The Handmaid's Tale debuted on Hulu Wednesday, and I don't think anyone has noticed this... but it's kind of timely and relevant. A far right regime strips women of their rights, and stirring up fear of foreign terrorists? I'm joking of course, comparisons to 2017 have been flowing far in advance of the Hulu series' premiere. Another element that fans are likely to catch on to is similarities between The Handmaid's Tale and Orange Is The New Black. The two shows share thematic and storytelling devices, while the actual stories are different at first sight.
Some of the similarities are minor. Actors Samira Wiley and Madeline Brewer appear on both series — and both of their Orange characters died while incarcerated, which is an odd coincidence. Similarly, both Handmaid's Tale actors Alexis Bledel and Elizabeth Moss were on Mad Men together — but the world of '60s advertising does not draw such similarly strong comparisons.
The storytelling in both shows is similar too, using flashbacks to explain how characters and situations got to be where they are in the present. There aren't as many characters in The Handmaid's Tale and most flashbacks are for Moira and June, but the device serves the same narrative purpose.
Most importantly, Orange is the New Black and The Handmaid's Tale tell women's stories from female perspectives in a world where women have been stripped of their rights. They're trapped, too, albeit in different circumstances. Still, the way that handmaids and Marthas in Gilead are forced to wear uniforms, taught not to trust one another, given arbitrary jobs, and overall dehumanized will remind you of Litchfield.
The scary thing is that while The Handmaid's Tale takes place in a dystopian near future that seems inevitable, especially if you indulge in every anxiety about women's rights caused by the Trump administration and the alt-right, Orange Is The New Black takes place in the real world. The Netflix series is a satire, but isn't far off in its portrayal of private prisons and the various ways women are abused there.
Before getting to know the characters on Orange Is The New Black, one might assume that as prisoners convicted of a crime they deserve their circumstances — which is exactly the kind of thinking that The Handmaid's Tale warns us against as well.
There are differences, too. The Handmaid's Tale is dystopian fiction that borders on horror. Orange is the New Black is a comedy with dramatic elements. But both shows are doing important feminist (yeah, I said it) storytelling, which is important now and always.