It’s nothing new, but I’m miles behind on my TV binging – otherwise known as the My List category on Netflix. With this disclaimer in mind, perhaps it can be excused that I haven’t seen everything worth seeing before its arrival on Netflix. This is one of the failings of our streaming-addled culture, where online services become our primary curator of great content. And a great bit of foreshadowing for the review ahead.
As soon as Black Mirror appeared in my Netflix suggestions, I tentatively plodded through the first episode. It resulted in a binge that almost can’t be called one, seeing how each of the two seasons only has three episodes apiece. There’s also a newly-released White Christmas episode to sustain our interest for season 3.
But calling them ‘episodes’ may be a disservice, as each of Black Mirror’s hour-long stories are self-contained, wholly-realized, and wonderfully executed. Loosely tied together in theme and general mood, Black Mirror is as refreshing as reading a well-written short story after you’ve been used to long, drawn out novels in multiple sequels, prequels, spiritual successors, and reboots.
The anthology series attempts to deeply explore the true human consequences of new technology and, for the most part, succeeds. There are a few episodes that don’t hit the mark as strongly, but this is only if you compare them to the masterful impact of the others. It’s stuff that gets in your head, and rarely takes the path most traveled by other sci-fi literature. In fact, it defies the genre by keeping things relatively low-tech, beyond a single concept that subtly changes and influences the world. In this, Black Mirror creates an immediate resonance that makes us believe that it could happen, here and now, and adds to the weighty dilemma of navigating this alternative reality.
The series, like much of intelligent television these days, comes out of British director Charlie Brooker. The quote below captures his mindset for Black Mirror beautifully:
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.
In the ’90s, Brooker was a games reviewer for UK’s landmark PC Zone (the first magazine dedicated to games for IBM-compatible personal computers), and has since moved on to broadcast TV, using satire to achieve his darker outlook on technology. The games background shows in many of his episodes, taking a recognized game mechanic and ingraining it into a society that has come to expect the resulting behaviour as the norm.
Black Mirror is a timely reminder of the true cost of our hyperspeed march towards progress, and, just like the technology it scrutinizes, is delivered in an addicting and irresistible format.