The ‘Tale’ that takes on a life of its own

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Elisabeth Moss in “The Handmaid’s Tale”… the show has seen continued major critical and commercial success.

Has “The Handmaid’s Tale” outstayed its welcome? Streaming columnist NICK OVERALL reports that with series four about to drop and series five heading into production, the show keeps attracting major critical and commercial success. 

A HEAD-on approach to blistering subject matter means “The Handmaid’s Tale” has continued to generate discussion, debate and everything in between, and this month it’s about to confidently stride into its fourth season.

Nick Overall.

Here in Aus, viewers will be able to get their hands on the new season on SBS On Demand from April 29, a day after its US release. 

For anyone not in the know, it’s based on the 1985 novel by Margaret Atwood. A story about a theocracy called Gilead, which has overthrown the US government and established a new order, one where women, called “handmaids”, are enslaved in sexual servitude to combat mass infertility.

Nice and light entertainment, then.

This premise has been crafted through a vast array of historical, religious, cultural and political influences. Just some of Atwood’s influences include American puritanism, religious fundamentalism, as well as the events that have transpired in the Soviet Union and the Middle East.

In turn, it whips up publicity with ease.

The American Library Association has labelled the original novel as one of the most frequently challenged books, with the parents of many high school students condemning its presence in curriculum with concerns of “anti-religious messaging” and explicit depictions of sexuality. 

There was also the hilariously tone-deaf Kardashian controversy of 2019. Kylie Jenner keenly boasted on Instagram her “Handmaid’s Tale”-themed birthday party, complete with costumes the handmaids wear in the show.

The backlash was huge, with fans around the world explaining the disservice she was doing to the story. Given the kind of response she generated, I have a sneaking suspicion Jenner’s antics weren’t quite as naive as many might believe.

Stuff like this has only further planted “The Handmaid’s Tale” in the TV-watching consciousness, with a fifth season already getting the thumbs up for production. 

The novel’s plot only goes as far as the end of season one, meaning the show, four seasons later, has more than moved past the content of its original source material. 

That’s playing a dangerous game: best example being the ending seasons of “Game of Thrones” (on Binge), which went beyond the author’s original vision of the book series and resulted in what many considered a disastrous and disappointing conclusion.

There are some who believe “The Handmaid’s Tale” has already outstayed its welcome, but the show has ultimately seen continued major critical and commercial success, winning countless awards. This included the first Outstanding Series Emmy for a show on a streaming service. 

Of course, it’s been interpreted, scrutinised, analysed and put through the ringer of every type of “ism” one can think of.

This goes from one end where critics rabbit on about apparent parallels to “Trump’s America” all the way to people calling it an attack on Christianity. 

Personally, I’ve found Atwood’s approach to her story of more refreshing nuance than a lot of these assumptions. It’s a nuance that easily gets lost in waves of politically motivated journalists, critics and academics who are eager to claim her undoubtedly powerful tale for their own agenda.

Atwood’s been known to correct some of these more extreme approaches to her story. 

“The novel is not a critique of religion, but rather a critique on the use of religion,” she’s famously quoted as saying.

She’s also said the story is not meant to “say one thing to one person”, or serve as a political message. Instead, she wants it to be viewed as “a study of power, and how it operates and how it deforms or shapes the people who are living within that kind of regime”.

Unfortunately, for anyone looking to catch up on the show or rewatch it before the fourth season, there’s a bit of a hiccup.

While the fourth season will indeed be hitting the free-to-use SBS On Demand at the end of this month, the first three seasons before it aren’t actually on the platform which, to put it poetically, sucks.

For viewers looking for those, they’ll have to head to Stan, which will mean a bit of hopping between that and SBS On Demand to get all of the show in.

But if thought-provoking TV floats your boat, then switch on, get comfortable and stir up some dystopian-themed party cocktails. Actually, maybe not that last part.

 

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