By Noah Benjamin-Pollak
Hulu, the streaming television service, announced last week that it is producing an adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s acclaimed novel The Handmaid’s Tale. The series will star actress Elisabeth Moss, who played secretary-turned-advertising copyrighter Peggy Olson on Mad Men, and MGM Television has recruited a heavyweight production team (executive producers from The 100, and Fargo). The Handmaid’s Tale, which is set in Harvard Square, in Cambridge, Mass., at some time in the future, tells the story of the United States in the thrall of a right-wing, Christian totalitarian regime that oppresses women and controls their bodies for political purposes.
Television has been rapidly eclipsing Hollywood as the go-to place for authors looking to have their books adapted — and the quality of small-screen productions has been on a dramatic upswing, with an array of premium cable channels and streaming Internet services throwing big money at new productions. Exhibit A these days may be HBO’s Game of Thrones, but there is no shortage of other examples, from the gritty (Piper Kerman’s Orange is the New Black on Netflix), to the counterfactual historical (Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle on Amazon Prime).
The Handmaid’s Tale had already been adapted for the big screen and there is every reason to believe the upcoming television series will surpass it. The bar is not high: the 1990 Hollywood movie has a notably unfresh 23% rating on “Rotten Tomatoes,” and Entertainment Weekly dismissed it as “paranoid poppycock.” Here’s hoping that Hulu is kinder to Atwood’s dystopian classic.