What to Watch on Netflix: Black Mirror

With Jon Hamm staring in the Black Mirror Christmas special, it's a perfect time to discover the UK's Sci-Fi hit on Netflix.

December is always a veritable time for an onslaught of new titles rushing to the Netflix waters, and with there being more new treats to take in than ever, making your selection has never been so difficult. So why not jump immediately to the top of the pack and take in one of the finest additions to the library?

Our Netflix Pick of the Week selection is the “techno-paranoia” anthology masterpiece that ran on Channel 4 in the UK, Black Mirror. And with the show making a long awaited return to the airwaves in the form of a Christmas Special on December 16, what better time to check it out?

Backstory:

Imagine a version of The Twilight Zone that was set in the future, telling parables of dangers yet to come, or terrors that we’re on the precipice of. A Twilight Zone that was a Terminator sent from the future to warn us about Skynet before it becomes sentient. That is what Black Mirror is, and then some. Created by Charlie Brooker, who came from previously scathingly brilliant satirical fare, such as Brass Eye and Nathan Barley (where he’d work alongside the equally genius Chris Morris, whose influence is here too), or the even more ambitious experiment, Dead Set, a five-part horror satire that has the cast of Big Brother trapped in a zombie apocalypse. 

The show has made quite the name for itself, even winning the International Emmy for Best TV Movie/Miniseries in 2012, but has only now made it over to Netflix. Despite it’s hidden status, Black Mirror still started to make an influence in our pop culture. Community’s latest season was surely influenced by the “15 Million Merits” episode in its intelligent, lofty “MeowMeowBeenz” classist episode. And “Be Right Back” was more or less doing what Spike Jonze’s Academy Award winning film, Her was exploring, but years beforehand. This show has gotten deep under people’s skins, even leading to stars like Jon Hamm getting obsessed and needing to be involved in some way. 

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If Black Mirror had aired in America, it’d have hit fever pitch heights, almost to Breaking Bad heights where everyone who encounters it needs to be a part of it.

Premise:

Black Mirror was designed as a bleak anthology series whose name comes from the idea of any sort of device (a tablet, phone, laptop) dying, and the black, reflective screen that is left. That behind all of this technology, and what’s left after everything else is gone, is us. We’re left staring at ourselves. Unsurprisingly Brooker’s series sets its sights on our unhealthy, obsessive relationship with technology.

The series is often skewing towards the nature of sci-fi, with a different cast and setting each time. Episodes usually take place in the future or alternate realities, but are also very careful to convey that this could just as easily be us, or us “ten minutes from now if we’re clumsy.” 

The result is razor-sharp, focused, meditative essays on techno topics. Even though the show is incredibly brief in its number of seasons and episodes, Black Mirror is focused on making an impression and standing out, and sometimes the best way to do that is with a very concise library of material to examine.

This material stands on its own too, and while a Cryptkeeper-esque host, recurring characters or locations, or other connective devices were considered in the show’s inception, they were abandoned in the end. Black Mirror is one of the anomalies where less is more and the entire show coasts on its tone and gravitas.

The upcoming Christmas Special, “White Christmas” will try something different, intermingling three stories that tell one larger whole–sounding closer to what Brooker’s original vision to the show may have been, but him now having the ideas and ability to bring it to fruition–adding complicated storytelling and structure to already expert content.

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Seasons: 

Two seasons; six episodes (and an upcoming Christmas Special)

Why you should watch it:

It’s the first anthology series to have the same weight and social relevance as The Twilight Zone did. 

What’s perhaps most amazing and exciting about Black Mirror is that every single episode is such a poignant, smart, different take on the future and technology. The weight behind this series is tremendous, and just like how when Serling or Matheson wrote an episode of The Twilight Zone and it would feel like a play or some Pulitzer-winning piece of commentary, all of these episodes feel deep and rich enough to be expanded into not just films, but amazing films (which is why it’s not surprising that Robert Downey Jr. has been trying to adapt “The Entire History of You” episode for years now).

Just to get an example of what this show is capable of, its first episode, “The National Anthem” is all about the Princess being kidnapped and the blackmailer forcing the Prime Minister to have sex with a pig on live television as a means to get her back. Beyond this already outrageous plot, it’s fascinating to see all the perfectly clever ways PM Callow tries to outsmart his blackmailer, getting countered every time and losing more public support in the process, as the minutiae of every conceivable way of how to fake having sex with a pig is discussed. While an amazing commentary on the public’s compulsion to get lost watching their screens and missing what’s going on in the real world, this episode is just scratching the surface of what Black Mirror is capable of.

All of the predictions we see of what’s to come in our media, like a news ticker on our bathroom mirror, or how every action we do can be inundated with credits, are revelatory. Ideas like ads constantly bombarding us, and the act of skipping past these ads costing credits are really brilliant and no doubt where we’re actually heading with the game-inization of the world.

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But amongst all of this techno clutter and fancy science, the show still gets down to human relationships incredibly well. It’s beautiful seeing these two extremes intermingle through stories, and you’ll be haunted by the content long after its done, with you being deep in the technology that it’s chastising or commenting on. You’ll slowly see yourself joining the artifice. 

In the end though, you should watch this series if you’ve ever been marginally interested in science fiction, the hold our technology has over us, or what the future may hold. If you’ve even slightly enjoyed the works of Phillip K Dick, Ray Bradbury, or Robert Heinlen, you will devour this and have much to go gaga over.

This series is for you if: 

The Prime Minister being blackmailed to have sex with a pig on live television is compelling reporting on society to you. If you enjoy beautiful, passionate revenge stories acted out via reward points and America’s Got Talent-esque reality competitions. If the idea of humanity having an implant that records everything we see and do and allows us to play it back at our leisure seems like a good idea. If a signal that renders most of the population into idiotic voyeurs that must record everything makes sense to you. Or if the concept of a cartoon character running in politics and doing decently due to public support behind the ridiculous avatar seems all too plausible.

Final Verdict:

Black Mirror is not only one of the most impressive recent additions to Netflix, but also one of the better television series to come along in recent years period. It does an incredible amount with its limited content and promises to open your mind in a way that anthology shows haven’t done in a long time.

It’s a phenomenal showcase of not only the mind of Brooker, but also the accomplished stable of writers, directors, and actors he’s assembled, many of which you might be experiencing for the first time. This is a show that will surprise, confound, and amaze you, making you frustrated that you’re not as brilliant as these guys, that you’re not living in these realities, or that there’s simply not more episodes to consume. 

And once you’re finished, all that’s staring back at you is that cold, black mirror…

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Rating:

4.5 out of 5