As a streaming service venturing increasingly into the world of original scripted programming, Hulu is still in search of a defining breakout hit. Although it has had moderate success with the Stephen King adaptation 11.22.63 and some critical acclaim for its eerie cult drama The Path, the TV-focused service has yet to produce a series akin to Amazon's award-winning Transparent, Netflix's attention-grabbing House of Cards or, more recently, Stranger Things. But all of that may be set to change with The Handmaid's Tale, an adaptation of the Margaret Atwood novel of the same set to premiere in the spring.
The series explores the dystopian society of Gilead, ruled by a totalitarian government and religious fundamentalism that has repositioned women into property of the state, to be used in an effort to combat a precipitous drop in birthrate. Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss stars as Offred, one of several Handmaids forced into sexual subjugation by Commanders, and who is driven to survive in the hopes that she will one day be reunited with the daughter taken from her. Despite being adapted from a novel first published in 1985, the story and its prevailing themes of environmental disaster, governmental oppression, and religious fundamentalism ring as relevant today, if not more so, than when they were originally written.
At the Hulu portion of the TCA Winter Press Tour 2017, series creator, executive producer, and writer Bruce Miller (The 100) discussed the idea of relevance and what viewers can expect from the series, in terms of his approach to adapting Atwood's novel, the differences that will be made evident, and the genre in which he feels The Handmaid's Tale ultimately fits. Addressing the journalists present during the panel, Miller said:
"Well, the book was always considered speculative fiction, because it’s not really science fiction. It doesn’t really take place in a different technological world. But I would say it’s a thriller, kind – you know we’re always terrified something bad is going to happen to Offred, and, by extension, to [Elisabeth Moss]. So, I would say, probably, it’s a thriller, would be the genre that I would call it."
Regardless of what genre Miller feels the series best fits there remains the notion that the ideas presented feel salient in the present-day. As co-star Joseph Fiennes said repeatedly during the panel, themes of The Handmaid's Tale were very prescient at the time of its publication and they have become perhaps more prescient as time went on. Now in 2017, as the novel prepares to re-enter the public discussion and likely attract a new legion of fans, Miller discussed being mindful in his adaptation of the elements that seem to have an evergreen quality to them, that certain parts will always resonate with the audience and reflect the time in which they live. And as he points out, there were parallels between the story and some of the talking points during the recent U.S. election and in the political atmosphere around the world.
"I think the book’s been around for 35 years, and every time someone reads it, they say, 'Wow, this is timely.' And I think one of the things that is the most interesting about the book is how relevant it is all the time, that there are aspects of the book people pick out… that really ring true for them or seem to speak to the time that they’re living in. So, I think none of us could ignore what was happening. I mean, I was writing the pilot script during the primaries, during all those debates and all that kind of stuff. So, you know, we were, of course, mindful of that."
The story's relevance may be tested (or proven even more disturbingly prescient) should The Handmaid's Tale prove a hit for Hulu (and by all early accounts it will), and the series move on to subsequent seasons. It's a possibility Miller has foreseen and seems eager to accept the challenges of.
"I think there’s an incredible amount in the book. The more we look into that world, the more of a further horizon we see of stories that we can tell."
The Handmaid's Tale premieres April 26 on Hulu.