The Handmaid's Tale, a Hulu Original series
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
If you are not familiar with the story, please see my review of the novel.
I love great film and television, but with very few exceptions I always find the book to have been better. That's also one of the reasons I've never been that into comics. I don't need anyone else to visualize a story for me, I'm perfectly capable of doing that in my head as I read. Whenever something is adapted for a different medium changes are inevitable. In this case they are slight, more of an elaboration on the theme, expansion of certain characters' roles, filling in a few gaps the book left to the reader's imagination. The short, ten episode season ended at approximately the same point as the book, but it has been renewed, leading me to expect a focus on the resistance next year, something only hinted at in the book. Considering I was underwhelmed by the show, I still haven't decided how I feel about that. The book's epilogue indicated that the Republic of Gilead did eventually fall, but the fate of the main character was left in doubt. Elisabeth Moss being one of the producers, she will still be front and center of the action in the second season, but they need to do more to avoid the others being mere caricatures. I would rather have seen more episodes this year, with some events eliminated or condensed, concluding the story with the fall of Gilead.
I haven't read any other reviews, but I have seen headlines where certain critics have placed the show, and Moss' performance, on their lists of the best of the year. I don't agree. She's good, and the show was entertaining, but not as good as I had hoped. To be honest, there isn't anything I can point to that was bad about it, but there are a few weaknesses. First would be the pacing, but that goes back to my thought it should have been a one-and-done season. All of the acting is competent enough, although a bit lifeless for such a volatile subject, and I didn't appreciate the attempt at rationalizing or humanizing the Commander. He was at the forefront of the movement that overthrew the United States, so I have no sympathy for him, even if there are worse people further up the chain of command. Another failing is the subtlety of the book was replaced by overt depictions, as if they felt the viewer couldn't understand the wrongness of Gilead otherwise. Some things can be left to the imagination. We don't need to see someone hanged, or tortured, or mutilated, to understand the evil of a totalitarian regime. My visual image of Gilead had been more austere, but they seemed to imply the takeover was less damaging to infrastructure, a more gradual shift in policy rather than a destructive revolution. It is unfortunate that our current political climate makes that all too believable.
I would like to have seen more of Alexis Bledel's character, in fact was surprised at her brief appearances. I've read she will return, but I don't know in what capacity or how prominently she will be featured. Other than Moss as Offred/June, I can't say it matters to me about the return of any other character. Sorry, Yvonne. Wait, on second thought, I do want to see Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) again, but only to see her get her just rewards. I'm not trying to dissuade anyone from watching this. If you have Hulu I would recommend it, since I know I rarely share the majority opinion, and it is a timely and cautionary story. I will likely rewatch before the second season, or at least select episodes or portions of them, but I've said that about other series and failed to do so. If I do rewatch I might change my mind. If you don't have Hulu, this might not be enough to warrant a subscription, but if you've been considering it, there are plenty of other shows to complement it. They do still offer a free trail, which should give you time to watch it. Otherwise, there's still the book, a much better value for your time.
UPDATE: I should repeat I did like this, just not as much as I had hoped, but it was more popular with many others, including those who vote on awards. It now boasts 8 Emmy wins (4 other nominations), 2 Golden Globes (+ 1 more nom), plus wins from the Directors Guild & Producers Guild, and many other nominations.
UPDATE 2: DVD & Blu-Ray for Season 1 scheduled for March 13, 2018, and also available for purchase on Amazon Video. Season 2 will premiere on Hulu April 25.
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