Starting in the early aughts, fed up with limited roles for women over 40 (nonetheless over 50), television has become a respite from Knowing Aunts and Quirky Shopkeepers roles for many of the biggest female movie stars of the 70s and 80s. In 2007, two-time Oscar winner Sally Field made a television comeback – and earned an Emmy for – Brothers & Sisters, which was followed by perennial Academy Awards heartbreaker, Glenn Close receiving a hard-earned statue from the Television Academy (thank you for appreciating her, Emmys!) for her fierce, terrifying and often-literally-shaking role as Patty Hewes in Damages. In 2009, Jessica Lange started her Emmy run by picking up Best Actress in a Limited Series or Movie for Grey Gardens, and the rest there is Ryan Murphy-flavored history.
TV used to be a stigma, a code for “slumming it”. Sure, some TV stars still bristle at the idea of television locking them onto the small screen (I’ve changed my religion to: Constance Wu), but that seems to be the exception more than the rule lately – just ask Viola Davis. in the last several years, however, with streaming services flattening the very definition of television, more and more film actresses are actively pursuing – and more importantly, creating – some of the best roles of their careers on the small screen. There is no place where that is more prevalent than the Best Actress – Limited Series or TV Movie category.
This hit an absolute zenith at the 69th Emmy Awards in 2017. That year, every nominee, save for Carrie Coon (but, also: One day, Carrie Coon!) was either an Oscar winner or nominee: Nicole Kidman (that year’s winner for Big Little Lies), Felicity Huffman, Jessica Lange, Susan Sarandon and Reese Witherspoon. Together those ladies have a staggering 18 Academy Award nominations, including 5 wins. Yes, Meryl Streep is somewhere sipping tea, and in her finest Miranda Priestley tone saying: 18? That’s all? but it still speaks to the powerful roles waiting on television for women.
(It should also be noted that all of the nominees were from traditional or premium cable: Kidman & Witherspoon for HBO’s Big Little Lies, Huffman for ABC’s American Crime Story, Sarandon & Lange for FX’s Feud and Coon for FX’s Fargo. Not a streaming service in sight.)
The Emmys have a tendency to get very starry-eyed when it comes to nominees, and this year there is a list of impressive, tremendous performances by actresses who are either break-outs, Emmys stalwarts, Oscar veterans, and a few who are in-between. So how will this year’s nominees swing? Let’s dive in, shall we?
Julianna Margulies – The Hot Zone
In the mix is Emmys stalwart Julianna Marguiles (10 time nominee and 3 time winner for ER & The Good Wife) for her role in The Hot Zone, the book from the ‘90s that made everyone scared of sneezing and also kinda inspired Outbreak (in this house we stan Rene Russo!). Margulies + wig + hazmat suit might be too much for Emmy voters to deny.
Joey King – The Act
The former Ramona Quimby could become the youngest nominee in this category in the last 20 years for her role as the murderer/Munchausen by Proxy sufferer/Disney aficionado Gypsy Rose Blanchard.It’s a true breakout performance, and King nimbly carries the second half of the series. Don’t sleep on The Act, y’all – I need someone to talk about it with, specifically the makeup they used to age Patricia Arquette, and I think, plump up her hands?
Ruth Wilson – Mrs. Wilson
Wilson who was somehow never nominated for her (Golden Globe-winning) performance on The Affair, may snag a nod for PBS’ Mrs. Wilson, which is based on the life of her real-life grandmother. While I’m rooting for Wilson in all capacities, if she’s ever going to win an Emmy for playing a Wilson, I am certainly hoping it’s for playing herself in the TV movie based on the behind the scenes look at her tumultuous time on The Affair.
Connie Britton – Dirty John
Dear, sweet, perfect Connie Britton deserves only good things. She’s a perennial Emmy also-ran but never-won, having received two nominations for her perfect, iconic portrayal of Principal Tammy Taylor in Friday Night Lights, one for Nashville and one for American Horror Story.
Any or all of those performances, each deserving (although, I haven’t seen The Hot Zone yet, but it is a book that I think invented antibacterial lotion, so maybe it’s good?), it seems entirely possible that this year’s lineup could look more like any recent Academy Award race:
Patricia Arquette – Escape from Dannemora
1 Oscar nomination, 1 win
Patty Arquette is a likely double-nominee this year for both her supporting role in The Act, and her stellar lead performance in the Ben Stiller-directed jailbreak drama. It’s been such a good year to be Patricia Arquette, we’ve all almost forgotten about CSI: Cyber. JK, I will literally never forget.
Amy Adams – Sharp Objects
6 Oscar nomination, 0 wins
Poor, poor Amy Adams. If you had asked around last summer what Amy Adams’ year was going to look like, it seemed very likely that she’d be picking up an Oscar in February and then doing a victory lap in the fall, snagging an Emmy for her quiet, devastating work in the Gillian Flynn adaptation. Alas, always a bridesmaid this one.
Michelle Williams – Fosse/Verdon
4 Oscar nominations, 0 wins
Patricia Arquette is the frontrunner here, already picking up a Golden Globe and SAG award for Escape, but if there is anyone who is gaining steam in the race it’s Oscar favorite Michelle Williams, as Broadway star Gwen Verdon. Yes, Michelle should have an armload of trophies for her role as Jen Lindley in Dawson’s Creek so what I’m saying is, the Emmys have the opportunity to right an egregious historical wrong.
Emma Stone – Maniac
3 Oscar nominations, 1 win
While this performance seems like a lifetime ago (even though it came out after Adams in Sharp Objects), Stone is impressive playing multiple roles in the mindfuck series from Cary Fukunaga, an Emmy favorite from his days directed the first season of True Detective. She probably has little chance of winning, but it’s unlikely the Television Academy would skip the opportunity to nominate one of the biggest movie stars on the planet to their party.
Had Homecoming stayed a limited series, instead of somehow getting a season 2, Julia Roberts would’ve likely been nominated (she’s certainly on the short list for Best Actress- Drama Series), tying the 18-nominee record previously mentioned. Obviously, that should be 19 nominations, as the greatest unsolved crime of our time is Adams snub for Arrival. But that’s for another time.
What’s most likely, is it’ll be a mix of all of the above, with King and Britton joining Arquette, Williams, Adams with the possibility of Stone sneaking in. But no matter how you slice it, it’s becoming more and more commonplace to see your favorite film actresses giving a career-best performances right from the comfort of your couch.