(Spoiler alert: Do not read ahead unless you’ve seen all of Season 1 of “The Handmaid’s Tale.”)
What do you do when your critically-acclaimed series runs out of source material after one season? Bruce Miller and Hulu faced that dilemma after the first hugely acclaimed season of “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Luckily, they had the greenlight from Margaret Atwood herself to keep going and build out the universe she created with the 1985 novel.
“Margaret is probably the biggest cheerleader we have,” executive producer Warren Littlefield told TheWrap ahead of the Emmy-winning drama’s Season 2 premiere Wednesday. “So Margaret is our greatest cheerleader to not worry about [continuing the adaptation]. And yet, I think each and every day in the writers’ room Bruce and our writers are always thinking about Margaret’s book. But, we go beyond.”
The freshman year of “The Handmaid’s Tale” was met with near-universal acclaim and lots of awards, but Hulu was ready to continue Offred’s (Elisabeth Moss) story even before those accolades rolled in. Heck, before it even dropped on the streaming service.
“We were getting a lot of love and a lot of positive feedback from Hulu as we were in Season 1 and the signals we were getting was, ‘Hey, we have to wait till our premiere in April, but this looks really good and we feel really great about it,’” Littlefield said. “So we were already thinking about Season 2 in the new year and last spring.”
From its debut, the show helped define the Trump-era zeitgeist, as viewers made frequent mention of the parallels between the misogynist, totalitarian nightmare of Gilead (a fictional future version of the United States) and the actions and beliefs expressed by the president and members of his political party. The Moss-led series quickly became a widely-deployed reference for feminist political activists, which only intensified after the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements began.
While those elements of the series are still relevant going into Season 2 (even if Littlefield will tell you he wishes they weren’t) a new topic creeped into the discussion: How do you expand on a beloved classic after you’ve reached the end? Especially when the author, who was a supervising producer on Season 1, has now moved to consultant status and left her story in your hands.
“We left Season 1 with a pregnant Offred/June,” Littlefield said. “And so it was only natural that we would go beyond where Margaret took us. You know, Margaret is an active consultant. She reads out lines and reads out the drafts and then gives her thoughts and feedback. But she’s been wildly enthusiastic and has no fear about going beyond the book. You know some of that probably comes from having had her work adapted in plays and operas and I think she also has a tremendous trust in Bruce.”
“So we marched forward, always with the novel guiding us, but very much this year moving past it,” he continued. “And so our thematics for this year were motherhood for Offred/June, her unborn child, and also her daughter Hannah. Also, Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) considers Offred’s unborn child to be hers. So motherhood is a powerful theme, as well as ‘Gilead is within you.’ And even as our characters may escape Gilead, Gilead is within you. You cannot fully escape Gilead. And those became two strong themes that you don’t get to play without everything that came before. Thank you, Margaret. [laughs]”
Atwood was not available when reached by TheWrap for comment for this story.
New episodes of “The Handmaid’s Tale” drop Wednesdays on Hulu.