You’ve held out for a long time and you’ve had your justifications: “The Mindy Project” went off the rails when it jumped from Fox, and “The Path” isn’t that much better than your run-of-the-mill prestige drama on cable. But “The Handmaid’s Tale” has changed the game. It’s time to get a Hulu subscription. You don’t want to — and who could blame you? Even if you’ve cut the cord, you probably still pay for Netflix and HBO, plus Amazon Video, though at least you get the added perk of free two-day shipping.
(As a reminder, Jeffrey P. Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon, also owns The Washington Post.)
But now the new must-watch show is on Hulu, and the only way to participate in the inevitable conversations and countless think pieces is to subscribe. The good news is you get one month free, but Hulu isn’t dropping the whole series at once, so don’t think you can get away with signing up and then canceling before paying a dime. Nice try, cheapskate. The first three episodes dropped Wednesday night — more than enough to get you hooked — but each subsequent episode will premiere weekly.
How good is the miniseries adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel? Just about every critic has raved about the actors (including star Elisabeth Moss), the translation from page to screen, the world-building, the costumes, the cinematography and, of course, the timeliness of the premise about a puritanical society that subjugates women. Post television critic Hank Stuever declared the show “must-see TV in any context, including one with a woman as president. Our fractured culture needs it.”
The series is a major win for Hulu. The streaming service launched a decade ago as a way to watch syndicated shows but, like similarly oriented companies, turned toward original content to reel in subscribers. Netflix has been particularly aggressive when it comes to bankrolling series and movies, and it’s paying off to the tune of nearly 100 million subscribers. An eclectic lineup, including “House of Cards,” “Orange is the New Black,” “Narcos,” “Stranger Things” and “Master of None,” has turned the company into a juggernaut, as has the investment in programming for a global audience.
Hulu has some solid shows, too. Critics love “Casual” and “Difficult People,” and “11.22.63″ was a well-done adaptation of Steven King’s much-loved novel. But the company is throwing a lot less at the wall to see what sticks, and the subscriber numbers have reflected that. At last count, Hulu had about 12 million subscribers.
Plus there’s the issue of subscriber fatigue. Is there no limit to how many services we have to sign up for so we can watch everything we want to see? We all have to draw the line somewhere.
But “The Handmaid’s Tale” could land Hulu on the right side of that line. Buzz and feature stories don’t necessarily equate to viewership — just look at the exhaustively covered, little-seen “Girls” — but there’s a whole cult of Atwood fans that has only gotten larger since the 2016 election. Although the book was published more than 30 years ago, it shot to the top of Amazon’s bestseller list a couple of months ago. Anchor Books publicist Russell Perreault told NPR in early February that since the start of the year, the company had printed 125,000 copies of the novel. The book was also a common theme on signs during the women’s marches around the globe in January: “‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is not an instruction manual”; “Make Margaret Atwood fiction again.” Meanwhile, protesters in Texas wore the red capes and white bonnets from the novel (and series) to the state capitol to protest an abortion bill.
You can’t pay for that kind of publicity. But you can pay for a Super Bowl spot, which Hulu did. In other words, the company is doing everything it can. Now the question is whether people will shell out money to watch. They should: The first three episodes were as excellent as you’ve heard. And, if you’re willing to part with $7.99 a month, you might as well get your money’s worth and watch “The Path,” too. It actually is better than a lot of those other prestige dramas.