the handmaid’s tale

Top 10 favourite TV shows of the decade

Continuing on from my favourite films of the decade, here’s my favourite (not necessarily best) TV shows! Alphabetically, of course, and illustrated with gifs.

Adventure Time

Honestly Adventure Time is a masterpiece. A surrealist masterpiece, an animation masterpiece, a masterpiece of children’s television… call it whatever you want but “masterpiece” needs to be in there somewhere. It was weird, touching, occasionally terrifying, and never lost sight of what it wanted to do…for nine years. I’m sad that it’s (mostly) over but so, so glad it happened.

Brooklyn 99

Come 2013 I was suddenly seeing this show everywhere. I knew the names of all the characters before I ever sat down to watch it, and most of the best jokes. That didn’t dent my enjoyment in the slightest. Brooklyn 99 is so, so good in just about every way. It’s funny, it’s smart, it has people in it who you just don’t see as main characters, like Captain Holt. The fact that Fox *spits* cancelled it and then it was almost immediately picked up by NBC just goes to show how much of a impact it had.

Call the Midwife

Call the Midwife has only been going since 2012 but it feels like it’s been so much longer. (That’s a good thing.) This is a pro-NHS, pro-feminism, pro-LGBT show that goes out prime-time on the BBC and I’m so grateful it exists. It never shies away from the rough parts of history, but instead pulls them out into the light to remind us of our responsibilities. It angers me no end that critics sometimes dismiss this show as frivolous nostalgia for the past, because there is nothing nostalgic about this show. It DESPERATELY wants you to know how horrible it was being a woman even within living memory. It’s a sucker punch to the gut with occasional upbeat ’50s music and some neat dresses.

Final Space

All the praise to Netflix, because if it hadn’t existed and advertised this show on its front page I would never have discovered it. And I love it. This is an adult cartoon done right, i.e. using animation to tell a story of vast scope instead of using it to tell fart jokes. (Though there are probably a couple of those, even if I don’t remember them.) It’s like… how can I even describe this show… the ambition of Star Wars meets the themes of Guardians of the Galaxy meets the zest of Futurama. AND it has a adorable squishy space pet/planet-destroyer! This show not having a much bigger fanbase is such a dang injustice.

Gravity Falls

I’d heard of Gravity Falls, and heard nothing but good things, but I didn’t actually see it until several years after it came out. And I’m SO CROSS because the show was set up as a big mad mystery to be solved, and it would have been great to be able to trade theories and decode the end messages along with everyone else. But as it stands… I got a fantastic experience anyway. I knew all the major twists, but I’d never really met the characters properly. So now I love them all, especially Soos. And I also love the show’s central theme, which is that growing up is hard as hell and you need a good support system.

The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale has always been one of my favourite books and this adaptation was more than I could ever have dreamed of. It took characters I already knew and built them backstories and new futures. It cast unbelievably talented actors for even the smaller roles. And my god the visuals, the punch-you-in-the-face visuals. The red-and-white Handmaid uniforms are seen at political protests a lot now, and they should be. This show demonstrates how unforgivably close we always are to losing everything we hold dear.

His Dark Materials

I read all of the His Dark Materials series as a kid and I remember liking them, especially the third book. This TV adaptation brought all of that crashing back and then some. I have some qualms (it’s obvious that the budget couldn’t stretch to one visible daemon for every human, for example) but my gosh, what an absolutely beautiful job they’ve done with everything else. And the acting is wonderful, although Ruth Wilson is the standout the child actors are like… clearly the best in the business, holy hell. I can’t WAIT for the next couple of seasons.

The Last Man On Earth

The Last Man on Earth massively lit up my life… for the few years it was on. My god, Fox had no idea what they had on their hands. After the dodgy first season it suddenly turned into this amazing, beautiful, touching tale about life after the end of the world. Characters underwent development! They got married! They had kids! And then all of a sudden… end of show. Right after a cliffhanger ending, a major one. Sigh. I’ll always miss LMOE but I’m grateful I was around at the same time it was.

