The Hunger Games is over, part 2 of Allegiant is up in the air, and The Maze Runner is on hold pending actor Dylan O’Brien recovery from an on-set accident, but fans of dystopian storytelling will soon be able to head to Hulu for genre fix from The Handmaid’s Tale. Variety reports that the digital network has placed a straight to series order for the drama, which will be produced by MGM Television and star Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss.
The series is bound to create conversation as the story, based off the 1985 bestselling book by Canadian author Margaret Atwood, is frighteningly timely. Set in the near-future, after a theocracy has overthrown the U.S. government, women’s rights have been obliterated and society follows a strict, militarized version of religiously based rule. The story follows Offred, a smart girl and member of a caste of concubines (the titular handmaids) reserved for reproduction after sterility has threatened the stability of the ruling class. The handmaid’s names are literally indicators of their slavery “Of-fred” belongs to Fred.
How perfect that Moss, who crashed into fans’ hearts as the irrepressible Peggy Olson, the moral gravity at the center of Mad Men, will play Offred.
Though written as satire during the Cold War Atwood’s story feels more eerily relevant than ever. A staged terrorist attack blamed on Islamic radicals is what the theocracy leaders use to capture the will of the nation. They suspend Constitutional rights under the guise of national safety, and establish the new Republic of Gilead, in which law is based on their own version of religious extremism. (As a Harvard scholar Atwood studied the Puritans. She designed Gilead based on what she felt was their twisted view of all or nothing morality.)
The story has previously been adapted into a 1990 feature film starring Natasha Richardson, Faye Dunaway, and Robert Duvall, an opera, a radio drama, a stage show, and a ballet.
Hulu’s digital competitor, Netflix, has never shied away from including dark, twisty content in their original programming. From Narcos to Hemlock Grove to Orange is the New Black and the Marvel Defenders shows, they’ve always had one or two programs that were pushing boundaries and creating social buzz. Hulu and Amazon Studios have been slower to adopt tough dramas, focusing more on comedies, animation, and documentary. Since 2013 Hulu’s only original drama has been teen-centered East Los High.
They’ve been testing the waters lately, though, heavily promoting both Stephen King adaptation 11.22.63 and religious cult series The Path, starring Aaron Paul and Hugh Dancy. Though Nielsen ratings aren’t available for either show they’ve earned positive critical support for both writing and production. Two new dramas – Chance starring Hugh Laurie, and Shut Eye with Jeffrey Donovan and KaDee Strickland – are in development at Hulu.
The Handmaid’s Tale will be written and executive produced by Bruce Miller (The 100) and Daniel Wilson, who produced on the film version. Atwood read the first two scripts and called them excellent. Speaking for MGM Television, Mark Burnett said in a statement, “The Handmaid’s Tale is a project that we have been committed to bringing to life as its story remains as powerful today as it did when Margaret first published her novel. Handmaid’s Tale has won multiple awards inspiring a film, a graphic novel, an opera, a ballet and finally, for the first time, a compellingly immersive drama series that has found the perfect home at Hulu and its star in Elisabeth Moss.”