You’re watching the Super Bowl. You’re eating nachos, or maybe kale chips. You’re drinking beer, or perhaps beet juice. You’re pretending that football isn’t a barbaric sport, probably because, like most people, you didn’t see that Will Smith movie about the NFL burying reports about the sometimes-fatal effects of concussions. (‘Was it called ‘Concussion?” you ask yourself, then forget before you can check your smartphone.)
They cut to commercial. Watching Super Bowl commercials has long been a tradition, sometimes as important as the game itself, for reasons you can’t quite remember and which frankly seems weird now that you think about it. ‘Did we collectively decide to pay attention, even rewatch and discuss, Super Bowl commercials before companies starting paying obscene amounts of money on them or after?’ you ask yourself while laughing at some celebrity peddling underwear or Kaopectate.
Then comes an ad that doesn’t quite fit in with the usual merriment and commerce. There are no jokes. It’s for a TV show but it doesn’t look fun. It does feature a famous face, though: Elisabeth Moss. But she doesn’t look happy. She’s clad in a full-length red gown with a white hoodie, as are scores of other women. She appears to live in a world that looks half 18th century, half two years from now. We see her daughter forcibly removed from her clutches as she screams.
In voiceover, she tells us she can’t say her name, while we hear rumblings about how women’s only purpose is to serve male guardians. At other points we see screaming masses, Moss walking down a hallway with a large, burlap gag over her mouth, a dangling noose swaying in the breeze.
Welcome to the 30-second ad for “The Handmaid’s Tale,” a Hulu miniseries launching April 26.
‘Have I heard of this before?’ you ask yourself. Then you remember some clickbait article you read one time — something like “11 Dystopian Novels to Prepare You for Donald Trump’s Presidency.” You’ve pored over so many of these things — over lunch at work, at night before turning off the light — that it’s all a bit of a blur.
Bits of intel come back to you, flooding in from the deep recesses of your mind. It’s based on a Margaret Atwood book from the mid-’80s, you think. It involves a near-future where America has become a theocracy and all women have been stripped of rights. Our lead character, played by Moss, exists solely to give birth to babies, which she will never be able to keep.
You recall the writer of his clickbait explained her or his fear that this is where the United States is heading, now that it has a reckless president with a Stalin-loving chief strategist, plus a VP trying to Make America Religious Again. With that, you’re snapped out of your Super Bowl fog, worried about the world again, but perversely amused at the uncanny timing — that TV producers have a “Handmaid’s Tale” show ready for whatever horrors await us some three months into the Trump presidency.
You make a mental note to watch it in April, maybe even read the book beforehand. And isn’t there a movie from 1990, you half-recall? It starred Natasha Richardson and… Faye Dunaway? Then you wonder if you could even watch a show about horrors that could possibly come to pass.
Then there’s an ad where a famous actor who hasn’t been popular since 1986 and is kind of a living joke, and at the end they sell you car tires. And you go back to eating your nachos or kale chips, thinking about how jarring yet wonderful it was to be dragged back to thoughts of our potentially grim future, if only for 30 seconds.
(Oh, and by the way, you can watch the ad now, two days before it airs:)
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter@mattprigge