Emmy Category Analysis: Supporting Actress in a Limited Series – Blog

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by Claudio Alves

If you need proof that the current Emmy voting system is broken, you need look no further than supporting actress in a Limited or Anthology Series run. Despite seven available time slots, only two shows appear in the lineup. Unsurprisingly, they are The White Lotus and Dope, two of the biggest favorites of the year. Allowing voters to check off an unlimited number of names on their ballots means that the most popular and acclaimed programs will dominate, regardless of category specifics. Unfortunately, this takes away slots to honor MVP accomplishments in less animated shows.

For prediction purposes, it also confuses the issue…

It’s hard to understand if the TV Academy feels passionate about these specific performances or if they’re just in love with the show they’re on. In fact, the current system only serves to shine a light on the few artists who have been snubbed despite the success of their show. Rosario Dawson is the only eligible Dope actress excluded from the ballot, while Brittany O’Grady is the only member of The White Lotus female cast without nomination. Why exactly were they left out? It will have to remain an irritating mystery while we wonder about the merits of the seven nominees…

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Anthology or Movie

Nominees:

  • Connie Britton in The White LotusEpisode: “The Lotus Eaters” (S01E05)
  • Jennifer Coolidge in The White LotusEpisode: “Mysterious Monkeys” (S01E03)
  • Alexandra Daddario in The White LotusEpisode: “Departures” (S01E06)
  • Kaitlyn Dever in DopeEpisode: “The Whistleblower” (S01E05)
  • Natasha Rothwell in The White LotusEpisode: “Departures” (S01E06)
  • Sydney Sweeney in The White LotusEpisode: “Mysterious Monkeys” (S01E03)
  • Mare Winningham in DopeEpisode: “Black Box Warning” (S01E07)

Analysis: For the past few years, actors from the limited series‘ supporting races have submitted episodes like their fellow nominees in the Comedy and Drama categories. Given the other changes made during the same period, it is not clear if this is taken into account in the final vote or if it is a mere formality. Episode submissions don’t seem to matter much anymore – not in the acting categories, at least. Long gone are the days of special committees that had to vet every submission before committing to their choice. Still, since the performers have selected a particular chapter of their series for consideration, let’s consider them.

Jennifer Coolidge and Sydney Sweeney submitted The White Lotus‘ third episode, an hour-long showcase for the older actress who feels like the favorite to win. “Mysterious Monkeys” finds Coolidge’s Tanya booking a boat to scatter her mother’s ashes in the ocean. Unfortunately, in this one-show panic attack, that mission results in total meltdown for the grieving woman. Aided, in large part, by her constant drinking, Tanya is a mess, falling deep into insecurity, fear of becoming the mother she both loved and hated, alcoholism and nymphomania. That being said, what impresses most about Coolidge’s portrayal is his ability to extract humor from despair. She breaks your heart and makes you laugh at the same time.

Although Tanya is a dramatic breakthrough for the comedic actress, she still keeps her funny, tying together the different tones of Mike White’s script with apparent ease. A show of vulnerability can quickly reveal a wealthy woman’s dominant entitlement or result in a clownish grotesque, full of sobbing and lots of tears. The booze by the pool induces a dream sequence where we catch a glimpse of an idealized vision of Tanya, but even then there’s a campy quality to Coolidge, her joy tasting like serious misfire. Not that this performance is a failure by any means. On the contrary, it’s a masterclass in unbridled fragility, a tragicomic opera that evokes sympathy, perhaps pity, but doesn’t erase sharp edges.

Sweeney has a lot less no-fault work on his part. Olivia Mossbacher may come across as a one-note character, portraying a nightmare of Gen-Z’s terminal online language and wealthy white rights.

However, as with all the characters in The White Lotus, there are depths in his archetypal nature, humanity in caricature. Of course, she delivers some of the funniest dialogue in the episode, consoling her catatonic father for his patriarch’s homosexual inclinations. However, the most exciting part of the performance comes in quieter scenes, as Olivia follows her friend and finds out about the other woman’s nighttime escapades with one of the station employees. Sweeney’s reactions allow several readings – maybe she feels betrayed, or jealous of her companion… or jealous of the guy. It’s a disturbing touch of welcome ambiguity.

Connie Britton plays Nicole, Olivia’s mother, and chose The White Lotus‘ fifth episode as its submission. It’s a smart selection, as “The Lotus Eaters” contains showy scenes of the character reacting to his family’s disdain and later attack by a burglar. It’s easy to find shades of Nicole in other Breton characters from years past, especially Cathy from Beatrice at dinner, but that does not mean that its work is less effective. Sharpening the fragility of this vacationing businesswoman, the actress shows tender feelings seething in a haze of irritation, illuminating just how hurt Nicole can be. More importantly, this episode gives her quite the arc to play, ending on a note of marital reconciliation.

