'Chernobyl' tops 'When They See Us' in Emmy limited-series battle

Meredith Blake, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

Both deal with truth, justice and government officials putting personal ambition over the public good -- even at the expense of ordinary people's lives. Both are 1980s-set period pieces that resonate in unsettling ways in the present day. Both are unlikely hits that turned difficult subjects into gripping, must-see drama. And both "Chernobyl" and "When They See Us" went into Sunday's Emmy Awards as the standout nominees in an unusually strong year for the limited series.

But in the end, the television academy preferred "Chernobyl," a series with an international pedigree that celebrated science in the face of government propaganda, honoring it with a total of 10 Emmys, including limited series, over "When They See Us," a distinctly American story about racial bias in the criminal justice system. Writer Craig Mazin and director Johan Renck were also honored for their work.

With 19 nominations -- and 7 wins in last weekend's Creative Arts Emmys -- "Chernobyl" arguably went into Sunday night with the most momentum. (It was also the third most-nominated series of the year, following "Game of Thrones" and "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.")

The five-part HBO drama depicts the 1986 nuclear disaster in Ukraine and its aftermath, as scientists Valery Legasov (Jared Harris) and Ulana Khomyuk (Emily Watson) fight to uncover the truth about the accident.

"I hope that in some small way our show has helped remind people of the value of the truth and the danger of a lie," said writer and creator Mazin, accepting the limited-series Emmy. Speaking about the people affected by the accident, he invoked the Russian phrase "vichnayapamyat," meaning "eternal memory." "I'd like to think that in television we can do that with stories, we can make things be known permanently."

"When They See Us," a four-part series directed and co-written by Oscar-nominated "Selma" filmmaker Ava DuVernay, follows the case of the Central Park Five, a group of black and Latino teenagers who were wrongfully convicted of brutal rape and spent years in prison before their convictions were vacated in 2002.


The series received 16 nominations this year, with half those nominations going to members of its large ensemble cast. At last weekend's Creative Arts Emmys, "When They See Us" won for casting for a limited series, movie or special. But on Sunday it took home a single Emmy, for lead actor in a drama series for star Jharrel Jerome, who played Korey Wise,

who was 16 at the time of his arrest and the oldest of the five boys in the case.

At 21, Jerome is the youngest actor ever to win for lead actor in a limited series.He won in a category filled with seasoned veterans, including "Chernobyl" star Jared Harris, Hugh Grant for "A Very English Scandal" and three Oscar winners -- Mahershala Ali ("True Detective"), Benicio del Toro ("Escape at Dannemora") and Sam Rockwell ("Fosse/Verdon").

"This is for the men we know as the exonerated five," said the actor, previously known for his role in "Moonlight."


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