Why put these two very different shows together? Because they both took a very bold and uncompromising look at how women are treated and/or thought of, and while HBO and Hulu could not have known what was about to happen in real life at the time that they developed Big Little Lies and The Handmaid’s Tale, respectively, these two dramas certainly resonated in a year that found women marching to preserve their rights and fighting back against male domination and physical abuse of every kind.
It is no surprise that, collectively, these two programs cleaned up at this year’s Emmy Awards.
Not to treat it as less important than it was, but Big Little Lies was the deluxe, big-budget soap opera of the year. This star-fueled saga chronicled the personal and private lives of the women in upscale Monterey, California, ultimately exposing the secrets and struggles that each of them suffered. At the center of it all was a searing depiction of spousal abuse that spread beyond one couple’s four walls, ultimately tainting the town around them. Nicole Kidman and Alexander Skarsgard (pictured at top), both at the top of their game, took home Emmys for their portrayals of that conflicted couple. Kidman had never been better, playing a woman equally terrified of her husband’s brutality and of revealing it to even her closest friends. As is often the case in these situations, it was their children who suffered the most.
Everyone else on the canvas -- especially Reese Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley and Laura Dern -- was equally awesome, as was series creator and writer David E. Kelley, finally released from the restrictions of formulaic broadcast television (where he thrived for decades). I haven’t enjoyed his work so much since the much-missed Boston Legal.
As for The Handmaid’s Tale, it proved as popular with viewers as it was painful to watch. Based on the novel by Margaret Atwood and set in a particularly bleak future on the opposite coast from Big Little Lies, it was a showcase for the work of many fine actresses, including Elisabeth Moss (pictured above) and Anne Dowd, who both took home Emmys. I found it difficult to watch, not because of any flaws in the production, but, instead, because it was flawless in its depiction of a world in which women have lost all rights and must obey the men around them.
Handmaid’s Tale was a huge success for Hulu, proving that Netflix and Amazon aren’t the only streamers capable of producing top-quality, award-winning original programming. And it is finally bringing proper recognition to Moss, one of the finest actresses to emerge from the era of Peak TV.
HBO is changing the game with Big Little Lies, returning it for a second season and essentially reclassifying it from limited series to drama series. Hulu has a second season of Handmaid’s in production, as well. That’s good news, because at this moment both franchises are too important to not continue.
Previously in the Top 25 Programs of 2017
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