20 TV shows with the best soundtracks and music

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The Handmaid’s Tale

In Gilead, there’s not much joy or escape from the oppressive eye of the Commanders and their wives, so the contemporary, sometimes upbeat music jars you out of the grim reality of The Handmaid’s Tale, but then sucks you back into the bizarre juxtaposition.

As a story set in the not-so-distant future, the Hulu series imagines the world as a grim dystopia. Pollution has caused fertility rates to plummet, the government has transformed into an extremist totalitarian Christian regime, and women who can bear children are forced into slavery, unable to read or think freely. It’s hard to watch, and this is what makes the soundtrack so eerie.

Inserting Tom Petty’s “American Girl” and the Monkees’ “I’m a Believer,” the show, perhaps intentionally, drags you out of the suffocating reality of the new world, offering momentary reprieves for an otherwise unbearable endeavor.

The music often punctuates flashbacks, reminding viewers that there is not past for the Handmaids, making their reveries even more bittersweet — or maybe just bitter. Leslie Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me” plays over the credits of the first episode, offering a chilling emphasis to the horrors we’ve just seen unfold.

The soundtrack is also clever, injecting popular songs that audiences will immediately recognize and find familiar. It’s a strange sensation to watch this utterly unrecognizable world set to music we’ve loved all our lives. It further feeds to the surreal quality of the show, connecting a past we remember with a future we don’t want to imagine.