Throughout Emmy season, IndieWire will be evaluating the top contenders for TV’s most prestigious prize, and it all starts here. At the bottom of this page are IndieWire TV Critic Ben Travers’ predictions for Best TV Movie (or, as it’s more formally known, Outstanding Made for Television Movie). This article will be updated throughout the coming months, along with all our predictions, to reflect an up-to-the-minute state of the race. Make sure to keep checking IndieWire for the latest coverage on the 2020 Emmys, including breaking news, analysis, interviews, podcasts, FYC event coverage, reviews of all the awards contenders, and more. The Creative Arts Emmy Awards will be given out Saturday, September 12 and Sunday, September 13. The 72nd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards will take place at the Microsoft Theater in downtown Los Angeles on Sunday, September 20. (See our awards calendar for a more detailed breakdown of important dates.) ABC is broadcasting the ceremony.
Last Year’s Winner: “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch”
Still Eligible: No.
Hot Streak: Not even the return of Seth Bullock and Al Swearengen could put a stop to “Black Mirror’s” streak. The Netflix anthology series has won three years running, first for the episode titled “San Junipero,” then for the episode titled “U.S.S. Callister,” and most recently for the interactive special titled “Bandersnatch.”
Fun Fact: While “Black Mirror” is the only program to win the category more than once, it’s not the most nominated program in the TV Movie category. That honor belong to “Sherlock,” with four nominations (in 2012, 2014, 2016, an 2017) — the BBC adaptation won once for “The Abominable Bride.”
Notable Ineligible Series: “Sherlock” (PBS has not released a new season); “Mrs. Fletcher” (HBO is not submitting the limited series as a film, even though its total runtime is a few minutes less than “The Irishman” — it’s a series, it’s made as a series, and HBO is doing the right thing. Also, no one thought this idea merited consideration other than yours truly.)
The State of the Race
Another year, another mutating crop of “movie” contenders. Given the continued success of Netflix’s “Black Mirror” franchise, year after year, it should come as no surprise that plenty of other TV series sequels are taking the form of movies. Most prominent amongst the 2020 crop is “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie,” which puts the word “movie” right there in its title. (Though “Breaking Bad” is probably the more important keyword.) Vince Gilligan’s epilogue for Jesse Pinkman (played with aged tenacity by Aaron Paul) earned solid reviews when it debuted in late 2019, and given the show’s excellent track record at the Emmys, it looks like an early favorite for Best TV Movie.
Netflix also has a new interactive special/movie in “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” Tina Fey and Robert Carlock’s feature-length sequel to their Emmy-nominated original series will allow viewers to make decisions for the characters (much like “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch”). Perhaps the format/category swap will earn the creators their first win, as so far the most unbreakable aspect of “Kimmy Schmidt” at the Emmys is its 18-straight losing streak. Meanwhile, over at Amazon, there’s one more TV show getting its last hurrah as a film: the “Transparent Musicale Finale.” Jill Soloway’s song-and-dance closer came and went without much hubbub last fall, but it was an Emmy staple for its first three seasons — maybe ditching former lead Jeffrey Tambor will bring the movie back into the voting body’s good graces.
All right, so aside from projects with a pre-established history at the Emmys, what else is competing? What will represent the original movie as the TV Academy forefathers first imagined it? What small screen, one-sitting gems are ready to steer the category away from an excuse to honor your favorite show one more time and back to the safe harbor of actual films? Well, mainly “Bad Education.” HBO’s 2019 TIFF acquisition received rave reviews out of the festival, and its stacked cast of Oscar and Emmy favorites — Hugh Jackman for films, Ray Romano for TV, and Allison Janney for both! — makes it the odds-on favorite to upset Netflix’s more familiar offerings.
But wait! There’s more! Lifetime already scored positive reviews for “Patsy and Loretta,” its true story about the friendship between country music icons Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn. Disney+ will be pushing the Willem Dafoe sled dog movie, also known as “Togo,” as well as Anna Kendrick and Bill Hader’s Christmas picture, “Noelle.” FX plans on submitting its own holiday adaptation of “A Christmas Carol,” the three-part 2019 version starring Guy Pearce. Amazon Prime also has “Troop Zero,” which may suffer for being a little too family friendly, but certainly has the right names behind it to be taken seriously. (Between this, “Bad Education,” and “Mom,” Allison Janney could be up for three Emmys again, you guys!)
Last but certainly not least, there’s Netflix’s “American Son,” an adaptation of Christopher Demos-Brown’s 2018 Broadway play starring Kerry Washington. Though reviews weren’t great, Washington’s performance and the dearth of more notable options may be enough to push another Netflix original into the fray.
1. “El Camino” (Netflix)
2. “Bad Education” (HBO)
3. “American Son” (Netflix)
4. “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” (Netflix)
5. “Togo” (Disney+)
Spoilers: “”Lady and the Tramp,” “Transparent Musicale Finale,” “Troop Zero,” “Blow the Man Down,” “A Christmas Carol,” “Patsy and Loretta,” “Selah and the Spades,” “Noelle”
In a Perfect World: “Deadwood” would be given another year of eligibility so the TV Academy could give the extraordinary HBO film its due.