THE HANDMAID'S TALE (9 out of 10) Based on the novel by Margaret Atwood; Directed by Reed Morano, Written by Margaret Atwood and Bruce Miller; Starring Elisabeth Moss, Yvonne Strahovski, Alexis Bledel, Samira Wiley, Joseph Fiennes, Max Minghella, O-T Fagbenle; New episodes added to Hulu weekly on Wednesdays. Original airdate April 26, 2017.
Stop what you're doing right now and go watch The Handmaid's Tale on Hulu. Don't have Hulu? It's a great time to sign up for one of those free trials, then. Don't have three hours to watch three episodes? Make a plan for later this afternoon or evening to set aside the time to watch the most important thing you will see on television. You need to see this and you will need to discuss it with everyone you know.
Set in a dystopian near future, the series presents the story of "Offred," (Elizabeth Moss) a Handmaiden. The environment is toxic, and humanity has become infertile. Those women still able to bear children are a special caste of breeders given to the rich and the powerful.
One criticism I had of the source material is how slowly it starts. Told as a first person diary and skipping around in time, we don't really get an understanding of the world and what it's all about until almost halfway through the book. Not so in this adaptation.
The first hourlong is so chock-full of worldbuilding horror, it literally left me feeling like there was nowhere left for them to go. But that's ultimately not true, as the second two episodes still explore so much more, even expanding on the narrative and the fate of characters left unknown in the novel.
Of particular interest is Alexis Bledel's character, another handmaiden named Ofglen. When I heard she had been cast in this role, it struck me as strange-- Ofglen had been a relatively minor character. But her fate is explored in the third episode, and it is harrowing and depressing.
Perhaps the most brilliant move they made was casting Yvonne Strahovski as The Commander's wife. By making her younger than she is in the book, she becomes so much more dangerous. Also, it's great to see Strahovski get a chance to act beyond just what we got to see her do in Chuck.
But beyond just being great television, this show has something to say. Despite the show being in production for long before Trump became president, and the novel being written over three decades ago, the message is even more prescient today than ever.
Despite outlets like the conservative National Review telling us that "The world of The Handmaid's Tale Bears No Resemblance to Trump's America," this couldn't be further from the truth. The point of dystopian fiction is to lay out the problems of modern society and create an argument by reductio ab absurdum. Taken to their logical ends, every misogynistic and theocratic element of today's America is present in here. Women are called sluts and bitches when trying to order coffee, again slut shamed and blamed for being victims of rape, and are victims of dozens of other microaggressions common to 2017 America.
So, could it happen? In some ways, it already is.
Even if you don't subscribe to the social commentary, this is extraordinary dystopian drama done well. The acting and direction is fantastic. The world comes alive and feels so real-- so possible.
And then there's the soundtrack. Some of the music is used for ironic purposes -- Simple Minds' "Don't You Forget About Me" is used well with a scene between Offred and Nick, the Commander's driver. And some of it is downright frightening. A deconstructed version of Blondie's "Heart of Glass" plays over a protest turned brutal, murderous police crackdown. Oh, and this may be the best use of Peaches "@#$% the Pain Away" ever. What else is in the teaches of peaches? Uh, what?
Every detail is perfect. Fans and students of the source material will not be disappointed, and those who have never read one word will get a crash course in the first episode. It's worth watching -- and even more so worth discussing -- and then you can decide after one episode if this is for you or not.
If you're like me, you won't be able to stop and need to immediately binge the next two episodes, and now eagerly await next week's installment. It's Daredevil good. It's Luke Cage good. It's Stranger Things good.
Congrats, Hulu. You've made the best and most important show on television right now.