Awards Daily TV shines the Emmy® Spotlight on Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale where political relevance, an overdue lead, and prime placement could pay off big.
Earlier in the year, I proclaimed Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale an early Emmy contender. I remind you of this not to brag or to proclaim myself an Emmy guru. Far from it. The Television Academy votes starting this week, and The Handmaid’s Tale feels far from a sure thing. But that’s why I’m reminding you of my early proclamation. I’ve been thinking about The Handmaid’s Tale non-stop since seeing the first trailer. Since I read the novel. Since I saw the premiere. And now that I’ve seen the first season finale, I still can’t stop thinking about it. In an Emmy year that potentially sees as many as five new entries in the Outstanding Drama Series race, where does The Handmaid’s Tale fall?
Duh. It’s Great.
Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale delivers. In a huge way. It expands on Margaret Atwood’s classic novel in new and unexpected ways. It takes dramatic shifts from the source material, but by the end of the series, dovetails back to the novel’s original ending. The series gives Offred (Elisabeth Moss) a stronger voice and even a name (June, if you’re nasty). It makes the Commander (Joseph Fiennes) and Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) a younger couple, deepening their angst for a child. We also see more of Gilead both pre and post-takeover. It’s just a smartly expanded series that never feels redundant of the novel. You could easily read / watch both and absorb events in a completely different manner. It does exactly what great drama should.
The Handmaid’s Tale rides a critical political narrative that still won’t go away. I wrote about this months ago. Little changed since then, unfortunately. Where some series feel redundant of the news, for better or for worse The Handmaid’s Tale exaggerates our politics. It expands current affairs to a hopefully far-fetched and avoidable reality. Yet in some areas of the world, women hold positions only a step above those of the women in the book. Our political reality blends smartly with the fiction of Gilead. This fictional world isn’t that far away, lending it credibility and enormous gravitas. It may be too much for the Television Academy to ignore.
Blessed Be That Cast
Everyone should obsess over that fantastic cast. Producer/star Elisabeth Moss holds an Emmy IOU. She never received a trophy for her stunning performance on Mad Men. Not even for “The Suitcase,” an hour I consider some of the best television to ever air. Not even for Top of the Lake after winning a Golden Globe for the role. With seven Emmy nominations, Elisabeth Moss is way overdue for a win. And she delivers a complicated character like Offred with brilliance and integrity. She gives a voice to a woman who famously has none in the novel.
Also grossly overdue is Ann Dowd, national treasure. I feared her performance as Aunt Lydia would remain the highlight of a handful of episodes, but the production smartly brings her back in a big way toward the end of Season 1. She would emerge as a lock if it weren’t for her equally great supporting cast members. Yvonne Strahovski is simply a complete revelation as Serena Joy. Tightly wound early in the series, she begins to unravel violently toward the middle. Strahovski embodies this hateful woman with just enough sympathy. Hers emerges as perhaps the greatest of the show along with Moss’s. Add Samira Wiley, Alexis Bledel, Madeline Brewer, and Joseph Fiennes.
Clearly, this series offers enough acting prowess to attract the attention of the actors. And there are a lot of actors in the Television Academy. Will they put the show over the top?
As I see it, there is really only one con against The Handmaid’s Tale. Will men in the Television Academy watch the series? Does the material resonate with them as it does with women? For that matter, will women even watch it? Personally, I know several women who will not watch the series because it depresses them. Because the novel depresses them. Reality depresses them. As a result, is this something people will rally around? I firmly believe many will. But will enough rally to its side for a nomination?
Hulu did a tremendous job of marketing the series. Hulu smartly, quickly ordered the series back in April 2016. They knew what they had, and they’ve carefully nurtured it over the past year. They positioned it squarely in the prime Emmy corridor of April so that the series ends during the voting period. They’re doing absolutely all of the right things from what I can see.
Plus, this is Hulu’s first major player in the Outstanding Drama Series Emmy race. They came *achingly* close last year with 11.22.63 in the Limited Series race, but didn’t go all the way. Hulu probably lives where FX lived 5 or 6 years ago before Ryan Murphy and Noah Hawley delivered it to the Emmy podium. Voting members of the Television Academy don’t know Hulu as another purveyor of quality television just yet. Not like HBO or FX. That day absolutely will come.
Perhaps The Handmaid’s Tale is the show that gets them there.
Elisabeth Moss, Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Reed Morano, Direction
Yvonne Strahovski, Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Ann Dowd, Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Joseph Fiennes, Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
Alexis Bledel, Guest Actress in a Drama Series