Black Mirror is the purest of gold when it comes to box sets that are truly binge-worthy.
Black Mirror is now in it’s fourth season (which recently dropped onto Netflix) and there is still no drop off in quality, both in the production and, crucially, in the standard of writing. In all the nineteen episodes to date, there isn’t a single dud, with each one a self-contained individual serving of distilled excellence.
Written by Charlie Brooker, previously a columnist for the Guardian amongst other things (fun fact, he drew comics, amazingly, for a publication, I used to read as a kid, called Oink!) he explains the title here:
“If technology is a drug – and it does feel like a drug – then what, precisely, are the side-effects? This area – between delight and discomfort – is where Black Mirror, my new drama series, is set. The ‘black mirror’ of the title is the one you’ll find on every wall, on every desk, in the palm of every hand: the cold, shiny screen of a TV, a monitor, a smartphone.”
The first series in 2011 had a fairly low-key release and was only three episodes long. All were written by Mr. Brooker himself (the second episode was co-written with his wife Konnie Huq, yes, that is the old Blue Peter presenter for all you 90’s kids!) for Channel Four in the UK. The material in Black Mirror was most definitely not low-key, however, and was to set the tone for all that followed.
The very first story, for example, was about a much-beloved member of the Royal family, Princess Susannah, being kidnapped. The perpetrator had one demand: The Prime Minister must have full, un-simulated sexual intercourse with a pig on live television or he would kill his hostage. It transpires that the kidnapping was perpetrated by an artist who intended the act to be a statement on the masses addiction to social media.
He releases the Princess half an hour before the deadline, but this remains unknown to the P.M, and due to the immense public pressure he ‘performs’ the required action. The artist commits suicide, presumably realising that there are no redeeming attributes within the general populace.
If that seems disturbing to you, it should, and that’s the point. All of these stories have at their core two things: near-future technology, and painfully feasible extremes that people could be forced into by that technology. The ease with which this happens is part of the intensely uneasy atmosphere in most of the tales.
The two other episodes, excellently written and acted by English up-and-comers of the time sealed the pact of quality. They included a very disturbing take on reality T.V (Fifteen Million Merits) and a story about a device that allows one to replay any moment of one’s life, and thus holding us all to account for indiscretions both real and imagined (The Entire History Of You).
Understandably commissioned for a second series, Mr Brooker settled into his stride in the next three episodes of Black Mirror. The first offering is a poignant and very sad story about a man who dies, but a composite artificial intelligence is made of his personality, which is eventually put into a copy of his body (Be Right Back), it is truly a bittersweet narrative.
The second installment is probably one of the most disturbing scenario’s I have ever seen. White Bear is the title, and it has literally the most savage twist at around the two-thirds mark, it beggars belief. All the sympathy one has for the main protagonist evaporates instantly once the truth is revealed. Truly awesome.
The third account is quite light-hearted (for Black Mirror) and documents a political candidate who is, in fact, a cartoon. While this is salient social commentary it is also painfully close to the truth.
There then followed a horrific treatise on the nature of the interrogation, time-dilation and cybernetic copies of people. The Christmas special. Believe me when I say that it is the perfect antidote to lovely moralistic happy endings.
Black Mirror was picking up awards from the get-go, but now something wonderful happened. The show was bought by Netflix, who then commissioned twelve new episodes.
These episodes of Black Mirror were split into series three and four, and because of the sheer brilliance of Charlie Brooker’s scalpel-like writing actors and directors stepped forward hoping for a role. Much like with a Wes Anderson film, or any new Tarrantino flick, pretty heavyweight people were clamoring for the chance to breathe life into one of the dystopian nightmares.
And breathe life they did! With performances from such luminaries as John Hamm, Daniel Kaluuya, Rafe Spall, Lenora Critchlow, Domhnall Gleeson, Letitia Wright and a host of other top-notch thespians the show has gone into a higher gear altogether. Black Mirror guest directors such as Jodie Foster, Otto Bathurst, and Dan Trachtenburg have only raised the bar yet higher.
All the stories, acting, design, and directing is very strong in the latter two series’, stand-out episodes for me though are Shut Up And Dance (which is insane!) and Men Against Fire (really very, very uncomfortable indeed) from season three, and from season four: U.S.S Callister (featuring a gut-punch twist that takes your breath away but that’s all we’re going to say on that!) and Crocodile are deliciously harrowing, though I have a penchant for Black Museum as well. It features little Easter Eggs from the other stories from all the previous series and is actually more like four little tales in one. Masterful indeed!
The series goes from strength to strength, and I’m wondering when we’re going to crest the wave. The momentum that Black Mirror has generated looks unstoppable at the time of going to press and season four is an absolute juggernaut.
In summary, if you haven’t seen Black Mirror you really need to rectify that oversight at your earliest opportunity. Black Mirror is some of the finest drama the English have to offer, it is perfectly cynical and brilliantly realized.
Just don’t watch Black Mirror too close to bedtime.
You can watch Black Mirror right now on Netflix. Let us know what your favorite episode of Black Mirror is so far in the comment below.