We had no problem going out on a limb and calling The People v. O.J. Simpson the best show of 2016 even before it ended, but it's still got a long way to go before it picks up the real trophies. With the announcement of this year's Emmy nominations, it's clear that the most drama and the closest races are going to go down in the Limited Series categories, which The People v. O.J. falls into.
From top to bottom, the quality in these categories is astonishing. It starts with the overall award, which aside from The People v. O.J. features possibly the best show of 2015, Fargo, the underrated prestige piece The Night Manager, the buzzy Roots, and American Crime, the rare network TV standout. From there, quality filters down, which makes sense: if these overall shows are so great, obviously they feature great performances, writing, and directing. Trying to choose between the writing in The People v. O.J.'s "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia" and Fargo's "Loplop" will make you feel dirty; putting Susanne Bier's directing of The Night Manager against John Singleton's episode of The People v. O.J. is just unfair.
And that's before you even get to the acting categories. "This dude just locked up an Emmy," I'm pretty sure I said multiple times while watching Courtney B. Vance's monumental turn as Johnnie Cochran, but it may not be so simple. Vance is going up against Idris Elba (Luther) and Bryan Cranston, who basically became Lyndon B. Johnson for HBO's All the Way. And all three of those very deserving actors might get knocked off by Tom Hiddleston, if Emmys voters misinterpret tabloid mentions for actual acclaim (don't rule it out). Sarah Paulson deserves every award for her depiction of Marcia Clark in The People v. O.J., but can you really call a win for her a sure thing when her Best Actress category also features powerhouse performances from Kerry Washington (Confirmation) and Kirsten Dunst (Fargo)? Even more intriguingly, the three actors from The People v. O.J. nominated for Best Supporting Actor—David Schwimmer, Sterling K. Brown, and John Travolta—may cancel each other out with voters, leaving the door open for Jesse Plemons, Bokeem Woodbine (give it to him!!!), or Hugh Laurie, all deserving actors, to take the trophy.
I could go on and on—the point is that these Limited Series categories are just so stacked, it's hard to hand everything over to The People v. O.J. like we wanted to do a couple months ago.
And really, the competition in this division is only going to get more heated. As more and more brilliant creators get into the miniseries format—so attractive because it carries the same amount of prestige as full-series TV shows with a fraction of the time commitment—the Emmys will to struggle to acknowledge everyone who deserves praise. Just a cursory glance at next year shows a battle between HBO's The Night Of (bet Riz Ahmed is getting nominated), the third season of Fargo, a Hurricane Katrina-focused American Crime Story, Showtime's Idris Elba-led Guerilla, and FX's Taboo, produced by and starring Tom Hardy. And those are just the miniseries with buzz—there will be others that break out.
The era of Prestige TV signaled a movement by Hollywood's top stars and creators from movies to television. This current era we're in, the Golden Age of the Miniseries, perhaps kicked off by the first season of True Detective, is just the next logical step in that movement. Not only is television no longer seen as a step down for actors like Kathy Bates and Tom Hardy, they can take these sorts of prestigious roles without losing career flexibility. The miniseries is really the best of both worlds.
For the future, that means we're in store for even more amazing, short-run series. For now, it means The People v. O.J. will need to clear some serious hurdles to make it to the winner's circle.