Hulu's adaptation of "The Handmaid's Tale" has already received brickbats from the right and bravos from the left — from people who haven't seen it yet.
Based on Margaret Atwood's novel, it's set in a near future when puritanical despots have overthrown the U.S. government, installed a theocracy and subjugated women. And we're not talking about making them second-class citizens: They're enslaved and their reproductive rights are entirely given over to men.
For good or ill, comparisons are being drawn between this "Tale" and 2017 America with Donald Trump in the White House.
"None of us could ignore what was happening," said executive producer Bruce Miller. "I mean, I was writing the pilot script during the primaries, during all those debates and all that kind of stuff. So we were, of course, mindful of that."
But he was adapting Atwood's novel; he wasn't writing a commentary about Trump and the GOP. The book was published in 1985, "and every time someone reads it, they say, 'Wow, this is timely,' " Miller said. "And I think one of the things that is the most interesting about the book is how relevant it is all the time."
"It was prescient when she wrote it," said Joseph Fiennes, who co-stars in the 10-part adaptation. "It's prescient today. It's kind of like a Shakespeare play in that it remains timeless in its content."
So while there's a definite strain of commentary on present-day America, that's due to the foresight of the novel's Canadian author.
The Hulu series does a remarkable job of bringing the story to the screen. It's shocking and horrifying, yet subtle and understated.
As "The Handmaid's Tale" opens, June (Elisabeth Moss of "Mad Men" and "The West Wing"), her husband and daughter are trying to flee the United States for Canada. Their attempt does not succeed, and the next time we see June — renamed Offred — she's dressed like a Puritan.
In this dystopian near future, man-made environmental disasters have made most women infertile. The new regime, called Gilead, forces women who can give birth to become handmaids — property of the state. They are forced to toe the religious line of a sect that has outlawed all other religions. And they're assigned to "commanders," who have sex with them to father children who will be raised by their infertile wives.
"It's a society that's based kind of in a perverse misreading of Old Testament laws and codes," Miller said.
The narrative centers on Offred; Moira (Samira Wiley), another handmaid who was Offred's best friend before Gilead; and Ofglen (Alexis Bledel, "Gilmore Girls"), a seemingly subservient but decidedly rebellious handmaid.
We see the harsh indoctrination the handmaids undergo at the hands of the sadistic Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd). We see Offred assigned to a commander (Fiennes) and his wife, Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski), who's as bitter as a woman in her situation can be.
Offred is the linchpin of the narrative — the voiceover narrator — and Moss said she took the role because "I could not stand the idea of anyone else doing it. As a competitive actor, I was, like, 'Nope!'
"It's such a great role. It's such an amazing character that Margaret wrote."
But she said it was "a little nerve-racking as well" to play a character so familiar to readers of the novel.
"I've never played a character that people know and already have ideas about," she said. "That's definitely a little scary and challenging, but I welcome it."
At least in the first three episodes, which were screened for critics, everything comes together for "A Handmaid's Tale" — Miller's script, direction by Reed Morano (who's best known as a cinematographer) and the performances.
Moss' performance is arresting. She conveys emotion in a character who must, to survive, not convey the emotions she's feeling.
She found it to be "the ultimate challenge of really never being able to speak your mind and never being able to show your feelings. It's one thing in a book, but how do you do it in a TV show?"
Atwood's book has been adapted before — several times. It's been a stage play, a radio drama, a ballet and an opera. The 1990 movie — written by Harold Pinter, who went on to win a Nobel Prize in literature, and starring Natasha Richardson and Faye Dunaway — bombed.
Hulu's series is not derived from any of those projects; Miller went straight to Atwood's novel.
"We're certainly loyal to the book," he said. "We think the book's excellent. So, any changes we make are mindful of the fact that we're connected to the original material.
"But I also think that when you do a television show and you're telling a continuing story, you make lots of changes just because the story is continuing. It's just a basic kind of structure thing. … We're just trying to tell this story well."
Hulu will begin streaming Episodes 1-3 on Wednesday, and the third hour is particularly gripping and horrifying. In flashbacks, we see how Gilead overthrew the world that we know; in the narrative's present, we see just how horrific the new regime can be.
It's amazingly good — and will leave you wanting to see more.
The first three episodes of "The Handmaid's Tale" begin streaming Wednesday on Hulu. The seven remaining episodes will stream, one per week, beginning on the seven succeeding Wednesdays.