Is David Lynch just too damn weird for Emmy voters?
That's a question that could be answered by Emmy nominations in the limited series and television movie categories, where Lynch's return to "Twin Peaks" on Showtime is both a monumental achievement and one of the strangest things ever put on television.
Among the top contenders in the limited series category, the 18-episode "Twin Peaks" is longest piece of work by more than six hours -- and it's also so bizarre that it makes the last season of "Westworld" look like a model of concise storytelling. There's a real question as to whether Lynch's flights of fancy will be embraced or scorned by voters.
Among the other contenders, FX's Ryan Murphy is always a major presence in these categories, with his big entry this year not the post-election edition of "American Horror Story" but the second installment of the true-crime dramatization series that began with his Emmy juggernaut "The People v. O.J. Simpson": ""The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story." It should be the most-nominated show in the field, though the limited series "The Looming Tower," "Godless," "Patrick Melrose," "Genius: Picasso," "Howards End" and "The Sinner" will all find support.
On the TV movie side, the Netflix anthology series "Black Mirror" has been able to enter individual episodes as standalone movies, and its "Star Trek" spoof "USS Callister" will be up against the likes of Laura Dern's Sundance drama "The Tale" and HBO's "Paterno" and "Fahrenheit 451."
Outstanding Limited Series
"Gianni Versace" is a sure thing, while Hulu's pre-9/11 drama "The Looming Tower" and the Western "Godless" came on strong as voting approached. With only five nominees in the category, that means the battle for the last two slots will include "Twin Peaks," "Howards End," "Top of the Lake: China Girl," "American Vandal," "Patrick Melrose," "Alias Grace," "Genius: Picasso," "The Alienist," "The Sinner" and Steven Soderbergh's "Mosaic."
NatGeo has been relentless in its campaign for "Genius: Picasso," the followup to last year's nominated "Genius: Einstein," but the show's heat may have faded in Season 2. That show, along with USA's "The Sinner" and Showtime's "Patrick Melrose," may find its reward in the acting categories, while voters show how schizophrenic they can be by giving noms to Starz's stately period piece "Howards End" and the wild Lynchian nightmare "Twin Peaks."
Predicted nominees (in order of likelihood): "The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story," "The Looming Tower," "Godless," "Howards End," "Twin Peaks"
Watch out for: "Genius: Picasso," "Patrick Melrose," "Top of the Lake: China Girl," "The Sinner," "The Alienist"
Outstanding Television Movie
"Black Mirror" won last year for its "San Junipero" episode, and it seems to have this year's frontrunner with "USS Callister." HBO, which has completely dominated the category in recent decades with 69 nominees and 21 winners in the last 25 years, is in the running with the Sundance acquisition "The Tale" and with "Paterno" and "Fahrenheit 451," though the reaction to the latter two films was more tepid than usual for HBO movies.
Still, the last time HBO didn't have at least two nominees in the category was 1994 (!), so it's foolish to think that "Paterno" and/or "Fahrenheit" won't join the acclaimed "The Tale" on the roster of nominees. The Lifetime drama "Flint," about the Michigan water crisis, is a good bet to join them, though potential spoilers include the BBC/PBS Ian McEwan adaptation "The Child in Time," with Benedict Cumberbatch, Anna Deavere Smith's one-woman show for HBO, "Notes From the Field" and "The Commuter" episode of the Amazon anthology series "Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams."
Given Emmy voters' longstanding fondness for Cumberbatch, we're guessing that it nudges out "Fahrenheit 451" for the last slot, and keeps HBO to a paltry two nominations.
Predicted nominees: "USS Callister" ("Black Mirror"), "The Tale," "Paterno," "Flint," "The Child in Time"
Watch out for: "Fahrenheit 451," "Notes From the Field," "The Commuter" ("Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams")
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie
It'll be all but impossible for voters to ignore two powerhouse performances that feature characters delving into buried trauma: Laura Dern as a woman coming to terms with childhood sexual abuse in "The Tale" and Jessica Biel as a young mother trying to understand why she brutally murdered a man in "The Sinner."
Among the other contenders, Elisabeth Moss was nominated for the first season of Sundance's "Top of the Lake" back in 2013, and should be back for the sequel. Sarah Paulson has four previous nominations for "American Horror Story," so a fifth seems likely. And voters loved Michelle Dockery in "Downton Abbey," so why wouldn't they appreciate her change of genre in Netflix's "Godless" (while also rewarding Hayley Atwell for slipping into that period British attire for "Howards End")?
Other possibilities include 12-time nominee (and four-time winner) Edie Falco for NBC's "The Menendez Murders," three-time nominee (and two-time winner) Regina King for Netflix's "Seven Seconds," Oscar winner Catherine Zeta-Jones for Lifetime's deliciously titled "Cocaine Godmother" and Tony nominee Cristin Milioti for "USS Callister."
