I was really excited to write about this category until the nominee list was released and Upstairs Downstairs and Carlos were nowhere to be seen. Truth be told, I thought those two were unquestionably the best miniseries and movie respectively. What was worse was the indefensible inclusion of The Kennedys and the sort of stagnant nature of a category dominated by tried and true historical tropes. Nevertheless, let us examine the list of nominees in order of worst chance to win to best, but not forgetting that the two most deserving winners are unfortunately out of the running.
 

The Kennedys
Quick, what channel on your cable provider is ReelzChannel? You didn’t even know that ReelzChannel was a real thing did you? Me either. How this show got nominated over Upstairs Downstairs or Carlos is beyond me. The History Channel was so baffled by how historically inaccurate the show was that they refused to air it. The less discerning ReelzChannel had no such problem but once The Kennedys hit the screen most viewers and critics agreed with The History Channel’s initial assessment. I like Greg Kinnear but he isn’t even one of the best fictional JFKs. Off the top of my head: Martin Sheen in Kennedy, Bruce Greenwood in Thirteen Days, Cliff Robertson in PT 109, and William Petersen in The Rat Pack (where he shows up for maybe 20 minutes) were more memorable. And then there’s Barry Pepper and Katie Holmes … yeah. Really the only nice thing I can say is that Tom Wilkinson as Joe Kennedy is pretty good.
 

The Pillars of the Earth
Imagine Game of Thrones without all the fantasy and magic stuff. Poof, you’ve got Pillars. Okay, that’s probably unfair. Really it’s a mix of Game of Thrones, fellow nominee Downton Abbey, and Deadwood. Why Deadwood? Because Ian McShane is in it! Also because it’s about a town trying to build a cathedral and having to navigate the various antagonistic social groups via backroom deals, bribes and extortion. The characters lie, cheat, steal, connive and scheme to the backdrop of 12th century England but in the end it lacks the excitement or gritty realism that something like Deadwood had in spades. It’s like they made a soft-core version of an HBO series by adapting a book from Oprah’s book club. Oh wait, that’s exactly what they did.
 

Downton Abbey
In truth this is a strong contender, but in a category lousy with historical dramas it’s difficult to distinguish anything overly unique about any of them. Like Pillars it’s set in England and revolves around how the upper crust endlessly maneuvers to increase their clout. Unlike Pillars, Downtown Abbey has greater production value, better acting (with the exception of McShane), and a much larger audience. Still, for my money the problem with Downton Abbey was that I never really found any of the characters all that compelling. Sure Maggie Smith and Elizabeth McGovern are fantastic, but there always remains something entirely unidentifiable with all the characters and their individual plights. Plus, if you’re going to watch a show about England in the build up to a war, why not opt for Upstairs Downstairs, which, unlike Downton Abbey, examines the lives of people not hobnobbing with other social elites living high on the hog. Upstairs Downstairs gives a more complete picture and therein becomes more identifiable and compelling whereas Downton Abbey sort of spins out into a nondescript collage of monochromatic problems and fancy clothing.
 

Cinema Verite
So far this is the one covering the most recent history and it’s still set in the 1970s. I don’t see this winning, but I feel like it’s a stronger contender than the ones previously mentioned because the subject matter is easily applicable to today’s reality TV obsessed world. This James Gandolfini vehicle (just kidding) is a fictional account of what it might have been like behind the scenes of televisions first reality show. A sleazy producer convinces Diane Lane’s character to allow him to film her family, which of course proceeds to come unraveled in front of the cameras. It’s well acted and centers on an interesting subject matter, but ultimately I found the problem with Cinema Verite to be identical to the problem with most reality TV: it only goes so far as to show a situation but never manages to draw a substantive conclusion from what has been witnessed. Cinema Verite could’ve been a scathing review of how reality television is nothing more than seedy voyeurism or cultural schadenfraude. Yet instead of commenting on these issues, Cinema Verite just tells a story and leaves it at that. To that extent I find it extremely unsatisfying, frustrating and lacking in a quality that could have pushed it beyond its competitors in this category.
 

Mildred Pierce
This is probably the odds-on favorite to win this category but again, put up against similar historical dramas I’m not sure that Mildred Pierce does anything to truly distinguish itself. Also, the fact that it will dominate the actor and actress categories makes it vulnerable if the Academy wants to spread the wealth. The story itself is a tried and true familiarity; a family struggling through the Great Depression. The twist for Mildred Pierce is that it focuses on a divorced woman. It’s a unique viewpoint I suppose, but put up against other Depression era stories like those of Steinbeck it quickly recedes to the literary shadows. What it does well is lend itself to plenty of emotional monologues and constant heartbreak. Again, that aids Mildred Pierce’s chances in the acting categories but in terms of the overall movie/miniseries title its character rather than plot driven nature perhaps puts it at a disadvantage.
 

Too Big to Fail
It’s my prediction to win if for no other reason than it isn’t set in the 1100s (Pillars), 1930s (Mildred Pierce and Downtown Abbey), 1960s (The Kennedys), or 1970s (Cinema Verite). This financial disaster turned book turned HBO movie has the advantage of being about a bit of recent history of which we’re still feeling the effects. Aside from its modern day relevance, the high caliber cast and quality acting negate Mildred Pierce’s biggest advantage. And once you factor in the typically liberal nature of the Academy voters out on the left coast Too Big to Fail has all the hallmarks of a TV movie that is, pardon the pun, too big to fail. The hurdle for this nominee, however, is that while it’s very plot oriented, the story isn’t exactly an edge of your seat thriller. In fact, my biggest gripe with the movie is that I would’ve rather seen the book turned into a documentary along the lines of The Smartest Guys in the Room instead of an attempt at a narrative account. Perhaps due to its academic nature the viewership and buzz around Too Big to Fail pales in comparison to the hubbub made over the acting in Mildred Pierce or the success, relative to most PBS shows or British exports to the US, of Downtown Abbey. It wouldn’t be a flashy choice to hand the trophy to Too Big to Fail, but it’s still my pick because among this field it’s the only one that truly sticks out from the relative similarity of the others and manages to purvey an underlying message or salient point.

 

Road to the Emmys Series

August 24: Miniseries/TV Movie Acting Roundup – Dantzler Smith

August 25: Outstanding Miniseries or TV Movie – Dantzler Smith

August 26: Outstanding Reality Competition Host – Erica Scandariato

August 29: Outstanding Variety, Music, or Comedy Series – Phil Wallace

August 30: Outstanding Reality Program – Erica Scandariato

August 31: Outstanding Reality Competition Program – Savanna New

September 1: Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy – Dave Morris

September 2: Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy – Kendra Beltran

September 6: Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama – Angela Stern

September 7: Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama – Adam Spunberg

September 8: Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series – Megan Lane

September 9: Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Series – Megan Lane

September 12: Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series – Kit Bowen

September 13: Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series – Andrew Payne

September 14: Outstanding Comedy Series – Rebecca Rose

September 15: Outstanding Drama Series – Andrew Payne

September 18: 63rd Annual Prime Time Emmy Awards