky and weirdly fascinating sci-fi anthologies of TV’s golden age. This one focused on the bond between a party girl and her very shy opposite when strange things happen indeed.
Every bit as sentimental and sweet as its title might indicate, this holiday movie defied the odds and landed NBC a spot in the TV Movie race with its sequel to last year’s not-nominated first entry, drawn from Dolly Parton’s childhood memories. It is a long shot to win here since this kind of subject matter rarely seems important enough for Emmy voters, but don’t underestimate the appeal of Parton who has made herself available to campaign for it.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
One of HBO’s two nominations here, the film was widely publicized by the network but failed to get Oprah Winfrey an expected Lead Actress nomination in the story of a major medical breakthrough in the 1950s where an African-American woman’s cells were used to create the first immortal human cell line. Winfrey didn’t play the title character, but rather her daughter in the film that nevertheless did make a big enough mark to get this single, but very important, nomination from the Academy.
Sherlock: The Lying Detective
A new chapter in the PBS series of Sherlock Holmes movies starring Benedict Cumberbatch, this one called The Lying Detective, follows another last year that actually won the Outstanding Television Movie Emmy for the first time, even though this sporadic series of movies has been honored with numerous other Emmy statuettes, including one for Cumberbatch who is nominated again this year.
The Wizard of Lies
In the battle of Bernie Madoff movies, this HBO production featuring the star power of Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer is the winner, since Emmy virtually ignored last year’s attempt to tell the story in a two-parter that starred Richard Dreyfuss. With De Niro on board, this film got nominated for four Emmys, but it did it in a category of movies that failed to get a single directing or writing nomination.
PETE’S PICK: Sherlock: The Lying Detective
WHO DESERVES IT?
Overall I would say the choices this year by the Television Academy (of which I am a member) were right on target and forward-thinking. Although I am not picking specific shows here over another, I can say I would be thrilled to see certain things happen.
One of those picks would be to see the ever–controversial Bill Maher finally take home his first Variety Talk Series Emmy for his HBO show Real Time. He has been the most consistent and brave voice for sanity in the political arena, without fear of “politically correct” backlash. He has also been the most consistently nominated person over the years in this category, and it is getting a little ridiculous to keep overlooking him. Last year’s winner John Oliver broke more than a decade-long string of Comedy Central dominant wins, mostly for The Daily Show, but he’s an acquired taste if you ask me. He’s sharp and funny with his rants but a little goes a long way. I’d be just as happy to see Jimmy Kimmel take this as well, if not only for his nightly show but for the superb way he handled the Oscars this year.
And speaking of that memorable awards broadcast, no show was more talked about on TV this year than that one. And despite envelope-gate, it was one of the best ever. Perhaps it is time for the Oscars to once again win an Emmy in the Special Class category? The only thing really standing in its way is NBC’s superb musical, Hairspray Live, which truly showed how these now frequent TV events should be done. Grease Live won it last year for Fox, so why not Hairspray? The Tony Awards is also nominated (as is Lady Gaga’s halftime Superbowl performance for some reason) and they usually win, but maybe this year will hopefully give us something a little less predictable.
Sometimes we Emmy voters are lazy and just go to the same well over and over (witness all those Emmys for The Amazing Race). I guess even nominating The Bachelor for Reality Competition Series is beneath the dignity of the Academy, but I have to say there is no slicker, sicker series on TV and it is brilliantly produced, but alas no nominations. Maybe someday, probably not.
In the writing and directing categories there is an embarrassment of riches to choose from, and for me in Limited Series it is a true Solomon’s Choice between Big Little Lies and Feud: Bette and Joan. All seven of the former’s scripts were written by David E. Kelley and that’s a prodigious achievement. All seven of the episodes were directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, the only one in his category nominated for more than a single episode, another prodigious achievement.
But I am torn because of Ryan Murphy, who not only turned Feud into a must see event, but wrote and directed the most remarkable part of it, Episode 5, “And The Winner Is”. For his direction alone in flawlessly and meticulously recreating the 1963 Oscar show, spending months in pre-production and research to get it just right, he probably deserves it as much as Vallée. What a choice, indeed.
Wouldn’t it be ironic to see not only Glenn Weiss (who coincidentally is directing the Emmys this year) win an Emmy for directing The 2017 Oscars (very possible) in the same show where Murphy wins an Emmy for re-directing the 1963 Oscars? Stranger things have happened, but not often.