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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.

The Great

“The Great”


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.

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