Warning: contains spoilers for Black Mirror: Rachael, Jack And Ashley Too.
At a London press screening for season five episode Rachel, Jack And Ashley Too, (read our spoiler-filled review here), writer Charlie Brooker explains to host Boyd Hilton that he’d been noodling around with the idea for a while. “Originally I’d had an idea about a punk band being resurrected from 1977 in the present day. I tried to write a sitcom about that that was quite different. And then at one point it was going to be a rapper.”
Then, in a conversation the Black Mirror creators were having about the Alexa Smart Speaker, Brooker remembers saying, “Well, soon there’ll be ones based on celebrity personalities. And then you kind of remember this other idea about a musician in a coma and people extracting music and the two things sort of collided.”
The part of international popstar Ashley O wasn’t written specifically for Cyrus, says Brooker, but once cast, the singer-actor made an impact on the story. Details from her life were “engineered into the script,” explains executive producer Annabel Jones. “She had lots of thoughts on the music and the performance of the music and the look and the relationship between the idol and the fan, which is a very interesting and powerful relationship in today’s world.”
“There are lines in there that Catherine comes out with that were definitely derived from things Miley said,” agrees Brooker.
The popstar hologram idea (if any real-world tour producers use the Godzilla-sized, stream-to-multiple-locations-at-once concept for real “they owe us money,” says Brooker with a laugh) was inspired by real-world news stories about posthumous tours featuring Amy Winehouse and Whitney Houston. It was something that resonated with Cyrus when she first read the script, Brooker explains.
“She said something she’d found quite emotional was that about a week before we’d spoken to her, she’d made an appearance on stage with some act that was aimed at an older generation, I don’t know who it was, but like The Grateful Dead or somebody of a different era, and she went on stage and looked out into this massive auditorium and no-one was filming it on a phone, they’re all looking at her, and she hadn’t seen that for about ten years, it was just like a sea of human faces and that had affected her quite a bit.”
Jones continues, “She said ‘does it matter whether I’m on stage or a hologram’s on stage, no-one’s looking’.”
The Ashley Too doll which also plays a key role in the episode was designed, says Brooker, so it wouldn’t be “too Toy Story. Thank fuck we didn’t do that because the new Child’s Play has got an evil AI uploaded into a murderous doll and I think it might have gone into that territory.”
Overall, Brooker concludes, Rachel, Jack And Ashley Too was intended to be a romp. “People sometimes expect Black Mirror to be somebody frowning at a transparent phone until their life falls apart, so it’s quite nice to occasionally upend that. When we did USS Callister on season four, and that had quite a romp-y tone. Similarly, I thought we liked the idea of somebody keeping a popstar in a coma and extracting music from their head, but when you’re in that world, that feels like quite a heightened reality.”
“If we just kept doing nihilistically bleak stories then it just becomes very, very predictable,” he tells the crowd. “Sometimes we like to go a bit Pixar and other times we like to go a bit Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and it really depends on our whim.”
Read more about Black Mirror season five on Den Of Geek here.