The Handmaid's Tale

TV review by
Joyce Slaton, Common Sense Media
The Handmaid's Tale TV Poster Image
Outstanding drama has sex, violence, scary implications.
Parents recommend

Parents say

age 16+
Based on 10 reviews

Kids say

age 15+
Based on 5 reviews

We think this TV show stands out for:

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

Women are oppressed completely in this downbeat tale, which takes its cue from 2017-era politics to present a frighteningly realistic potential future. Viewers may take comfort in the fact that even these kept-down women still have brains, nerve, and cunning and intend to resist their oppressors. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Offred (aka June) is a strong woman facing nearly impossible odds, but she’s determined to resist the strictures placed on her. She's waiting and watching for the chance to overthrow the system that has assigned her a terrible role. 

Violence

Set in a future where women are legally oppressed, this show contains many violent scenes and images. A family is attacked by faceless rifle-bearing soldiers who chase them into the woods; a small child is ripped from her mother's arms and carried away screaming while the mother is knocked unconscious. The bodies of three hooded men hanged for their religious, medical, and sexual activities are shown at length, including their discolored, decomposed bare feet. A woman is punished for insolence by being shocked with a cattle prod before being dragged away; later, she is seen with a bloody bandaged face, crying. Women are forced to have sex with high-ranking men and, if they resist, punished by being forced to clean up toxic waste where their skin will "peel off in sheets." A man who has supposedly raped a handmaiden, killing her unborn child, is beaten and kicked to death by vengeful handmaidens; blood spurts and later we see his still body covered by a bloody sheet. 

Sex

"Handmaids" must submit to a formalized sexual act called a "ceremony" in which they lie on top of a wife while the husband has sex with the handmaid; we see thrusting and hear heavy breathing. A woman who tells a group of others at a training center that she was sexually assaulted is slapped and told it was her fault by the other women. Rape, pregnancy, body parts, and bodily functions are all referenced but not glamorized; the institutional rape handmaidens must endure is made to look shocking, ugly, and devastating. 

Language

Cursing includes "f--k," "s--t," "ass," "bulls--t," as well as other iffy language: "sluts," "that sucks," "he can’t hardly get it up."

Consumerism

The very occasional mention of a brand: Uber. Only the privileged in this society have things like cars, stylish clothing, and comfortable furniture.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A woman is briefly shown in a flashback smoking a joint and offering it to another character, who declines due to her responsibilities. Characters at a party drink beer out of red plastic cups. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Handmaid's Tale (based on Margaret Atwood's novel) is the story of a potential future in which oppressed women are forced to be child-bearing "handmaids" for infertile high-ranking leaders and their wives. Expect many violent, sexual images that could be very disturbing: A screaming child is ripped out of her mother's arms by rifle-wielding soldiers, a rebellious woman is struck with a cattle prod and then dragged away to have one of her eyes removed (offscreen, but we see her bloody bandages later), people hanged for "misdeeds" (including being gay) are shown at length, women punch and kick a so-called criminal until he's dead, and more. Women are punished in a variety of awful ways, but perhaps most upsetting is the "ceremony," in which handmaids have sex with their "masters" while they lie on top of the wives. This institutionalized rape isn't glamorized, and it's upsetting to watch. Strong language includes "f--k," "s--t," "ass," and more. One character is briefly shown smoking a joint and offering it to another, and characters at a party drink beer out of red plastic cups. This is completely distressing material, but parents may still want to watch with mature teens to answer their questions and discuss any similarities Gilead has to our own reality. 

User Reviews

Adult Written byCaitlin P. July 26, 2017

full nudity not mentioned

there is at least one scene where a character's breasts are fully exposed, episode 2 in a flashback scene to the sleeping quarters, like almost all the oth... Continue reading
Parent Written byClaudia M. April 30, 2017

Looking forward to seeing more

Having not read the book I was curious about this television series. With a daughter age 16 years old I would not hesitate to allow her to watch this show so l... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byGrace4455 May 2, 2017

A mature show.

I have only watched half of the first episode so I can't give it a star review. It definitely has some mature themes and concepts. This is a show for matur... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byDerpyGuyness September 19, 2017

An Amazing Story Contains Great Role Models

Despite the fact that I'm only 14, people might dismiss my review but I'm here to tell you some valuable info on the totalitarian society styled show.... Continue reading

What's the story?

Based on Margaret Atwood's same-named 1985 novel, THE HANDMAID'S TALE stars Elisabeth Moss as Offred, a desperate woman trapped in a transformed America. First fertility rates dropped and the environment was poisoned. Then radical conservatives were voted into office. Women's bank accounts were closed, and all political power was yanked from their hands. Finally, some women were rounded up and killed, some were deemed wives and allowed to live almost normal lives, and others were enslaved. Offred is one of those slaves, a handmaid who must have sex with her master in elaborate formal ceremonies in the hopes that she will bear children for him and his wife. If she fails, or if she's caught breaking the rules, she'll be sent to the Colonies to clean up toxic waste and die a horrible death. But Offred has a secret: She's not a believer. She's just waiting for the chance to break free, hurt those who have hurt her, and somehow find the daughter the state took from her. 

Is it any good?

Creepy, multilayered, and expertly spun out, this spectacular drama makes its vision of a potential future seem all too possible. Offred had another name, another life, before she was captured and turned into "breeding stock." She went to college, she had a boyfriend, she took Uber rides. But when she tried to escape to Canada with her husband and her daughter, her husband was killed, her daughter taken, and Offred only spared death because she had proved herself fertile. Now her present consists of going to the market (where groceries are labeled with pictures, because women shouldn't read), cloaked in a blood-red dress and modest bonnet, always in the company of Ofglen, another handmaid on loan to another rich household. 

Once a month, she has sex with the Commander (Joseph Fiennes) and hopes that it results in a child, because this is Offred's second posting. If she doesn't become pregnant soon, she'll be labeled an "unwoman" and sent to the Colonies to clean up radioactive waste until her skin peels off in sheets. Yes, as you may have gathered, this is a pitch-black tale. But Moss' deep, layered performance, the beautiful visuals, and powerful storytelling keep The Handmaid's Tale from being depressing. Instead, it's scary, discomfiting, and all too plausible. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Offred/June shows perseverance and courage in trying to find a way to rebel against her enslavement. Are these important character strengths? Are strengths such as these always praised and admired? Are they rewarded on The Handmaid's Tale

  • Do you see any parallels between the American political landscape of 2017 and this drama? Do you think you're supposed to? What did you see on this show that brought you to that conclusion? 

  • When they're doing their job, costumes underline things about a story being told or the characters in it. What do the costumes in The Handmaid's Tale tell you about who each person is? Have you read the book on which this drama is based? Are the costumes as they were described in that book? 

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