Superstore

I’d wanted to watch Superstore for ages but I only finally got to see it when it came on British TV. And even then I managed to catch only the season one finale before anything else. But it hooked me instantly and I quickly went back to the beginning to see what I missed and then forward again to season two. By the season two finale I had utterly fallen in love with it. It’s hilarious but it pulls no punches about how inhumanly terrible the American retail systems are – how inhumanly terrible a lot of systems are, in fact. Also, Mark McKinney’s “Muppet voice” for Glenn is possibly the best comedy voice that has ever been created, EVER.

Unbelievable

This show. Rarely have I seen anything so bleak and depressing and yet so triumphant at the end. Marie, who is very VERY closely based on a real person, goes through an amount of trauma and distress which would destroy most people (and very nearly destroys her) but she gets to walk away vindicated, thank god. The intervention of two female detectives saves not only her but a multitude of other women. It seems to me to be so rare that such a terrible story has a happy or just ending, so thank god this show arrived with its pointed message: when it comes to rape cases, we need to be better. So, so much better than we currently are. Please watch it.

Honourable mentions: The Good Place, Steven Universe, the Moffat and Chibnall eras of Doctor Who (not eligible because the show itself started last decade…), Broadchurch, Orange is the New Black, and probably a few more that I forgot, sorry.

The Testaments

Is it fair to say The Testaments is a book I’ve waited for for over half my life? Well, I first read The Handmaid’s Tale when I was about 15, in high school, and I’m 31 now, so… yeah, pretty much? Also, let’s get the big question of the way first: it delivered.

(BIG spoilers ahead!)

The Testaments revolves around three women/girls: firstly Aunt Lydia, secondly June’s daughter Agnes, and thirdly June’s other daughter Nicole, who you might remember plays a pretty big part in the TV series right now. Nicole goes through various names during the course of this book, including “Jade” when she’s sent to infiltrate Gilead.

Ah, so that’s why the cover is green.

The most common complaint I’ve seen about this novel is “So, plucky young girl is sent into a dystopia and meets her long-lost sister, helps bring down a regime? It reads like a YA book.” And you know what? It DOES! And you know what else? I am DELIGHTED! YA books, with their cascade of brave and brightly-coloured teenage girls fighting injustice, they get a bad rap. People mock them. After all, we all know it’s stupid and unrealistic, the idea of smart, uncompromising young girls enacting large-scale social change.

So yeah.

Here’s the thing: I actually didn’t like Nicole all that much at first. I couldn’t relate to her one bit and I found her obnoxious/extremely likely to blow the plan and get everyone killed. But I’m happy she was one of the heroines and I hope that if teenage girls do read The Testaments, whether for high school or not, that they’re inspired by her.

I did love this line from her, regarding Gilead:

What am I doing here? This place is weird as fuck.

Ah, Nicole, you’re definitely your mother’s daughter.

Agnes was my favourite character in this book. If The Testaments does end up being the basis for the next few seasons of the Handmaid’s Tale TV show I cannot wait to see who will play the older version of her and how she’ll act out some of the things detailed in this book. Agnes (I keep wanting to call her Hannah, since we know that’s the name her mother gave her, but I guess we’ll stick with Agnes for now) delivers one of my favourite lines:

The man eyes that were always roaming here and there like the eyes of tigers, those searchlight eyes, needed to be shielded from the alluring and indeed blinding power of us – of our shapely or skinny or fat legs, of our graceful or knobbly or sausage arms, of our peachy or blotchy skins, of our entwining curls of shining hair or our coarse unruly pelts or our straw-like wispy braids, it did not matter.

How often have girls heard that, that sexual assault is about just attraction, when it’s more about power? Gilead is so messed up. We knew that already of course but it’s so messed up, and I loved seeing Agnes break out of its brainwashing.

I had trouble reconciling this book’s Aunt Lydia with the Aunt Lydia of the first book, until it occured to me that maybe the Aunt Lydia of the book wasn’t actually as bad as I remembered? She’s much, much worse in the TV show and that’s the image of her I have now, but maybe that wasn’t the image Atwood had while writing this book. I really wish I could check my old copy of The Handmaid’s Tale, but I don’t have it with me. Still, I don’t think anything in this book really stops me from being able to call her one of my favourite villains of all time, like I used to?

Another complex villain in this book is Tabitha, adoptive mother of Agnes. She’s sympathetic but she is a villain, she’s raising a stolen child whom she knows damn well is stolen, going along with the regime and filling her “daughter’s” head with lies.

