By: Ken Downey Jr. & Joanne Thornborough
As we begin to approach the most coveted night in television, the 2019 Emmy Awards, each week prior to the award show, I will be joined by my co-worker and fellow television buff, Joanne Thornborough, in determining who should win each award and why they are deserving. In this first week, the two of us have looked at categories regarding Limited Series.
Outstanding Limited Series
Nominees: “Chernobyl,” HBO; “Escape at Dannemora,” Showtime; “Fosse/Verdon,” FX; “Sharp Objects,” HBO; “When They See Us,” Netflix.
KDJ: “Chernobyl,” HBO.
HBO brought one of the biggest and traumatic events, not only in the world’s history, but in the recorded realm of all of physics to screen in a spectacular five-part series event. Following the USSR from standpoints such as governmental, scientific, blue collar and a civilian, the series follows all walks of life over the course of the initial explosion to the acts as they all tried to prevent the inevitable meltdown of the Chernobyl power plant.
JT: “When They See Us,” Netflix.
This is a powerful look at the real-life case of the Central Park Five, a group of male teens who were falsely accused of raping a female jogger in the park on April 19, 1989. The boys were charged, convicted and, years later, exonerated of the crime. Director Ava DuVernay (who also co-wrote the script) leads the charge in getting this story into the national spotlight. It’s a transformative and emotionally devastating piece, whose relevance 30 years later gives it a timelessness that is heartbreaking.
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie
Nominees: Mahershala Ali, “True Detective”; Benicio Del Toro, “Escape at Dannemora”; Hugh Grant, “A Very English Scandel”; Jared Harris, “Chernobyl”; Jharrel Jerome, “When They See Us”; Sam Rockwell, “Fosse/Verdon.”
KDJ: Jared Harris, “Chernobyl.”
Harris portrays Dr. Valery Legasov, a real-life Soviet chemist who worked tirelessly with the USSR to prevent the meltdown of Chernobyl. From the opening scene of the series, which takes place two years following the events of the Chernobyl meltdown, in which Harris hangs himself in his own apartment, he follows with one dramatic scene after the next. A series that never takes a foot off the pedal has Harris to thank for keep the drama alive on your screen.
JT:Jharrel Jerome, “When They See Us.”
As Korey Wise, the teen who accompanied Yusef Salaam to the NYPD precinct only to find himself charged along with his friend, Jerome gives an indelible performance. Korey wears his heart on his sleeve, and Jerome wrings every ounce of sincerity and innocence out of him. His courtroom scenes show Jerome’s range as the boy desperately tries to convince the jury he is not guilty while he’s on the stand and, later, when he rages against lead prosecutor Elizabeth Lederer (fellow nominee Vera Farmiga) after the jury finds him guilty. It’s a wonderful, emotive turn from a rising talent.
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie
Nominees: Amy Adams, “Sharp Objects”; Patricia Arquette, “Escape at Dannemora”; Aunjanue Ellis “When They See Us”; Joey King, “The Act”; Niecy Nash, “When They See Us”; Michelle Williams, “Fosse/Verdon.”
KDJ: Joey King, “The Act.”
King stars in a true crime series as Gypsy Rose Blanchard, a girl who has grown up her entire life believing that she has been terminally ill. But after learning that her mother has fabricated her illness as a consequence of Munchausen syndrome by proxy, Blanchard murders her own mother. King truly embodies this role and even shaved her head for the part. If that doesn’t show dedication, I’m not sure what does.
JT:Niecy Nash, “When They See Us.”
When we first meet Delores Wise, she’s searching for her son, Korey. The woman is calling everyone she knows trying to get a beat on her boy. Eventually, she learns he’s being held on suspicion of raping a jogger in Central Park. Years later, in flashback, we learn the supportive mother that we’ve gotten glimpses of has a darker side. Delores disowned her other son, Korey’s older brother, for transitioning from male to female. It’s a savage scene that Nash owns from start to finish. To be honest, both Nash and co-star Aunjanue Ellis both deserve to win. However, Nash has the edge here.
