Limited editions are the only reason to tune in to the Emmys this year

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Something I have to get rid of: I’m not great at looking forward to the 2021 Emmys. I’m a TV critic, which means I’m basically a TV lover. I grew up obsessively surfing the channels and happily watching every award show I could get away with. But in 2021, the thrill is gone. Ted lasso will almost certainly sweep the comedy prices, The crown Drama categories will rule, and while there will likely be a few surprises, most Emmys will be a yawn. Even the red carpet is going to be dull after the fashion smorgasbord that was the Met Gala.

There’s literally no reason to be excited for the Emmys in 2021. Except for one thing. There is one more place where the Emmys feel vibrant and dramatic and teeming with creative and fresh voices. And it’s in the abnormally stacked Outstanding Limited or Anthology Series categories. I May Destroy You, Mare of Easttown, The Queen’s Gambit, The Underground Railroad, and WandaVision will fight for the top prize, while rising stars like Michaela Coel and Anya Taylor-Joy will face Kate Winslet in the Best Leading Actress category. The stars of the made-for-Disney + Hamilton musical will compete with movie stars like Ewan McGregor and Hugh Grant. Evan Peters could finally win an Emmy! For playing an idiosyncratically sweet millennial cop on Easttown mare! And Kathryn Hahn could be honored for “Agatha All Along!”

The limited series categories feel crazy! They are full of revolutionary creative voices like Coel and The Underground Railroadis Barry Jenkins. They’ve got the classic HBO Prestige fare and the very first live MCU TV show. There’s even a little Netflix chess show that kind of grabbed the world’s attention. If you love TV as much as I do, these categories seem to be the one place the Emmy Awards honor true trailblazers making bold creative choices in media. In fact, it feels like this is the year when limited series are officially bigger, more exhilarating, and more groundbreaking than traditional comedies and dramas.

I can destroy you is a masterpiece
Photos: HBO; Illustration: Dillen Phelps

Now, that didn’t happen overnight. Over the past decade, streaming services and premium cable channels have produced star-studded limited series. Nicole Kidman appears to do one glossy miniseries a year. Ryan Murphy rules an empire of anthology series. However, it feels like a time when limited series not only eclipsed mainstream television as a model for storytelling, but began to really destroy its influence on other art forms. Consider the categories for the best drama. The crown literally reboots its cast every other season, giving its ongoing narrative a flair similar to that of an anthology series. Freshman Series Bridgerton, in turn, is committed to focusing on a new couple each season. Even the category of comedy series has welcomed the likes of The flight attendant, an alleged limited series that was only renewed after the show was a hit for HBO Max.

All that aside, the five shows competing for this Outstanding Limited Series or Anthology Emmy represent five groundbreaking television experiences. HBO I can destroy you is an absolute work of devastating genius and Michaela Coel is a talent for the ages. Easttown mare – a very different HBO hit – was a brilliant, brutal family drama disguised as a murder mystery. The Queen’s Gambit was an exquisite portrait of genius and a breathtaking showcase for Anya Taylor-Joy. The Underground Railroad is a transcendent epic about the pain and horror of slavery, full of revolutionary know-how. And WandaVision is a television love letter with tour de force performances. Oh, and it turns out that represents Marvel’s push into television.

This year’s limited-edition Emmys represents the art form of television in 2021. And that’s why it’s going to be the real main event this Sunday night on CBS.


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