That is what Tabitha used to tell me: “I went for a walk in the forest,” she would say, “and then I came across an enchanted castle and there were a lot of little girls locked inside, and none of them had any mothers, and they were under the spell of the wicked witches. I had a magic ring which unlocked the castle, but I could only rescue one little girl. So I looked at them all very carefully, and then, out of the whole crowd, I chose you!”

AND NONE OF THEM HAD ANY MOTHERS. Tabitha is a victim of Gilead too but despite the love Agnes had for her I can only feel hatred when she’s mentioned. Well done, Atwood.

I didn’t feel that same hatred for the main villain of the story, because there was so little there to feel anything about. Commander Judd is a one-dimensional monster with no redeeming features whatsoever, he might as well have been a literal demon. I can’t really criticize Atwood for that though because I imagine she did it on purpose: complicated female characters, uninteresting male ones. I’ve seen the same thing noted about The Handmaid’s Tale too.

June (I refuse to call her “Offred”) doesn’t show up in this story til the end, and when she does she’s immediately reunited with her daughters. I’ve heard complaints about that, too, that it was too pat and easy. And I literally could not disagree more because, my god, you’ve seen the world we’re living in? People are dressing as Handmaids at political protests because the point still needs to be made. June, Agnes and Nicole deserved that happy ending after everything they went through but we deserve that happy ending too. It’s not a cop-out, it’s hope. Come on! You don’t think we could use some? Really?

The Testaments ends like its predecessor did, with historians gathered to try and put together the pieces. As a budding and extremely amateur historian I always loved the epilogue of The Handmaid’s Tale. This one, though, I loved even more because of how it gave one of the story’s unsung heroines a moment in the spotlight. If I had to name one Theme this novel has, it’s “Don’t forget the women who came before you and sacrificed everything.” You know, I’m not going to reveal the identity of the last woman this book mentions, but I loved her too. And I also love that the last line of the original Handmaid’s Tale is

Are there any questions?

and in this one,

A bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter, love is as strong as death.

All that time and we finally got an answer.

The Handmaid’s Tale s3

I hadn’t really been feeling this season of The Handmaid’s Tale. June’s plot armour was getting downright ridiculous, it infuriated me how everyone around her died but she always escaped. (Alright, there was a whole episode’s worth of her being psychologically tortured, but we’ve seen people hung for less, is what I’m saying.) And then there were the endless lingering closeups, the various “ooh maybe Serena is on the verge of redemption after all for the billionth time”…

But FINALLY in the last couple episodes things paid off! The season finale was flat-out amazing. I almost teared up when the women came together to help June and throw the rocks (using a tool of their oppression to their advantage, my gosh, it was such a heroic moment) and I definitely almost teared up when the plane landed in Canada. At long last things are turning around! Moira and Luke are doing okay! Emily is doing okay! Rita is free! That one little girl was reunited with her father! It was beautiful.

And it was more beautiful after the utter, utter horror of that opening scene. I want to say it reminded me of Children of Men because I don’t want to think about the other things it reminded me of.

On a much happier note, my GOD was I over the moon when the Waterfords finally got what was coming to them. That was possibly the most satisfying justice I have seen all year, too bad it only happened in fiction. But I was so happy to know that at last they are going down, and they only have themselves to blame.

Imagine that gif a hundred times over and you’ll start getting an idea of HOW MUCH schadenfreude I feel.

I can’t imagine how s4 is going to go but I don’t think anyone still in Gilead can return to their “homes” now. What I’d like to see is June, Janine and the others living out in the forest, avoiding detection and looking for Hannah. Hannah still being trapped in Gilead kills me.

I remember when I first read The Handmaid’s Tale in high school and I was so proud of myself for putting together the clues which pointed to the narrator’s real name and working out it was June. For a while, I admit it, it felt almost like a secret pact between me and the book. Now of course, everyone knows her name. This episode made me realise all over again what a perfect name it is for her, though.

What comes after Mayday? June.

ahandmaidstale:

Ofdaniel has been convicted of endangering a child. The punishment for that crime is death by stoning. I know how difficult this is girls, I do. But God gives us blessings and he gives us challenges. The price of his love is sometimes high but it must be paid.