Elisabeth Moss Endures a Dystopian Nightmare in Hulu’s First Super Bowl Ad for an Original Series

The Handmaid’s Tale could be its first breakout hit

Elisabeth Moss stars in Hulu's adaptation of Margaret Atwood's 1985 novel. Hulu
Headshot of Jason Lynch

For its first Super Bowl ad in five years, Hulu is spotlighting the series that could finally bring the streaming service the same critical acclaim enjoyed by its competitors, Netflix and Amazon.

Hulu’s spot, its first Super Bowl ad for one of its original series, will promote The Handmaid’s Tale, which premieres April 26. The drama is based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel, about a dystopian future in which the U.S. government has been overthrown by a fundamentalist regime and many women are enslaved. Elisabeth Moss stars as Offred, one of the last remaining fertile women, who is trying to survive in a horrific new world.

The spot, which will debut in the second quarter, sets up the story. Offred says, “I had another name, but it’s forbidden now,” while Aunt Lydia, played by Ann Dowd, lays down the law for the handmaids, the few women left who are able to bear children: “You girls will serve the leaders and their barren wives.”

The spot is packed with ominous, unsettling imagery: a woman missing an eye, a noose swaying in the wind and Moss being violently struck.

“This year in particular, Hulu is going bigger: We are investing more in our content and marketing strategy,” said Jenny Wall, head of marketing at Hulu. “So, what more of a perfect moment than this one to share a new look at a series we are so proud of.”

The Handmaid’s Tale, produced by MGM Television, is poised to be the breakthrough hit Hulu has been waiting for—the kind of show that will garner the same awards and critical acclaim that Netflix received with House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, and Amazon with Transparent.

The series seems strikingly apt in the country’s current turbulent political climate. “I think The Handmaid’s Tale novel is one of those pieces of literature that’s timeless. It’s a relevant piece of material. That’s why it’s such a beloved novel, and people are still reading it today,” Hulu CEO Mike Hopkins told Adweek last month. “For us, it’s great existing intellectual property. The writing was fantastic, the cast is amazing, and it looks great. We think it has all of those pieces, and we couldn’t be more happy with where it is right now. And we can’t wait to get it out to the public.”

While the series is based on Atwood’s novel, Hopkins said it could continue for several years if it connects with audiences. “There’s a lot of good story there, and we’re excited to see where they take it,” he said.

This will be the streaming service’s third Super Bowl appearance. Alec Baldwin starred in Hulu’s 2009 spot, which ran less than a year after its public launch. Hulu returned to the Super Bowl in 2012 with an ad featuring Will Arnett. Both spots are below:

@jasonlynch jason.lynch@adweek.com Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.