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  • James Kunovski

2020 Emmys: Thoughts on Limited Series & TV Movie

Watchmen undoubtedly remains this year’s champion of the limited series. HBO’s modern reinvention of the classic DC comic received twenty-six nominations, which for reference, is only six lower than last year’s record-breaking Game of Thrones'W clinch of thirty-two. Between them, the other programs nominated for outstanding limited series amassed twenty-seven nominations. Watchmen’s force seems to be unstoppable at this point with a highly anticipated sweep in its future. Potentially in its way are the talents from I Know This Much is True, Normal People and Unorthodox. Limited series have swept in the past: Angels in America went seven for seven; Olive Kitteridge, six for seven. Could we see this play out with Watchmen?

Limited Series

Little Fires Everywhere

Mrs. America




Will Win: Watchmen

Should Win: Watchmen or Unorthodox

Snubbed: Normal People

Watchmen is winning hands down, and rightfully so. With that said, let’s take a look at the other nominees and where they sit. In another year, Mrs. America would gladly sweep. Had most of the “limited series” below-the-line fields not merged to make more setting-specific categories, we could have seen Mrs. America with a similar turnout to last year’s Fosse/Verdon, also an FX prime series that received seventeen nominations. Little Fires Everywhere seems out of place, and even if it’s a Reese Witherspoon production based on a novel, Big Little Lies it is not. Unbelievable was expected to receive more nominations, especially for Kaitlyn Dever and Merritt Wever, so its underperformance was a bit surprising. Its premiere, just over a year ago, could be to blame. Unorthodox is an understated miracle, and a gem in Netflix’s overstuffed catalogue. Though it’s unlikely Unorthodox would win in another year, simply due to the subject matter and unfortunate obscurity, it ranks high as one of this year’s best productions and has fittingly found itself in appropriate company.


Television Movie

American Son

Bad Education

Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings: These Old Bones

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs. The Reverend

Will Win: El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie

Should Win: Bad Education

Snubbed: Blow the Man Down

El Camino could win because of Breaking Bad’s legacy. The recency of Breaking Bad’s Emmy adulation (for its split final season in 2013/14) could aid the film, even if El Camino’s reception was for the most part, a bit tepid. This category has always been fairly unpredictable, as it’s not clear what the Academy favours, and as the lines of what classifies a television movie continue to blur. Also, voters might not like “legacy films,” with Deadwood: The Movie surprisingly losing out last year. Since it’s been years since Breaking Bad ended, El Camino, which received only four nominations, was not that interesting from the stance of a standalone movie. The best standalone film here, and one of my favourites from 2020, is HBO’s Bad Education which could gain the edge.


Lead Actor

Jeremy Irons, Watchmen

Hugh Jackman, Bad Education

Paul Mescal, Normal People

Jeremy Pope, Hollywood

Mark Ruffalo, I Know This Much Is True

Will Win: Mark Ruffalo, I Know This Much Is True

Should Win: Mark Ruffalo, I Know This Much Is True

Snubbed: Morgan Spector, The Plot Against America

We are in the category that has recently favoured the unsung newcomer. Riz Ahmed won for The Night Of in 2017, and last year, Jharrel Jerome won for When They See Us. Both beat out at least two Oscar winners. That trend could repeat with Paul Mescal for Normal People or Jeremy Pope for Hollywood. However, it is more likely to go to Mark Ruffalo for his breathtakingly raw dual-performance of twin brothers Dominick and Thomas, one of whom is suffering from mental illness. Ruffalo, despite his widespread career is constantly “slept on,” if you will, and a nod from this category could further propel his talent into the spotlight.


Lead Actress

Cate Blanchett, Mrs. America

Shira Haas, Unorthodox

Regina King, Watchmen

Octavia Spencer, Self Made

Kerry Washington, Little Fires Everywhere

Will Win: Regina King, Watchmen

Should Win: Shira Haas, Unorthodox

Snubbed: Daisy Edgar-Jones, Normal People

For a series that received as much attention as Watchmen, it would feel disingenuous to not award the woman who was the centrifugal force that held the many elements together. Regina King has become somewhat of an Emmy favourite; a win for Watchmen would be her fourth, in addition to that Oscar, of course. Cate Blanchett has the star power and the difficult performance that the Academy gravitates toward, but she also shares the stage with at least half a dozen scene-stealers. Shira Haas as Etsy, who flees her Hasidic community in Brooklyn, is a revelation in Unorthodox. With her beguiling turn, recognition should follow. It is a career-making, and potentially career-defining turn, primarily in a language which Haas doesn’t speak, and one centred around her stature of strength in the throes of vulnerability.


