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Winter TV Awards: With Hulu’s Wildcards, Anything Could Happen

Our Winter TV Awards column looks at what Hulu has lurking in its grab bag of programming.

PEN15 -- "Pool" - Episode 201 -- Two days after the dance, Maya and Anna reluctantly go to a lame pool party. A crush unexpectedly shows up, causing them to question their sanity and reputations. Anna Kone (Anna Konkle) and Maya Ishii-Peters (Maya Erskine), shown. (Photo by: Lara Solanki/Hulu)

Anna Konkle and Maya Erskine in “PEN15”

Lara Solanki / Hulu

With another week in the rearview mirror, let’s shift the Winter TV Awards race focus to another streaming service: Hulu.

Though Netflix and Hulu ostensibly play in the same paddling pool, the former releases so much content in any given year that it quickly becomes obvious what has the potential to become an awards contender and what just isn’t up to snuff. As for the latter, without breakout hits like “The Handmaid’s Tale” in contention — the ongoing Atwood adaptation hasn’t aired an episode since August 2019, making it ineligible for this season’s awards — Hulu is left holding a grab bag of shows, some of which could hit, many of which might miss — and all of which deserve some kind of consideration in the coming awards season.

First and foremost amongst Hulu contenders is second season comedy “Ramy.” Created by and starring Ramy Youssef, the series follows a first-generation American Muslim-Arab as he navigates socio-political and cultural challenges as he works out how he fits into the world at large. Though the series didn’t see the leap in Emmy recognition many were hoping for, it did score three significant nominations, two for Youssef, one for acting and another for directing, and one for supporting actor in a comedy for two-time Oscar winner Mahershala Ali, who joined the show for its second season.

“Ramy” remains in contention this winter in no small part because the Golden Globes is where the series saw its first significant breakthrough in the awards scene, with Youssef winning actor in a comedy or musical for his work in the first season. If the Hollywood Foreign Press Association is still feeling the love — which it might, as the organization has nominated Ali for film roles twice in the last three years — the show could be a major player when the time comes.

Speaking of comedy, Hulu has plenty of other players just waiting in the wings. Consider “The Great,” which premiered earlier this year and featured the comedic talents of Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult and vaguely centered on the adventures and ascension of Catherine the Great.

Elle Fanning Nicholas Hoult The Great

“The Great”

Hulu

Created by Tony McNamara, who previously won acclaim via royal absurdity with an Oscar nomination for penning the screenplay for “The Favourite,” the series nabbed two significant Emmy nominations, in writing and directing respectively, and seemed on the precipice for more had momentum for the series hit sooner. It’s a big, splashy series that’s easy to get lost in and the kind of show where, if viewers like it, they love it.

As for other Hulu comedy players, it’s a fact too often overlooked that the streaming service has one of TV’s best comedies currently running. Created by Maya Erskine, Anna Konkle, and Sam Zvibleman, “PEN15” stars Erskine and Konkle as teenage versions of themselves surrounded by actual teenagers and exploring some of the most trying times of their lives as they were in 2000.

Despite it’s skepticism-inducing premise, the “PEN15” concept forces audiences to relive all the trauma and hilarity of adolescence, but with a newfound pathos for their own awkward existences. It’s embarrassing, yes, but simultaneously delightful and tragic. But maybe most importantly, it’s extremely funny. Any awards show worth its salt should find a way to honor the storytelling innovation utilized by the series, which dropped the first seven episodes of its second season in September.

Of course, it’s not all fun and games on Hulu. There’s also plenty of room for contemplative and gorgeous limited series offerings, the likes of which Emmy voters found in Lenny Abrahamson’s adaptation of Sally Rooney’s novel “Normal People.” A coming-of-age story that encompasses class and sex and friendship and love, all within the confines of a beautiful Irish backdrop, critics and audiences were bewitched by the series, which scored nominations for writing, directing, casting, as well as lead actor in a limited series for Paul Mescal at the Emmys against ridiculously stiff competition.

Competition in limited series continues to grow by the day, but “Normal People” deserves to be a player in all categories.

