How ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ star Elisabeth Moss could enter Emmy record territory

The Handmaid’s Tale” is back in Emmy contention, for its fifth season, after sitting out last year’s cycle, which means Elisabeth Moss could cross into record territory. If she pockets a Best Drama Actress nomination on July 12, she will stand alone as the second most shortlisted actor in the category.

With eight bids in the category so far — five for “Mad Men” (2009, 2011-13, 2015) and three for “Handmaid’s” (2017-18, 2021) — Moss currently still shares that title with Sharon Gless, Mariska Hargitay, Michael Learned and Julianna Margulies. She could have achieved it last year with her lead turn on another show, Apple TV+’s “Shining Girls,” but she failed to earn recognition for the genre-bending thriller — which would have also made her the first person to garner drama actress citations for three different projects.

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But it was always going to be a tall order for Moss to break into the lineup for “Shining Girls” — a freshman series that got lost in the shuffle of other Apple TV+ dramas and whose low-key April launch date didn’t allow it to build enough organic buzz before voting started in mid-June. She stands a much better chance at nabbing her ninth drama actress nomination with “Handmaid’s,” on account of already being a two-time champ for the Hulu show — once in this category and as a producer in series (both for its debut outing in 2017) — and the dystopian drama having established itself as TV academy royalty with a total of 75 bids and 15 victories under its belt so far.

As of this writing, she’s expected to be successful in snagging her record-setting citation this year, according to our drama actress odds, in which she is in fifth place. But that outcome is far from guaranteed. After receiving mixed critical and audience reception for its fifth season and getting completely ignored by the winter awards — including, for the first time, the Screen Actors Guild Awards, where neither the show’s cast nor Moss individually had theretofore ever missed — “Handmaid’s” is in the most precarious position in which it’s ever been heading into the Emmys. This wouldn’t be as concerning for Moss if her chances didn’t ostensibly hinge on the show’s overall strength. The last and only time “Handmaid’s” underperformed — at the 2020 Emmys, where it raked in a series-low 10 noms for its third season — she was not part of its nomination package. But even then, the drama still yielded a series nom, as well as acting mentions for Alexis Bledel, Bradley Whitford and Samira Wiley. So, why would Moss make the cut when neither the show nor any of her castmates are forecasted to this year, per our odds?

SEE Leslie Kavanagh (‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ costume designer) on how Fred’s funeral had to be ‘a real showstopper’ [Exclusive Video Interview]

Her biggest asset is that the drama actress race is wide open with only one of last year’s nominees, “Yellowjackets” star Melanie Lynskey, eligible to return. And not just that, but outside of Lynskey, who is currently the frontrunner in our odds, each of the other predicted nominees has their own set of challenges to overcome. Imelda Staunton, who’s in second place, is the first person portraying Queen Elizabeth II on “The Crown” to miss out on a SAG Award nom, and has to overcome the unenthusiastic response to the historical drama’s fifth installment. Bella Ramsey (No. 3), though red hot on the heels of the final few episodes of “The Last of Us” Season 1, is still a first-time hopeful from a show that’s untested at the Emmys. Emma D’Arcy (No. 4), who is also aiming to score their maiden bid for a first-season show, got a nice boost from their Golden Globe Award citation, but could still be hurt by the apparent lack of industry love for “House of the Dragon” and being in only half of the “Game of Thrones” prequel’s first season. And finally, Sharon Horgan (No. 6), despite being a former nominee for writing “Catastrophe” (in 2016) and landing a Critics Choice nomination over the winter, could fly under the radar with underdog contender “Bad Sisters.”

The unsettledness of the field perfectly sets the stage for someone like Moss, a TV academy staple who’s on a show voters have most likely seen and at least liked in the past, to sneak in despite these shortcomings. It doesn’t hurt that “Handmaid’s” fifth installment was another nonstop Emmy reel for the actor — who should be nominated for her performance in the opener alone — so that even voters who didn’t take a liking to the season as a whole might still check off Moss in her category.

If Moss makes the cut this year, she will also be one step closer to dethroning the all-time leader in the category, the late Angela Lansbury, who earned 12 consecutive mentions for “Murder, She Wrote” (1985-96).

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