TV review: The Handmaid’s Tale S4, Rick and Morty S5, Harley Quinn S2
Written by Belinda
The Handmaid’s Tale: Season 4 (Hulu)
“Maybe this is as free as we’re gonna get. Maybe we should make the most of it.” Those are the words of Alma to June (Elisabeth Moss) at the start of The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4, and they’re met with silent resolve from the veteran of Gilead. So far, so Handmaid’s Tale, but this fourth chapter heralds some welcome changes in the air. That’s not just because June is out of the town and hiding old on a farm in the woods but also because the Waterfords (Joseph Fiennes, Yvonne Strahovoski) are arrested in Canada for their crimes – and even Commander Lawrence (Whitford) is waiting to find out what his fate is. The result is a strong start to what is positioning itself to be a more thoughtful and less gruelling edition of Hulu’s bleak drama. Because while there are nasty moments from the opening scene of emergency surgery – and even June’s young farm owner, Mrs Keyes (Mckenna Grace), is battling through trauma in brutal ways – there’s also a reminder that 86 children were set free at the end of Season 3, which lends a fresh and vital moment of hope to keep the show grim nature in check. What ensues is a thorny and complicated dissection of consequences and responsibilities, as June becomes an icon of the resistance and Gilead tries to strike back at her for rebelling, while the newly freed handmaids in Canada find life not to be a simple as moving on from their hardships. Is there happiness on the cards? No, but there is, at last, a feeling of justice in the air – and that’s enough to give oxygen to what has often been an overbearing watch.
Rick and Morty: Season 5 (Adultswim)
Rick and Morty is one of those shows that’s so unpredictable and absurd that to watch too much of it too quickly risks exposing its rules and rhythms. Except Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland’s adult animated series has always been oddly immune to Family Guy Syndrome, partly thanks to its endlessly inventive, joke-packed world-building, but also because it keeps trying new things to upend expectations. Whether that’s turning into a pickle or taking a surprisingly serious dramatic turn, it’s enough to keep Rick and Morty fresh and funny – and Season 5 begins with a promising blend of new ideas and old tricks. The first episode introduces us to Mr Nimbus, the seemingly self-appointed king of the ocean who also styles himself as Rick’s nemesis. While the surface-level joke involves a hip knack for controlling the police and a petty squabble between two old rivals, it also shows us a new side of Rick, as Mr Nimbus can genuinely see through Rick’s facade and Rick becomes genuinely desperate and uncomfortable.
Meanwhile, Morty – tasked with ageing a bottle of wine through a portal to another universe – finds himself in Landmower Dog territory, as he unwittingly sets in motion an entire cult built around his time-hopping visits and accidental destruction. Before you can say “portal-worshipping civilisation”, things escalate hilariously – and put into jeopardy Morty’s attempts to have a quiet date night with long-term crush Jessica. Along the way, Jerry and Beth get some actual depth to their marriage, and Summer is giving a welcome chance to play an active role in the plot – all of that plus an unexpected ending paving the way for serial storytelling rather than sitcom surreality makes for a breakneck, entertaining and intelligent start to Rick and Morty’s fifth run.
Harley Quinn: Season 2 (All 4)
Harley Quinn returns to E4 to join its fellow adult animated series Rick and Morty. The show, which stars Kaley Cuoco as the Suicide Squad star, didn’t always impress in its first season, thanks to a tendency towards gratuitous violence and swearing for the sake of it, but Season 2 finds the show hitting its groove, as it leans less into its own ideas of adult entertainment and more into Harley’s own drive for chaos. Picking up after the fall of the Joker, the idea of Harley now making her own way through the world is a fun one, not least because Gotham has been annexed from the rest of the USA, leaving it open to the power plays of the “Injustice League” – a group that includes Penguin, Bane, Two-Face and the Riddler. The result widens the canvas of the series to give a welcome spotlight to other DC villains, while also using them to draw out Harley’s strengths and weaknesses as a character. If you enjoyed Birds of Prey, this is worth putting on your watchlist.