The annoying thing about high-quality television is that it takes so much time to make.
Other shows can churn out 100 episodes without a thought. (Literally.) But “The Handmaid’s Tale” (shown here) – which finally returns to Hulu on Wednesday (April 28) – takes almost forever.
The first three seasons totaled only 36 episodes, while getting heaps of praise and awards. The fourth arrives 20 months after the third ended; it has only 10 episodes, three of them on opening night.
Part of that involved a six-month COVID shut-down and the changes that followed, producer Bruce Miller told the Television Critics Association. “We were constantly making adjustments to the script.”
That included the Canadian requirement of a two-week quarantine period, he said. “We had to keep people out of episodes, simply because they didn’t have enough time in their schedule.”
The push would seem especially hard on Elisabeth Moss, who stars, produces and (this year) directs. Except she sounds oddly happy about it. “I do operate really well under pressure,” she said. “I love it. The more I have to do, the happier I am.”
She had never directed, producer Warren Littlefield said, so there were questions about adding more to her workload. “Lizzie said, ‘You know, I’m kind of working seven days a week anyway.’”
So Moss began directing the third episode, with its fierce confrontation between June and Aunt Lydia – played by Moss and Ann Dowd, who have won Emmys in the roles.
And then, mid-episode, the shutdown began. The episode turned out well, Littlefield said (“it’s my personal favorite”), so Moss also directed the eighth and ninth episodes.
That June/Lydia (shown here) conflict is at the heart of everything, As last season ended, June led the handmaids to escape from their Gilead masters. Injured, she now tries to take them toward a series of safe houses.
Miller compares this to the “Les Miserables” antagonist: “Lydia (is) in a Javert kind of position where she is just obsessed with June …. They spend a ton of time thinking about the other one.”
In the first three seasons, the handmaids were often confined to the mansions run by their masters. The result drew 15 Emmys (eight of them in the first season, including best drama) and 40 more nominations. Now the look and feel changes.
“That claustrophobia we had in the three seasons in the house has now exploded to exactly the opposite,” Miller said. “We are not caustrophobic.”
Instead, the story sprawls across the Canadian countryside … which makes social distancing easier.