The powerful series, an adaptation of Margaret Atwood's seminal 1985 novel that depicts a dystopian near-future in which women are forced into sexual servitude by the ruling patriarchy, racked up 13 of Hulu's 18 total nominations, including a nod for Outstanding Drama Series and an acting nomination for lead actress Elisabeth Moss.
When compared to Emmy powerhouses like perennial leader HBO and streaming front runner Netflix — which received 111 and 91 nominations, respectively — Hulu's 18 nominations admittedly don't sound like a lot. But they are a massive improvement over the streaming service's two nominations in 2016, both of which were in the technical categories (and both of which Hulu lost). It also puts them ahead of competitor Amazon, which received just 16 nominations again this year, despite going all-in on a lavish Emmy campaign.
In addition to Moss, actresses Samira Wiley and Ann Dowd both received supporting actress nominations, while former Gilmore Girls star Alexis Bledel received a guest acting nomination for her small but impactful standout performance as the tortured Ofglen. Behind the camera, Reed Morano and Kate Dennis were two of three women who earned nominations for directing (Lesli Linka Glatter picked up another nod for her work on Homeland), while executive producer and showrunner Bruce Miller picked up a nomination for writing the series' pilot. The show also earned nods for outstanding production design, casting, cinematography, period/fantasy costuming, and visual effects in a supporting role.
That The Handmaid's Tale had an impressive Emmys debut is incredible but not terribly surprising, if you've been paying attention; the series has been has been universally lauded by critics, and although Hulu doesn't release ratings data, it appears to have been well received by viewers, too. Of course, being critically acclaimed doesn't automatically translate into Emmy nominations — just ask the superb final season of Damon Lindelof's The Leftovers, which earned just one nomination (also for Ann Dowd) — but the relevance of the show's subject matter combined with unforgettable performances, breathtaking direction and strong writing across the board made it an easy choice for Emmy voters.
The series' bleak narrative is a potent and disturbing reflection of the times, but it is one that connected with audiences in a way Hulu's other original programming simply has not. Despite starring Aaron Paul, a three-time Emmy winner for his work on AMC's Breaking Bad, the middling cult-themed drama The Path has failed to deliver the goods over two seasons. Meanwhile, the streaming service's popular comedies Difficult People and Casual, while certainly well liked, haven't been able to translate that success into awards.
With The Handmaid's Tale's 13 nominations in hand, two questions now come to mind. First, it's nice to be invited to the party, but can the show actually win at the Emmys in September? And second, what does this mean for Hulu going forward?
Well, the good news is that Moss is considered by many to be a frontrunner for lead actress. The bad news is, despite being a seven-time nominee for Mad Men and Top of the Lake, she has yet to take home an Emmy for her work. And this year she's also going to be facing stiff competition from The Crown's Claire Foy, who took home the Golden Globe for her performance as Queen Elizabeth II earlier this year.
The series is also up against a number of incredible shows in the drama series category, even without the powerhouse that is HBO's epic Game of Thrones, which was ineligible. In addition to The Crown, the show will face off against the expansive and expensive HBO drama Westworld, which racked up 22 total nominations and tied with Saturday Night Live for the most nominations of any program; Netflix's breakout hit Stranger Things, which came in at 18; and NBC's beloved emotional family drama This Is Us.
Rounding out the nominations are repeat nominees Better Call Saul, which had its best season to date, and House of Cards, which did not have its best season to date. All things considered, The Handmaid's Tale has a very good chance to take home the top prize at the end of the night, especially when you consider its two nominations for directing and one for writing, which are very important in determining the outstanding drama winner.
As for what this means for Hulu moving forward, well, it's not entirely clear. When Netflix broke through at the Emmys with House of Cards in 2013, it already had Orange Is the New Black in the pipeline. With shows like Marvel's Runaways, new comedy series Future Man, and a number of comic book adaptations, Hulu's upcoming programming slate doesn't exactly scream Emmy contenders. Still, anything is possible, and with a second season of The Handmaid's Tale already ordered, this is really just the beginning.
The Handmaid's Tale's entire first season is available on Hulu now. The 69th Primetime Emmy Awards airs Sunday, Sept. 17 at 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT on CBS.
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