Thirty-Second Synopsis: Environmental destruction leads to a fertility crisis in the United States, giving religious fundamentalist forces a platform to rise to prominence. They freeze the Constitution, declare martial law, strip women of their jobs and credit cards, and take control. Protests turn violent as police open fire on the citizenry. Women are divided up based on their fertility levels, they're brainwashed into obedience, and the country turns into an authoritarian theocracy, renaming itself Gilead. The handmaids are the women whose sole responsibility is to produce offspring for the men to whom they are assigned.
This show may make you feel ill—but you also won't be able to look away.
Read the Book First If: You want a sense of the world of Gilead before diving into an immersive series. Hulu's adaptation of Margaret Atwood's 1985 novel is true to the book (the author herself approved of it), and the show expands on certain details that are mere blips in the book. While the series does a thorough job of telling Atwood's story, the original source material is an enlightening look at the author's premonitions for the future.
Prepare to Get Shivers From: How the plot has been updated for 2017—in particular, how LGBTQ issues hold more prominence than they do in the novel. Atwood's original work may still feel contemporary, but Hulu's adaptation fittingly brings even more diversity to the story.
The Most Unexpected Performance Comes From: Alexis Bledel, who plays handmaid Ofglen. The Gilmore Girls star sheds her typical awkward sweetness in favor of a sardonic bluntness that feels refreshing and, at times, bitingly humorous. As the series progresses, Ofglen gets into more intense situations that result in some of Bledel's most impressive on-screen work ever.
Why It Might Be the Biggest Show of 2017: Although The Handmaid's Tale was officially announced in April 2016, political events that have unfolded in the past year make the show's debut carry even more gravitas and urgency than predicted. As the plot flashes back and forth between a current totalitarian state and a protest-laden past that looks eerily similar to our current climate, the show feels unsettlingly ominous and foreboding—even if Atwood's book was written more than 30 years ago.
Best Storytelling Strategy: Offred's voiceover narrative, which clues viewers into her struggle as a handmaid, her firm hope for the future, and her refusal to be brainwashed by the religious government. Her thoughts also give the viewers insight into her true feelings about her relationships with the people who surround her—particularly Ofglen, whom she initially dubs a "pious little shit."
The Most Upsetting Dynamic: The varied relationships between women. The government in The Handmaid's Tale is run by men, but the focus of this story is on the women who are affected by that rule. When they are divided up into Handmaids, Marthas (essentially, housemaids and cooks), and Wives (exactly what they sound like), it is impossible for them to find common ground—so they are consistently turned against one another.
Watch It With: A healthy dose of anger for the present, but a good amount of optimism for the future. While the premise of The Handmaid's Tale is indeed horrifying, the story is told with an abundance of sarcasm and resistance—if Offred can push forward, you can, too.
To Binge, or Not to Binge? Not to binge. Although all 10 of the episodes will be released at the same time, each 45-minute long episode is filled with enough nuance and detail to ruminate on for days. A show this good should be savored like a juicy novel.
Watch The Handmaid's Tale on Hulu.