Emmys 2015: Who Should Win TV-Movie and Limited-Series Races?

Photo: Vulture Illustration: BBC, HBO and FX

The 67th Emmy Awards air on Sunday, September 20, and all this week, Vulture will be breaking down the major categories. Instead of giving our predictions for which shows and actors will take home awards, let’s focus on the question that matters more: Who should win? Today, we focus on TV movies and limited series.

Outstanding Limited Series
American Crime

American Horror Story: Freak Show

The Honourable Woman 

Olive Kitteridge 

Wolf Hall

Wolf Hall achieved a sort of mini-series peak — its period costuming, its British prestige, its PBS-ness from top to bottom — that years ago would have been impossible to beat. And as good as it was, it’s beatable in this category: The Honourable Woman already picked up a Peabody, but this is really Olive Kitteridge’s to lose. In addition to its careful observations and superb performances, Olive feels the most like a mini-series, and not just a short season of a TV show or a long idea for a movie.

Outstanding Actor in a Mini-series or Movie
Richard Jenkins, Olive Kitteridge
David Oyelowo, Nightingale
Adrien Brody, Houdini
Mark Rylance, Wolf Hall
Ricky Gervais, Derek

Mark Rylance. Sorry, everybody else, but Rylance gave one of the strongest, most developed performances TV has produced in ages. Give him two Emmys: one for each eyebrow.

Lead Actress in a Mini-series or Movie
Felicity Huffman, American Crime
Queen Latifah, Bessie
Emma Thompson, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Live from London)
Jessica Lange, American Horror Story: Freak Show
Frances McDormand, Olive Kitteridge
Maggie Gyllenhaal, The Honourable Woman

This might be the altogether strongest acting slate in any category this year; each and every nominee gave an outstanding performance in a role of substance in a program of substance. Any winner should be applauded, even Lange, who has a lock on a particular type of role now (the “Jessica Lange chews up the scenery and does a funny accent and is scary-sexy”), but did it brilliantly again on American Horror Story. Queen Latifah was powerful and poignant and did her own singing in Bessie. Thompson was nearly as good a Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd as Angela Lansbury was; Sondheim fans will be chanting her name all night, perhaps in a rueful minor key. In American Crime, Huffman brought humanity to a woman who was probably difficult before losing her child to murder but became ferociously, at times off-puttingly, intractable afterward. In The Honourable Woman, Gyllenhaal is Michael Corleone — if he were an Anglo-Israeli businesswoman. This one is probably ultimately going to Frances McDormand, who was New England womanhood incarnate in Olive Kitteridge, one of the best things to air on American television in the last five years.

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or a Movie
Richard Cabral, American Crime

Denis O’Hare, American Horror Story: Freak Show

Damian Lewis, Wolf Hall

Bill Murray, Olive Kitteridge

Michael Kenneth Williams, Bessie

Finn Wittrock, American Horror Story: Freak Show

There’s nothing wrong with any of these performances, but unlike the nominees in other supporting categories — who turned in show-stealing, really spectacular work — all these performances really are overshadowed by the project’s stars. But since “no one gets an award” isn’t one of the options, let’s go with Richard Cabral. Crime was occasionally overwrought, but Cabral, at last, was just the right level of antsy.

Best Supporting Actress in a Mini-series or Movie
Regina King, American Crime
Sarah Paulson, American Horror Story: Freak Show
Mo’Nique, Bessie
Kathy Bates, American Horror Story: Freak Show
Angela Bassett, American Horror Story: Freak Show
Zoe Kazan, Olive Kitteridge

You can say a lot of things about American Horror Story, but you can’t say it doesn’t offer fantastically juicy roles for women — the kind that are usually earmarked for male character actors like Christopher Walken, Johnny Depp, or Forest Whitaker. This award will very likely go to Sarah Paulson, who played conjoined twins in the latest incarnation; if so, it will be a justified recognition of how touching and focused she was in two physically as well as emotionally complex roles, and for being awesome in pretty much everything. A win by any other nominee would be just as sweet, though.

Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series, Movie, or a Dramatic Special
American Crime, “Episode One,” John Ridley

Bessie, Dee Rees, Christopher Cleveland, Bettina Gilois, and Horton Foote

Hello Ladies: The Movie, Stephen Merchant, Gene Stupnitsky, and Lee Eisenberg

Olive Kitteridge, Jane Anderson

The Honourable Woman, Hugo Blick

Wolf Hall, Peter Straughan

The standout in this category is Olive Kitteridge, adapted from Elizabeth Strout’s novel by playwright and screenwriter Jane Anderson (Normal, If These Walls Could Talk 2). The mini-series’s time-shifting structure played out mostly in discrete chunks, in a manner that could be called novelistic but still left plenty of room for director ‎Lisa Cholodenko and her cast to breathe and create believably rich, messy moments. It should win, and very likely will.

Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series, Movie, or a Dramatic Special
American Horror Story: Freak Show, Ryan Murphy

Bessie, Dee Rees

Houdini, Uli Edel

Olive Kitteridge, Lisa Cholodenko

The Honourable Woman, Hugo Blick

The Missing, Tom Shankland

Wolf Hall, Peter Kosminsky

Bessie already won outstanding television movie, so Rees might be the upset win, but Lisa Cholodenko’s humane, patient direction in Olive Kitteridge is really a sight to see. The mini-series could have been so sour, or so hagiographic, or so shticky — hey, check out these quaint folk! But Cholodenko’s style eliminates any phony-baloney posturing, making Olive Kitteridge sometimes dreamy, sometimes brutal, as worn and enchanting as a piece of beach glass.

Emmys 2015: Who Should Win Limited-Series Races?