Would you rather be sent to the Colonies and made to clean up toxic waste until “your skin falls off in sheets” or be forced into becoming a birthing surrogate for an infertile couple? These hideous and oppressive scenarios are what the character Offred must face in Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale. Set in a dystopian near-future, the U.S. is controlled by a totalitarian Christian fundamentalist regime that shoves women into various servant classes while denying them independence and rights.
Now Hulu has begun streaming its 10-episode adaptation starring Elizabeth Moss. Three episodes have already been made available, and let me tell you the series is just as creepy and chilling as the novel. At times it’s even tough to stomach. Especially the scenes where the handmaids are raped in grotesque mating rituals, aided by the complicit, barren wives of the elite commanders. Horrifying.
In the current political climate, one of the novel’s central themes, the destruction of feminism, has taken on a deeper resonance. And like 1984, it should be no surprise that The Handmaid’s Tale has topped Amazon’s bestseller lists. As the battle for reproductive rights rages on in the U.S., Atwood’s story reminds us once again how women’s independence is tied to the ability to control our bodies.
Aziz Ansari first hit my radar in the under-seen and under-appreciated black comedy Observe and Report. He plays a mall kiosk salesman who gets into a “fuck you” battle with a lame-ass cop played by Seth Rogen. It’s a ridiculous and funny sequence. Rather than his expletives exploding in volume and aggressiveness, Ansari’s “fuck you’s” evolve into silent mouth contortions.
Since then he’s blown up everywhere. And now he’s got a new show on Netflix called Master of None. I love this show! He plays a version of himself (his real-life parents play his parents) as a New York actor who attempts to negotiate the modern world and its many challenges: sex, marriage, parenting, and racism. Topics he delves into in his stand-up act, too. His take is incisive, poignant, and hilarious.
In the second episode, “Parents,” he and his Taiwanese-American buddy Brian, learn about their parents’ hardships and struggles while growing up and immigrating to America. He handles the subject matter with keen wit and tenderness. While I’m tempted to binge-watch, all episodes are online now, I’m refraining, so I can savor this great new show, one day at a time.
Food poisoning. Ugh. If you haven’t suffered the misfortune, it goes like this. You eat something with bacteria, your brain signals, “Danger, danger, remove, remove,” then your body violently tries to turn itself inside out, via your esophagus, to expel the cooties. The next day or so you feel like a truck ran over you. But this isn’t a post specifically about bodily functions … while recovering on the couch I had just enough energy to binge-watch this new fantastic French TV series.
All is not what it seems
Witnesses (Les Témoins) is a 6-part, crime series set in the northern coastal town of Le Tréport. A big hit in France when it debuted in March, the series follows a chain of creepy events, which freak out the community and cops. Graverobbers have placed corpses inside model homes to create a “model family.” Who’s doing this? What does it mean? Are the bodies related? It’s up to Detective Sandra Winckler, following in the Scandi-noir footsteps of The Bridge’s Saga Noren and to a degree Prime Suspect’s Jane Tennison, to figure it all out and unearth the many hidden secrets of the case and apprehend the perps. While negotiating her duties she must handle the politics of dealing with the former police chief played by acclaimed actor Thierry Lhermitte, who is somehow implicated in all the weird goings-on.
Besides being a gripping crime story, the series has lots of delightful elements which make it so wonderfully French. Detective Sandra is not only smart, intuitive and resourceful, she sports effortlessly tied scarves and has that casual chic French beauty that is just so aggravating and enviable. There’s the obligatory chocolate-eating scene, several espresso-drinking scenes and my personal favorite: eating-pastries-while talking-about-said-pastries scene. Sure there’s lots of gun play, mad dashes, twists and turns, and Sandra’s personal relationship stuff thrown in to make Witnesses one satisfying series. If you’re recovering from illness or just feel like getting lost in a good story in a foreign land, check it out.
Catch it on Netflix streaming. Let me know what you think.