Predicted nominees: Laura Dern, "The Tale"; Jessica Biel, "The Sinner"; Elisabeth Moss, "Top of the Lake: China Girl"; Michelle Dockery, "Godless"; Hayley Atwell, "Howards End"; Sarah Paulson, "American Horror Story: Cult"
Watch out for: Edie Falco, "The Menendez Murders"; Regina King, "Seven Seconds"; Catherine Zeta Jones, "Cocaine Godmother"; Cristin Milioti, "USS Callister" ("Black Mirror"); Sarah Gadon, "Alias Grace"
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie
The year's powerhouse male performances could easily fill this category a couple of times over. After all, you can't leave out Darren Criss as the killer in "The Assassination of Gianni Versace," or Al Pacino as Joe Paterno, or Benedict Cumberbatch in "Patrick Melrose," or Kyle MacLachlan as multiple versions of Agent Cooper in "Twin Peaks," or Antonio Banderas as Picasso, or Jeff Daniels in "The Looming Tower," or Michael B. Jordan as the tortured fireman in "Fahrenheit 451," or Jesse Plemons as a Captain Kirk run amok in "USS Callister."
And that doesn't even count "Jesus Christ Superstar" lead John Legend, who stands a pretty good chance of becoming the first person to land an Emmy acting nomination for a performance in a live musical.
In fact you will have to leave out some of those guys, because there's not room for all of them unless the category supersizes itself courtesy of a wrinkle in the Emmys rule book. And even if it goes up from six to seven nominees, voters will be hard-pressed to give a spot to deserving actors like Jared Harris ("The Terror"), Jack O'Connell ("Godless") and Jimmy Tatro ("American Vandals").
Criss, Cumberbatch and Pacino seem to be the locks, and we suspect that Banderas' performance in "Genius: Picasso" will join them, as will Daniels in "The Looming Tower" and, in a close vote over Legend, MacLachlan in "Twin Peaks."
Predicted nominees: Darren Criss, "The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story"; Benedict Cumberbatch, "Patrick Melrose"; Al Pacino, "Paterno"; Jeff Daniels, "The Looming Tower"; Antonio Banderas, "Genius: Picasso"; Kyle MacLachlan, "Twin Peaks"
Watch out for: John Legend, "Jesus Christ Superstar"; Michael B. Jordan, "Fahrenheit 451"; Jesse Plemons, "USS Callister"; Jared Harris, "The Terror"; Jack O'Connell, "Godless"
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie
There will probably be six nominees in the category, but how many shows will they represent? "The Assassination of Gianni Versace," after all, has formidable contenders in both Edgar Ramirez and Ricky Martin, while "The Looming Tower" supplies worthy candidates in Peter Sarsgaard, Michael Stuhlbarg, Bill Camp and Tahar Rahim.
Ramirez is a lock as Versace, and we're guessing that Sarsgaard (as a CIA chief who doesn't want to share pre-9/11 intelligence with the FBI) and Rahim (as a Muslim-American FBI agent) will make the cut from "The Looming Tower."
Jeff Daniels is inescapable as the villain in "Godless" -- and he's one of several bad guys in the running, also including Michael Shannon in "Fahrenheit 451," Jason Ritter in "The Tale" and Brandon Victor Dixon as the ultimate tortured bad guy, Judas Iscariot, in "Jesus Christ Superstar." If John Legend doesn't become the first performer to be nominated in a live musical for that program, Dixon probably will.
Predicted nominees: Edgar Ramirez, "The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story"; Jeff Daniels, "Godless"; Michael Shannon, "Fahrenheit 451"; Peter Sarsgaard, "The Looming Tower"; Brandon Victor Dixon, "Jesus Christ Superstar"; Tahar Rahim, "The Looming Tower"
Watch out for: Michael Stuhlbarg, "The Looming Tower"; Ricky Martin, "The Assassination of Gianni Versace"; Bill Camp, "The Looming Tower"; Jason Ritter, "The Tale"; Alex Rich, "Genius: Picasso"
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie
"The Assassination of Gianni Versace" should place two actresses in this category, Penélope Cruz for her role as Donatella Versace and Judith Light as the wife of another murder victim (if voters don't think her role is too small). Merritt Wever is all but assured a nomination for "Godless," while Nicole Kidman brings star power to "Top of the Lake: China Girl" and Jennifer Jason Leigh is in the running for "Patrick Melrose." Laura Dern figures to be a strong contender for "Twin Peaks," though her chances (and those of co-star Naomi Watts) could suffer if voters are baffled by the show.
Angela Lansbury is the most-nominated actress who has never won an Emmy, and voters will likely give her another chance this year with "Little Women." Wild cards include Sharon Stone as a celebrated writer in Steven Soderbergh's miniseries and app "Mosaic" and Billie Lourd and Alison Pill in "American Horror Story: Cult."
Predicted nominees: Penelope Cruz, "The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story"; Merritt Wever, "Godless"; Nicole Kidman, "Top of the Lake: China Girl," Angela Lansbury, "Little Women"; Judith Light, "The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story"; Jennifer Jason Leigh, "Patrick Melrose"
Watch out for: Laura Dern, "Twin Peaks"; Ellen Burstyn, "The Tale"; Sharon Stone, "Mosaic"; Anna Paquin, "Alias Grace"; Naomi Watts, "Twin Peaks"