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‘The Handmaid’s Tale’: Season 2’s Most Surprising Emmy Nomination Is the Series’ Key to Winning Best Drama

The nominees in the 2018 Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama category suggests that the Academy is definitely paying attention to last year's big winner.

The Handmaid's Tale Season 2

Hulu

In a morning full of snubs and surprises, one of the more intriguing moments was the reveal of the Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama nominees. It’s not shocking that there were three nominations for “The Handmaid’s Tale” in this category, given how the show has always been a showcase for a wide range of roles for women. But what was a surprise is the three women chosen: Previous nominee Samira Wiley (who competed last year in the Supporting Actress category and lost to Ann Dowd), Cherry Jones (who made a few appearances in Season 2 as June’s mother Holly), and, seemingly out of nowhere, Kelly Jenrette as “Annie.”

If you had to look up who that character is, don’t feel bad. Jenrette has one major scene in flashbacks during Season 2, Episode 4, “Other Women,” in which Annie confronts June (Elisabeth Moss) as the woman “wrecking” her marriage — calling her a “fucking whore.” Years later, after June and Luke have gotten married and become parents, June sees Annie at a crowded restaurant, and the two share a silent moment that clearly triggers serious guilt in June.

Jenrette isn’t a complete newcomer, having made appearances on HBO’s “Here and Now,” “Fuller House,” and Fox’s “Pitch” in recent years. She was also a series regular on the Fox comedy “Grandfathered.” But in a dense season filled with rich character moments, her nomination for “The Handmaid’s Tale” is a major surprise, especially in light of the fact that earlier in the season there was a very high-profile guest appearance by Marisa Tomei in Episode 2 of the season, “Unwomen.”

Tomei’s role was a far more prominent one, playing a disgraced Wife sent to the Colonies, and representing so much of the horror and hypocrisy that makes the story of women complicit in the Gileadean regime so fascinating.

Kelly Jenrette'Pitch' TV Series Premiere, Los Angeles, USA - 13 Sep 2016

Kelly Jenrette

Stewart Cook/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

Speculating as to why the voting body of the Academy might choose to honor one performance over another is a path to madness, but one potential takeaway from Jenrette’s nomination is a sign that members were thoroughly engaged with Season 2 of the series, watching intently enough that they chose to recognize a lesser-known name over an Oscar-winning star in this category.

In fact, the Academy chose to recognize “Handmaid’s Tale” with even more nominations than it did last year, raising its count from 13 for Season 1 to 20 for Season 2. This includes first-time nominations for Joseph Fiennes and Yvonne Strahovski, repeat appearances for Dowd and Alexis Bledel (who moved up to the Supporting Actress category this year), and a slew of below-the-line honors.

“Handmaid” might only be the third-most-nominated drama this year, following “Game of Thrones” and “Westworld,” but 2017’s 13 nominations didn’t keep it from beating “Stranger Things” and “Westworld” (both of which had more total nominations) for the top prize. It’s clear the Academy is paying close attention to this series, confronting the conventional wisdom that people may not be watching.

So this September, good luck to Jenrette, who not only faces co-stars Wiley and Jones in this category, but previous nominees Dame Diana Rigg for “Game of Thrones,” Cicely Tyson for “How to Get Away With Murder,” and Viola Davis for playing her Emmy-winning role from “HTGAWM” on a crossover episode of “Scandal.” It’s a tough category, but as we saw this morning, anything can happen during the Emmys.

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