30 Pilots in 30 Days: The Handmaid’s Tale

Had I seen it before: Yes, I’ve seen the first six episodes.

What IMDb says: Set in a dystopian future, a woman is forced to live as a concubine under a fundamentalist theocratic dictatorship.

Why I picked it: I wanted a Hulu original and even though Harlots kicks this show’s ass in my opinion, you really can’t deny that The Handmaid’s Tale is having a bigger cultural moment. Even though Hulu actually started making original content before Netflix did, this is the first one that seems to have any chance at putting Hulu in the original content game.

That being said, The Handmaid’s Tale is doing a good job with that game. It’s up for 11 Emmys after just one season, including acting, writing, and directing. When a friend of mine asked for Hulu suggestions after signing up for the 30-day free trial, there were numerous people urging her to watch The Handmaid’s Tale. People freaking dressed up as handmaids for a protest at the White House. Good or bad, the show is relevant, so the pilot is worth a watch.

What I liked: One of the things I liked about The Handmaid’s Tale is that it’s a dystopian future but it’s not that far removed from modern times. We see flashbacks to the world we actually live in today. Our protagonist remembers what life was like before being plucked from our world and thrown into the dystopian one.

While I admit that my knowledge of the genre is somewhat limited, this seems different to me. Usually the protagonist is oblivious. Here, our protagonist used to live in the same world as the audience. She knows how fucked up her new situation is.

That being said, the pilot still does a good job at that mythical thing we call “world creation.” We know that the people who took over didn’t just make a few tweaks here and there, they completely overhauled society. The audience still feels immersed in this society despite the flashbacks and Offred’s voiceover.

The premise is also the type that makes us curious for more. Our protagonist has been thrown into a situation that any person would want to rebel against. We know that some characters are actively planning that rebellion, and have asked our protagonist for help. There’s a lot of tension here and establishing tension is part of a pilot’s job, even if all that potential won’t be realized until later episodes.

What I didn’t like: Have you ever spent an hour of your life watching something and still felt like you didn’t really learn anything that wasn’t in the logline? I have.

Here’s what I knew before watching the pilot:
– It’s about a dystopian society where Elisabeth Moss is forced to bare children for infertile people with power.

Here’s what I knew after watching the pilot:
– Elisabeth Moss’s character’s name is Offred. I know because it’s the title of the episode.

There’s a few other barely relevant supporting characters, and the dystopian world is maybe a little more violent than I initially realized, but for the most part I’m still where I started. The pilot didn’t really move the plotline forward.

There’s also the fact that once again, we’re relying on situation rather than character for interest. I have no reason to sympathize with Offred beyond the fact that she’s been forced into this terrible situation. Removed from that, I know nothing about her. I don’t know if she’s the kind of person I’d be friends with. I don’t know if she’s funny or what her guilty pleasure music is or what her Meyers-Briggs type is or if she prefers original recipe to extra crispy. In an effort to drive home their message of “Doesn’t it suck to be raped repeatedly and have to bare your rapist’s kid?” they pretty much forgot to give Offred any other personality trait besides “pissed off about being raped repeatedly and having to bare her rapist’s kid.”

And obviously that sounds incredibly traumatic and terrible and words cannot even describe how bloody awful it would be to live as a handmaid in this sick, twisted world. Of course Offred’s going to be pissed off about it. But that’s just it. Everything we learn about Offred’s views on her situation are things we could reasonably infer since we all know how fucked up her situation is. I’d rather learn about what makes Offred different from all the other handmaids. Why is she the one we’re following around? What makes her so compelling?

Do I want to watch Ep. 2: As mentioned, I’ve already seen six episodes and I’m probably going to finish the season because I’m already in this deep. I will say that this is definitely one I kept watching more out of an “I need to see what all the fuss is about” rather than “the pilot was so bloody gripping I just couldn’t stop!”

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