Can Netflix Sweep the Limited-Series Emmy Races?


Last spring, following a relatively light fall and winter, TV networks far and wide pushed out their buzziest limited series in the heat of Emmy season. They starred Oscar winners like Colin Firth (Max’s The Staircase), Viola Davis (Showtime’s First Lady), and Julia Roberts (Starz’s Gaslit); they came from major showrunners in Dustin Lance Black (Under the Banner of Heaven) and David Simon (HBO’s We Own This City). Yet not a single show that premiered in that spring window was ultimately nominated for the Outstanding Limited Series Emmy, no matter the immensity of the campaigns behind them or the quality of their reviews. Instead, voters leaned back on winter blockbusters Pam & Tommy and Inventing Anna—shows that were not particularly well-received, but had more time to build an audience.

Coming into this Emmy cycle, the limited-series landscape has seemed a bit more evenly spread between seasons—at least until spring rolled back around. Last summer’s Black Bird pretty much had July to itself, before studios gave several strong contenders room to breathe in the fall: Showtime’s George & Tammy, which broke ratings records for the network; Netflix’s Dahmer, which broke records for the streamer; and FX’s pair of The Patient and Fleishman Is in Trouble, which if not as broadly appealing found more critical love than either of those fact-based dramas. Throw in Prime Video’s The English, AMC+’s This Is Going to Hurt, and HBO’s Irma Vep—all of which were widely acclaimed—and we had a pretty robust field taking shape by 2022’s end.

So given that voters had mostly made up their minds by the spring of last year, will anything be different this time around? Already, Dahmer has won big with the Golden Globes and BAFTAs; its stars Evan Peters and Niecy Nash-Betts have won major trophies, along with actors from George & Tammy and Black Bird. Even Disney+’s summer diversion Obi-Wan Kenobi found a surprising embrace among industry guilds. Meanwhile, a whole lot of heavily marketed new content has struggled to make comparable noise over the last few months.

Take the big offerings of HBO/Max, which include Love & Death and White House Plumbers—two docudramas whose events very closely resemble those of two shows that the Emmys ignored just last year, in Hulu’s Candy and Starz’s Gaslit, respectively. Having the branding and backing of the relatively Emmy-friendly HBO/Max should help this year’s crop; the fact that both Love & Death and White House Plumbers received worse reviews than their 2022 near-doppelgangers, however, will not help them a bit. 

Other shows have found more success with critics than audiences. Prime Video’s polarizing spring launches, Dead Ringers and Swarm, generated attention for their tremendous lead performances—from Rachel Weisz and Dominique Fishback, respectively—but their hyper-stylized and unusual narrative qualities make an across-the-board awards run seem difficult. Ditto Peacock’s Mrs. Davis, which features a never-better Betty Gilpin and was originally expected to compete as a drama before a late pivot. The case for National Geographic’s A Small Light feels more curious, given the strong reviews and awards-friendly sheen—to say nothing of the concurrent streaming across both Disney+ and Hulu—but the Miep Gies biopic has struggled to garner much audience traction. 

I could go on, to list the dead-end debuts for FX’s Great Expectations, Apple TV+’s Extrapolations and The Last Thing He Told Me, and others—you get the idea. This category seems to be repeating a familiar dynamic. But there’s one very notable exception. 

Prior to Beef’s April premiere, Vanity Fair had learned that Netflix was planning to submit its anticipated new half-hour as a comedy. The creator Lee Sung Jin had even discussed mapping out several seasons worth of story from its inception. Then the bitingly dark series premiered to rave reviews and strong viewership, and struck a chord with the industry. Evidently, the strategy shifted somewhere along the way. Beef is now officially on the Emmy ballot as a limited series, with no word on what its future might look like. 

So for now, we must take Beef at face value, as the party-crasher that Netflix has cannily positioned it as. Just as HBO maintains a dominant hold on the drama races, Netflix has effectively assumed control of this limited-series field, with the top category down to Beef and the original front-runner, Dahmer. It’ll mark the streamer’s second win here in three years; they took the 2021 prize in The Queen’s Gambit’s triumph over HBO’s Mare of Easttown.

As hinted at above, Beef’s Ali Wong enters a very crowded best-actress race. Jessica Chastain won the SAG Award for George & Tammy and gives a richly complex, scenery-chewing performance that may be tough to beat, especially given her prowess as a campaigner. Fleishman’s Lizzy Caplan, Love & Death’s Elizabeth Olsen, Tiny Beautiful ThingsKathryn Hahn have all been nominated before and do excellent work in their respective roles; Rachel Weisz, Dominique Fishback, The English’s Emily Blunt, and A Small Light’s Bel Powley are all seeking their first nods for lauded work. There are a few wildcards to consider too: Riley Keough, whose Daisy Jones & the Six may have just been popular enough for Prime Video to overcome the spring curse, and Sydney Sweeney, fresh off of double nominations last year and electric in HBO’s TV movie Reality, a genre that has found very little love in these acting categories of late. 

Beef’s Steven Yeun and Dahmer’s Evan Peters will likely mirror the Dahmer/Beef faceoff in best actor, meanwhile—the race is just not as competitive, with the likes of George & Tammy’s Michael Shannon, Fleishman’s Jesse Eisenberg, and Daisy Jones’s Sam Claflin fighting for nods alongside their more competitive costars. Keeping with the open TV-movie question, Daniel Radcliffe is a fun—and plausible—possibility for his Weird tour-de-force, while Taron Egerton and Steve Carell are also in the mix, even as their supporting costars Paul Walter Hauser and Domhnall Gleeson, respectively, have found far more awards heat thus far. Those two likely first-timers have a real shot at the win, given the disparate supporting-actor field: Expect past winners Richard Jenkins (Dahmer) and Murray Bartlett (Welcome to Chippendales) to also figure prominently there. 

For me, though, the most exciting limited-series contest will take place in supporting actress, where two of the season’s very best performances go head-to-head. Niecy Nash-Betts won the Critics Choice Award for her transformative, devastating turn as Glenda Cleveland in Dahmer, and will ride a powerful Hollywood journeyman narrative to the end. Claire Danes, meanwhile, brilliantly anchors Fleishman’s best installment—“Me Time,” which is all over the Emmy submissions ballot for the show—and is a Television Academy darling. Whoever wins will represent this year’s limited series at their finest—across the board, they offered a showcase of extraordinary female performances.

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