With The Handmaid’s Tale, Hulu has launched what it hopes to be a flagship series, one capable of bolstering its brand in the US market and, perhaps, in preparation for broader international expansion down the road. This approach closely follows a model established by other streaming services, like Amazon and Netflix, and is built on the premise of internet television, the idea that media should be consumed outside of outdated boundaries—based on platform-specificity, geography, or conventional schedules. Even with the general acceptance of globalizaton, however, this model does not always unfold as planned, and Canada may highlight some of these discrepancies. Whereas Margaret Atwood’s affiliation should help to invite a more international audience, Hulu is currently unavailable in Canada. In this regard, Canada, along with other Anglophone markets, manifests the simultaneous presumption of transnational free trade and the shifting “need” to erect arbitrary barriers—if not as a means of “protection,” then as a way to manufacture exclusivity.
The Handmaid’s Tale also illustrates the perils of original programming and the ever-increasing appeal to “quality.” Most content producers follow a standard formula comprised of high production values, established directors, stars, and genres, and pre-sold properties with a built-in audience. But as competition intensifies, even the most distinctive shows may be lost amidst the unending scroll of sameness. As a result, more pressure shifts to marketing and publicity campaigns to establish the appearance of value, a gambit entirely contingent on the reciprocal promotion that exists between content and social media gatekeepes.
After three episodes, the most interesting moments involve points where the Hulu series diverges from Atwood’s original text to engender a narrative world of its own. But unlike the temporal divergences that form an important crux in the novel – as the protagonist contemplates that “other time,” the state of things that precedes her current state – these divergences are maybe only part of the most instrumental kind of logic, nothing more than a means of harvesting additional value from the source material. In this case, it may not matter that science fiction, as Steven Shaviro writes in Post-Cinematic Affect, often depicts “the latent futurity that already haunts us in the present.” That is, even as The Handmaid’s Tale adamantly draws attention to this facet, its new place within the demands of peak TV may abrogate this kind of historicity or its ability to defamiliarize the dystopia it aims to forewarn against.