Finally, Alexandra Daddario and Natasha Rothwell picked the season finale, the only episode where the two interact in any meaningful way. This last tidbit is interesting since the actresses represent two extremes within the show’s main cast. Daddario has the most screen time of any actor, verging on female lead status. Yet at the same time, Rothwell is the most ancillary figure, being the only station staff represented in this lineup of supporting actresses. These realities are reflected in their work and the way the text articulates their reflections, their resolutions. Rothwell, in particular, feels like he’s playing someone who’s tired of being a secondary character in his own life.

As Belinda, she spends most of the season’s six episodes playing second fiddle to Tanya, slavishly aiding the station guest while being held hostage by the promise of a business investment. In “Departures,” that dream is put to rest, and for the first time we see Belinda’s perfectly pleasant facade crumble under the weight of dashed hope. These scenes kick like a kick in the solar plexus, shattering the show’s most stable character while revealing the pains of emotional labor. However, Belinda’s later apathetic dismissal of a guest in crisis shows us Rothwell’s deft creation. His anger, never open or too demonstrative, is palpable, shaking the screen in a final moment that makes the viewer want to applaud.

Daddario’s Rachel gets a sadder conclusion. After a hellish honeymoon with her asshole husband, she’s ready to call it quits, acknowledging what a huge mistake this marriage was. And yet, the actress doesn’t appeal to histrionics or melodrama, portraying Rachel’s angst as something internal that’s barely allowed to come to the surface. Sometimes it’s like she’s scared of her feelings, the stinging words as they squirt out of her mouth, no matter how true they are. Eyes shining with terror, it is the image of a person imploding. Despite all of this, in the end, Daddario has to turn around and make sense of it.

And it does, resolving one of the storyline’s toughest plot twists with a painful sense of authenticity. It’s not pretty, but it looks real.

The same can be said for Kaitlyn Dever’s tour de force as Betsy in Dope. By episode five, the lesbian mine worker has fallen into a bottomless pit of addiction, her very soul gnawed with want. In “The Whistleblower”, she is at rock bottom, stealing her mother’s heirlooms to sell for drug money and later panics as her father pours the pills down the drain. Dever fully embodies withdrawal, every movement a struggle and his eyes those of a frightened animal. However, the feverish frailty does not hold a candle to the addict’s despair once the relief is violently taken from her, her voice splitting into ragged howls, her body possessed.

Terrifying, Dever momentarily does Dope in a horror series, bluntly revealing what Oxycontin did to Betsy. In another episode, the young woman mentions that she misses who she was, and Dever makes us feel this loss deeply. His transformation is too visceral to ignore.

As Betsy’s mother, Diane, Mare Winningham doesn’t get as juicy material as Dever. Her chosen episode is nonetheless an incredible submission. “Black Box Warning” begins with the matriarch searching drug dens for her daughter, bringing her home for another try at rehab. Through discussions of faith and second chances, Diane exposes her parental guilt, believing that her early homophobic rejection propelled Betsy into her current state. All in all, it’s a fine piece of work by Winningham, delicate and understated, culminating in two jaw-dropping acting touches. First there is a flurry of movement, a fierce, frantic embrace brimming with unimaginable grief. Then, in a cursory phone call, the actress opts for dry candor instead of sentimentality. It’s a counter-intuitive decision that feels appropriate and shows just how deeply the actress seems to understand the woman she’s playing.

The Dope The women’s story is so moving that I can imagine an upheaval on Emmy night. At the very least, if submissions count for anything, Dever has a good chance of beating Coolidge. Here again, The White Lotus star is terrific, featuring prominently in submissions from his colleagues. Additionally, the TV Academy has shown some resistance to Dever in the past. Remember those rebuffs for Justified and Unbelievable? Speaking of Emmy history, Britton is on his fifth nomination and hasn’t won yet, so maybe it’s a good time to pay tribute. On the other hand, Winningham is a returning champ, having won the Emmys in 1980 and 1998, so a win for either of these actresses is possible.

Will win: Jennifer Coolidge
Should Win: Winningham Mare
Disclose: Kaitlyn Dever

See here for a list of all Emmy nominees this year.

Who do you think will win the Limited Series Supporting Actress race? Who are you rooting for?

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