ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT EDITOR
“Black Mirror” is one of the most original television ideas to come out in recent history. It is not quite horror or satire. The average viewer cannot pin it down.
Creator Charlie Brooker describes it as “the area between delight and discomfort” in regards to the evolution of our modern world. Brooker is well known for his snarky, cynical humor.
Brooker himself is quite a guy, his credits include: writing for The Guardian in entertainment journalism (this later evolved into his series “Screen Wipe”), and he eventually jumped into TV, writing a miniseries called “Dead Set,” which is about “Big Brother” contestants who are filming just as a zombie apocalypse is starting to break out.
Another series that got the green-light, a documentary series, was dubbed “How TV Ruined Your Life,” and it highlights Brooker’s voice as a writer, with a cynical, biting, often holier-than-thou approach. It, however, never sacrifices attention to detail, Brooker breaks down his points to succinct, digestible bite sized pieces. The fascinating part about this particular series is the internal contradiction, a TV series dictating how TV ruined your life. It seems arrogant, and is for the most part, intentional by Brooker.
“Black Mirror” has a “Twilight Zone” setup. The episodes tell their own individual stories with nothing connecting them. Each offers dark setups, and often will crescendo with a humorous, provocative payoff. The pilot is amongst the most experimental of all of them. The plot follows a national crisis as the princess of the Royal Family is kidnapped by an unnamed terrorist. The terrorist’s demands are simple: The Prime Minister is required to have sex with a pig on national television.
They go through every scenario, and eventually give up. They have him go on TV, and he eventually does it. It turns out the princess goes free, and the guy was obsessed with proving a point above all else. It feels wild and experimental, as though Brooker wanted to test the waters and see just how far the show could go.
Season 3 focuses more on technology and our evolution towards the future. The first episode, “Downfall” is a great thesis for the season. It is not necessarily an indictment of technology, but rather how we use it. “Downfall” deals with social structures and dissects how we interact with each other. The point of the episode is not necessarily that the evolution of technology has caused the social structure to be eroded, but rather that it has always been like this.
There are a lot of elements to “Downfall”: the use of online ratings to determine a person’s merit along with what privileges that person is allowed access. This is merely a shifting of the gears of the social structures we see now. A person who is not seen as liked or who does not behave in a specific way does not acquire friends, and if they don’t acquire friends they don’t get invited to social events. It doesn’t start to sound that different after a while.
Bryce Dallas Howard is the centerpiece of the action, as simple mishaps result in her overall rating going well beneath what she had been building up. This is all happening as she gets invited to an old friend’s wedding, where she sees a major opportunity to get upvoted. Her friend sees it as the same way. This reminds one of a normal social situation like that, how many people don’t prepare scripts at a wedding for the sake of approval? Howard almost plays this role like a Carrie of sorts, she builds up and up until she inevitably implodes. Howard is a brilliant talent and deserves to be well used like this far more often.
Black Mirror seasons 1-3 are available on Netflix.