Whether it's a metaphor or an omen, the confluence of the debuts of CBS' S.W.A.T. and Netflix's Alias Grace this week is painful. Broadcast television is showcasing its antiquary status by wrapping up its fall season with a tepid remake of a failed 1970s cop drama, while Netflix, the model of TV's future, offers a subtle, layered dissection of the nature of truth wrapped inside a macabre double-murder.
The most remarkable thing about Alias Grace may not even be its content, though that's quite extraordinary, but that it's the second time in six months that Canadian author Margaret Atwood, now tiptoeing toward her 80th birthday, has had one of her books adapted into a miniseries. Who knew literary feminism could be so profitable?
Except that's far too narrow a label to pin on Atwood. The intellectual underpinnings of her work are more complex and elusive than many of her fans recognize. Men often behave badly in her novels, but so do women. Like The Handmaid's Tale, which is as much a critique of totalitarianism as it is of male supremacy, Alias Grace abounds with ideas about a host of subjects in addition to feminism: Class. Poverty. Penology. Religion. Epistemology. Television critic Glenn Garvin takes a closer look.