Supporting Actor

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Watchmen

Jovan Adepo, Watchmen

Tituss Burgess, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs. The Reverend

Louis Gossett Jr., Watchmen

Dylan McDermott, Hollywood

Jim Parsons, Hollywood

Will Win: Jim Parsons, Hollywood

Should Win: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Watchmen

Snubbed: Tim Blake Nelson, Watchmen

Jim Parsons goes against the grain in Hollywood as exploitative and ruthless producer, Henry Wilson. Parsons has been awarded multiple times as Sheldon Cooper in The Big Bang Theory and he could appeal to voters who look for range. Also doing transformative and exemplary work is Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Angela’s husband Cal and Dr. Manhattan. That methodology could aid Abdul-Mateen, as well as it could, Parsons. We may not see love for newbies in the lead slots, but that could well spill over into the supporting categories where voters would be remiss to look over this highlight in a sea of Watchmen achievements.


Supporting Actress

Uzo Aduba, Mrs. America

Toni Collette, Unbelievable

Margo Martindale, Mrs. America

Jean Smart, Watchmen

Holland Taylor, Hollywood

Tracey Ullman, Mrs. America

Will Win: Jean Smart, Watchmen

Should Win: Jean Smart, Watchmen or Uzo Aduba, Mrs. America

Snubbed: Sarah Paulson, Mrs. America

Any of these six paramount performers could and should basket this award. Each performer would add it to their treasure trove of Emmys. Combined, they have fifty-eight (!) nominations, with Ullman leading the pack with twenty-seven. All have won at least once; together they have eighteen trophies. This time around, Toni Collette, Jean Smart and Uzo Aduba have the most push behind them. Considering Unbelievable suffers from the recency bias, and received only four nominations, Collette’s chances are fairly flat.

In lieu, Jean Smart’s quick-witted portrayal as vigilante-turned FBI agent Laurie Blake is a performance made for awards. Smart joins a list of wonderful performances, but her turn is intoxicating, as she often tips the balance toward herself when paired with Regina King’s Angela. Aduba, is playing Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American elected to congress in Mrs. America.

Prior to nominations, I was expecting at least four, and potentially five of the ensemble members from that series in this field. Sarah Paulson, Elizabeth Banks and Rose Byrne are those that were not nominated. Aduba has the “bio-factor” in her stride, and historically limited series acting wins go to those performances. Either Aduba or Smart could win, but it would be deserved any way it heads.



Little Fires Everywhere for “Find a Way”

Normal People for “Episode 5”


Watchmen for “It’s Summer and We’re Running Out of Ice”

Watchmen for “Little Fear of Lightning”

Watchmen for “This Extraordinary Being”

Will Win: Watchmen for “This Extraordinary Being”

Should Win: Watchmen for “This Extraordinary Being”

Snubbed: Devs

The creative execution and grip that each Watchmen episode upheld should be bestowed on its directors. All of them have a shot here (if they don’t split the vote) but I have to especially point out the brilliance of “This Extraordinary Being.” Director Stephen Williams moulds intergenerational trauma into storytelling form with his command of seamlessly long and generous sequences. Angela often switches places with her young grandfather in moments that are simultaneously imbedded in the past but wholly present. On top of that, Williams champions a unique use of black-and-white, sound design and music to help convey Angela’s history. If the directing branch are craving the antithesis to the big budget submission, they may found what they’re looking for with the intimacy of Normal People or Unorthodox.



Mrs. America for “Shirley”

Normal People for “Episode 3”

Unbelievable for “Episode 1”

Unorthodox for “Episode 1”

Watchmen for “This Extraordinary Being”

Will Win: Watchmen for “This Extraordinary Being”

Should Win: Unorthodox for “Episode 1”

Snubbed: Devs

Once again, its contemporary and political twists will warrant Watchmen another win. “This Extraordinary Being,” has the strongest concept and is the best episode to put forward. Damon Lindelof and Cord Jefferson’s writing encapsulates the long-term effects of racism through the superficially short-term power of memory. Alternatively Unorthodox, written by Anna Winger of Deutschland 83 and 86 (director Maria Schrader starred in that series), warrants praise for her intricate plot work and narrative moulding. During the time-hopping first episode, the spur of a quiet moment or reflection usually segues into memories of an Hasidic upbringing and Etsy’s uncertain place within. It is a complex system of unraveling that most screenwriters would avoid. There are subtle hints in language that realistically convey outsiders’ opinions, “You don’t sound like you’re from New York” and “what is wrong with you people?” The beliefs of the “insiders” are gradually revealed; Etsy’s mother who also fled is referred to as “crazy.” In a night that will inevitably reward HBO’s Watchmen, let’s acknowledge the strength of this year’s other limited series.


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