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie
Nominees: Asante Blackk, “When They See Us”; Paul Dano, “Escape at Dannemora”; John Leguizamo, “When They See Us”; Stellan Skarsgård, “Chernobyl”; Ben Whishaw, “A Very English Scandel”; Michael Kenneth Williams, “When They See Us.”
KDJ:Ben Whishaw, “A Very English Scandal.”
Whishaw, who won a Golden Globe for the role earlier in the year, should be bringing home another accolade for the part. Playing an openly gay man in 1960s England, Whishaw’s character, Norman, begins a tantalizing love affair with politician Jeremy Thorpe. But after Thorpe fears the secret will come out, he forces Norman away. Norman, not caring how the public perceives him, insists on telling the story of what had happened – even if Thorpe tries to kill him.
JT:Ben Whishaw, “A Very English Scandal.”
It’s rare to find such a pure soul wrapped up in a real-life sex scandal involving a politician, but Norman Scott was apparently that rare breed. Whishaw effectively shows Scott’s evolution from wide-eyed naïf to strong-willed man, who refuses to be a victim. Regardless of what his ex-lover, MP Jeremy Thorpe (fellow nominee Hugh Grant), did to just make Scott go away – including hiring a hitman to have him killed – fate (or ridiculously good luck) was on the younger man’s side. The actor brings to the fore Scott’s guilelessness, which never fades.
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie
Nominees: Patricia Arquette, “The Act”; Marsha Stephanie Blake, “When They See Us”; Patricia Clarkson, “Sharp Objects”; Vera Farmiga, “When They See Us”; Margaret Qualley, “Fosse/Verdon”; Emily Watson, “Chernobyl.”
KDJ: Patricia Arquette, “The Act.”
Arquette, who starred opposite of King in “The Act,” gave a haunting performance as Dee Dee Blanchard, the mother of Gypsy who deceived her daughter, family and even doctors in believing her daughter was terminally ill. Forcing her into a wheelchair, Blanchard portrays a woman who is not cruel, but mentally ill. In faking her daughter’s illness, she also has grown to believe it as well.
JT:Marsha Stephanie Blake, “When They See Us.”
Linda McCray, as portrayed by Blake, is the glue holding the family together when son Antron is charged (along with four other boys) with raping a white woman and sent to prison when convicted. She’s there for every step of her son’s trial when her husband (fellow nominee Michael Kenneth Williams) can’t bring himself to go and she welcomes Antron home after his release. More than just a devoted mother, Blake shows she’s a woman who knows how quickly everything she holds dear can be ripped away without warning.
Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series or Movie
Nominees: Stephen Frears, “A Very English Scandel”; Johan Renck, “Chernobyl”; Ben Stiller, “Escape at Dannemora”; Jessica Yu, “Fosse/Verdon” – “Glory”; Thomas Kail, “Fosse/Verdon” – “Who’s Got the Pain”; Ava DuVernay, “When They See Us.”
KDJ:Ava DuVernay, “When They See Us.”
DuVernay once again uses her powers as a storyteller to not only bring a story that hasn’t been spoken about in 30 years relevant again, but she does it in a way that entices audiences and makes it relevant in today’s world. For example, in the series’ second episode, DuVernay uses archive footage from that time of now president Trump stating that New York should bring back the death penalty and kill the accused boys. In doing this, the story of events that played out 30 years ago connect to issues that we see today. This is just one of many examples of DuVernay’s brilliance.
JT:Ava DuVernay, “When They See Us.”
Another close call as Stephen Frears’ nimbleness and lightness of touch give added dimension to “A Very English Scandal.” DuVernay immerses you in this story – puts you in the rooms where it happens – that ultimately there’s little contest. Her dexterity behind the camera gives certain moments room to breathe while ensuring you can barely take a breath. There’s an artistry to directing where the audience forgets the camera exists and the world being observed is all that matters. DuVernay not only understands this, she delivers it.
Check back on Friday, Sept. 6 when we discuss who we think will take home awards for in the category of Comedy Series.