As a kid growing up my brother and I loved the genre anthology shows that were on TV; he loved Boris Karloff’s Thriller, but I, on the other hand, was most fond of One Step Beyond (1959-1961), The Outer Limits (1963-1965/1995-2002), and of course, the king of the sub-genre at the time, Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone (1959-1964). Unlike the science fiction stories that were the main thrust of One Step Beyond, the Twilight Zone spent most of its time depicting heavy-handed morality tales often with a generous helping of irony on the side. Black Mirror seems to be trying the same formula but not exclusively for its stories also. The jury is still out for me regarding this series which the few times I have watched it has been somewhat hit-or-miss.
Black Mirror is a British anthology, science fiction television series created by Charlie Brooker, with Brooker and Annabel Jones serving as the programme showrunners. It takes its themes from our modern 21st-century angst and examines modern society; the stories are often particularly about the unanticipated consequences of new technologies. Episodes seem, for the most part, standalone, and are usually set in an alternative present or the near future, often with a dark and satirical tone, for the most part, though some are more experimental and lighter.
Based on the episodes I have seen and enjoyed the most, and the recent success of the show’s latest offering, Bandersnatch, Black Mirror seems to excel at cyberpunk type stories. The show is now in its fifth season, and, here’s are a few of my favorite episodes from the series so far:
The episode that got my attention is a cyberpunk take that depicts a take on Star Trek with a dark twist, and takes place in virtual space aboard the “U.S.S. Callister.” The episode ends on a positive note with an ending that teases a sequel. The U.S.S. Callister episode is an excellent example of using science fiction to start a discussion concerning current real-world social issues.
Hang the DJ
“Hang the DJ” stars Joe Cole and Georgina Campbell as two singles living in a community where an algorithm determines who they date and how long each relationship lasts as it calculates their ultimate soulmate. The episode is a clever and sincere examination of dating apps pushed to the extreme, though it’s another of the handful of the series chapters that end on a happy note rather than a disturbing one.
“Metalhead” is maybe the series most straightforward premise. The black-and-white episode set in a post-apocalyptic Scottish landscape follows a woman on the run from killer robotic dogs that have devastated humanity. There is nothing to explain anything about the events in the story. There are dog-like robots armed with various guns and weapons that were somehow programmed to kill humans. It’s a simple but engaging premise of hunter-prey that goes right to our instinct for survival and kept me riveted with suspense for who would win.
Fifteen Million Merits
Featuring Daniel Kaluuya in the lead as Bing and Downton Abbey’s Jessica Brown Findlay as Abbi, this episode is still possibly the furthest into the future the show has gone. This episode is for me a genuinely frightening and claustrophobic future along the lines of science fiction classics about overpopulation from the seventies.
Imagine a world where humans (or at least the ones we meet inside this compound) are all cogs in a system, and workers ride bikes to generate power and receive virtual “merits.” They can spend those merits on all manner of content or virtual possessions, or use them to skip the mandatory ads and commercial that pervade peoples’ every waking moment, even in their tiny, screen-filled bedrooms.
The series has garnered positive reception from critics, received many awards and nominations, and seen an increase in interest internationally, particularly in the United States after its addition to Netflix. Two episodes, “San Junipero” (from the third series) and “USS Callister” (fourth series), won a total of six Emmy Awards, with both episodes winning Outstanding Television Movie.
As far as the Bandersnatch movie goes, it was kind of interesting, I suppose in a Christopher Nolan Inception (2010) sort of way, which is what the somewhat confusing and intentionally-difficult-to-follow narrative reminded me of a great deal.
So, bottom line I like the idea of a genre anthology series on TV, and I am happy Black Mirror is here for me to watch. The show hires excellent actors, and production quality is exceptional for a low budget series, I only wish the writing in this series was of better quality on a more consistent basis; another characteristic it shares with the show’s inspiration, The Twilight Zone.