Plus, Hulu also has the limited series “Little Fires Everywhere,” which was adapted from the Celeste Ng novel of the same name. Starring Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington as mothers at odds, the series received a solid critical response and five Emmy nominations to boot, suggesting it could be a contender with upcoming awards. If anything stands in its way, it could be the HBO offering and Nicole Kidman vehicle “The Undoing,” as it’s currently unclear how many former “Big Little Lies” stars now starring in other melodramatic limited series can be simultaneously nominated without knocking each other out.

November 10 update — Netflix

The Crown S4. Picture shows: Margaret Thatcher (GILLIAN ANDERSON). Filming Location: Wrotham Park

Gillian Anderson as Margaret Thatcher

Des Willie/Netflix

California unceremoniously made the leap to winter last week with about as much grace and foresight as the Trump White House transition team, bringing to mind the chilly red carpets and rained out FYC events of years past, all of which served as hallmarks of TV’s other awards season.

With the Emmys firmly in the rearview mirror, it’s time for the Golden Globes and its ilk to shine, offering insight into the best that TV had to offer over the last year, using a slightly different lens — specifically, a working calendar that structures its eligibility from January 1 to December 31, as opposed to the Emmy Awards’ eligibility timeline of June 1 to May 31.

While that’s the predominant difference between Emmy season and the Winter TV Awards season, there are plenty of other distinctions which make the latter a robust and entirely different animal from the former, not the least of which is the elevated number of awards distributed by specialty organizations and guild groups. Who better to discern the highest caliber work the industry has to offer than those working every day in the trenches?

And so, it’s the perfect time to start checking in on the state of the race(s) that will populate the calendar through next April — just in time to switch our focus back to the Emmys.

This week, critics are buzzing about Netflix’s “The Crown,” so let’s take a look at the streaming giant’s top series. A longtime awards favorite, the series drops its fourth season on November 15 and early reviews are positive — consistent with the show’s marks for previous seasons. For some, including IndieWire Executive Editor Ann Donahue, Season 4 serves as a high water mark for the series, in no small part thanks to some key performances introduced this year.

“With the addition of [Margaret] Thatcher, played to gritty, galling Iron Lady perfection by Gillian Anderson, and Diana [Spencer], a near-impossible role that Emma Corrin makes look effortless without descending into hagiography, ‘The Crown’ gives a riveting look at a decade that codified callous excess in the characters’ public and private lives,” Donahue wrote in her review.

This makes for great odds at the Golden Globes, where the series has seen six nominations for its actors over the previous three seasons, as well as wins for each Queen Elizabeth to date — Claire Foy in 2017 and Olivia Colman earlier this year. It remains unclear if Corrin can make a big enough splash as Princess Diana to breakthrough in the Supporting Actress category at the Golden Globes, in large part because so much of her competition will be coming from her co-stars. Not only was Helena Bonham Carter nominated for her work as Princess Margaret at the Globes for Season 3 — her eighth career HFPA nomination — Anderson also has her own glittering reputation with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, having earned five previous nominations and one win.

Ozark Season 3 Netflix Jason Bateman Laura Linney ending

Jason Bateman and Laura Linney in “Ozark”

Courtesy of Netflix

Where “The Crown” continues to thrive, however, another Netflix drama contender appears to be flagging. After a disappointing Emmys performance, things have been pretty quiet with regard to buzz for “Ozark.” Despite receiving its best critical reception to date for Season 3 of the series, only scoring one Emmy win out of 18 nominations was a devastating blow for the series. At a point when chatter about any series that debuted outside of the last six weeks is practically non-existent, it’s not a great position for any show released in early 2020 to be in, but particularly painful for “Ozark,” given that just months ago, it seemed primed to make the leap to the next level of prestige TV shows.

But the streaming giant does have another queen lurking in the background and positioning itself to be crowned in future months: limited series “The Queen’s Gambit.” An adaptation of the 1983 eponymous novel by Walter Tevis, the series follows an orphan chess prodigy (a fascinating Anya Taylor-Joy) in the 1950s attempting to become the world’s greatest chess player. Though high drama in the world of chess might not seem like it would make for riveting television, the series is luxuriant and bewitching, finding a way to derive stakes from the protagonist’s inner journey in ways that lesser shows regularly fail.

Much like “The Crown,” the lush production values mean that “The Queen’s Gambit” could be a regular player throughout awards season, with all eyes on Taylor-Joy whose performance deserves all the accolades it can get.

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