What is it? A British anthology mini-series (generally 45m-1hr each) centering around the dark side of futuristic tech. S1 has 3 episodes, S2 has 3 + a Christmas special, and Netflix has commissioned 12 episodes, 6 for S3 and 6 for the upcoming S4. It’s created and mostly written by Charlie Brooker, famous for his witty/satirical year-in-review series Screenwipe/Gameswipe, as well as writing for Brass Eye and The 11 O’Clock Show. It’s really cool to see a guy I knew as an on-screen reviewer move up in the world as a big time TV writer and doing so well!
Most of the episodes have a futuristic sci-fi concept: some distant & outlandish, some not-too-distant and feasible. It serves as satire and paranoia surrounding current technology (eg facebook, twitter, tinder) and where it could lead, like an updated Twilight Zone. The best part is that in these stories, the tech is integrated into everyday society, so we get to see how humankind might react in day-to-day scenarios. Brooker noted “they’re all about the way we live now – and the way we might be living in 10 minutes’ time if we’re clumsy.” As a British production, the series is generally set in Britain with British actors, which is refreshing from the usual setting of NY, LA etc.
S1-E1 “The National Anthem”
Plot: The Royal Princess has been kidnapped and a terrorist demand is made for the Prime Minister to have sex with a pig live on TV. The story follows three perspectives: the PM and his cabinet looking for leads/tracking down the Princess, to avoid the situation; a TV newsroom trying to contain the spread of information (it’s all over YouTube & Twitter, but the cabinet has asked for nationwide TV & radio silence) and showing the public reaction to the situation.
• This episode gave me a false impression of what Black Mirror is like, as it’s mostly scary future-tech, whilst this one could happen today.
• It’s a gripping story that would interest everyone, the PM’s position of humiliation vs a selfless act. Logical steps are taken as time runs out, and the masses pile into pubs/hospital workers crowd around a TV to maybe watch the PM go through with it.
• I love how it examines the struggle between traditional and current means of information spread (TV vs internet, filtered vs unfiltered, government controlled vs the people). TV coverage is shown to be biased, sandbagging the scandal entirely until their hand is forced (as the news breaks overseas), and even they the TV station only shows interviews and polls that support their bias “no” option, despite us seeing regular people’s actual opinion of “it’s a bit hilarious why not”.
• A small point but it’s funny to see people on the other side hiding the truth breaking the rules (TV reporter takes naked selfie to get info, Government suit swears down the phone, PM starts choking a woman)
• This episode aired 4 years before the scandal of former PM David Cameron, who was said to have put his dick in a dead pig’s mouth as part of an initiation when he was 19. (Brooker had no knowledge of this when the ep was made)
I didn’t get the implication of the kidnapper watching the show — turns out it was an award-winning artist that wanted to show important things happen (eg releasing the princess unharmed) while people are off elsewhere glued to TV screens; before killing himself. Also if the finger he sent was male, you’d think they’d have spotted that one and knew it was all a hoax.
Overall, a fantastic, tense thriller that I highly recommend.
S1-E2 “Fifteen Million Merits”
Pitch: In a dystopian future where humans are kept in massive TV-screen areas, they can cycle in a gym to earn credits. They must watch crass TV/ads but if they want to skip it it’ll decrease their credits. One guy (“Bing”) has amassed over 15M credits and gives it to a pretty female singer (“Abi”) to do her thing on American Idol (called “Hot Shot”) in front of 3 indifferent/condescending judges.
• This one goes ~15 minutes longer (just over an hour) and is a large step down. It’s like if the Hunger Games lead up to American Idol instead of hunting. It’s all a bit whacky & unbelievable (unlike most of the other episodes’ future tech) but most importantly it’s drawn out and not that interesting or insightful. Yes the pursuit of digital/intangible things are meaningless, and cog-and-the-wheel/can’t change the system and all that. Blah.
• I was left with a lot of questions, I don’t think the world is explained enough. Are they there voluntarily? There’s talk of other schools, so do these people -and these cleaners- endure captivity and verbal humiliation willingly? How hard is it to get 15M merits, seeing as the protagonist racks up 15M in a quick montage, and there’s a room full of other people auditioning for hot shot? But most cyclists only have a few thousand credits (i.e. they’ll never get to 15M & onto Hot Shot) so they’re just living in this constructed hell, no closer to any goals. Also, there’s no real antagonist, just escaping your current life.
• Tell you what though, this show knows how to make instantly dislikable prats! Wow, there’s a guy cycling across from him who watches porn and hurls abuse at the overweight cleaners behind him, you just want to knock him out after a few seconds. Congrats!
• What are the bikes pedaling? Humans make terrible batteries. Unless you believe that liar Morpheus!
I was a bit saddened that Abi did not stand up for herself when the male judges literally tell her she’s worthless except for her hot body. We see the female judge go along with it yet shed a tear when she agrees to do porn, meaning she doesn’t agree but is part of the system. But it’s used in Bing’s speech. I love the subtle hypocrisy shown that Bing films his anti-establishment videos in front of a black background then immediately steps out into his pristine glowingly white penthouse cell; now he’s both a hypocrite and has escaped his cell for a bigger one.
Overall: I’d rate this amongst the lowest of Black Mirror, but I checked around on the internet, most people hate the first episode and love this one, so worth checking out.
S1-E3 “The Entire History of You”
Pitch: Really interesting concept – People have a device behind their ear (a “grain”) that can record everything you see, hear and say. You have a little remote that can rewind and replay, and put it on any screen for your friends to watch. After an interview doesn’t go great, a lawyer (Liam) obsesses over his evaluator’s words, repeatedly watching the footage back over and over. He later grows suspicion about his wife (Ffion) and one of the more obnoxious mutual friends, Jonas.
• Jonas – wow, bravo. He’s instantly dislikeable, as he (unprompted) talks about masturbating to old girlfriend footage, despite having a current one upstairs. Mega X-Pac heat.
• The idea of the grain is a great satire on obsessing over and being stuck in the past, and continually reviewing digital evidence (like re-reading voice messages, texts, facebook posts today) which renders you unable to reconcile and move on, which ends up damaging your life, present and future.
• In this episode, people checking their grain are literally frozen in position, their eyes overlayed with a little TV screen, making them look inhuman. It’s shown as a couple are having sex, but are both hypnotised, watching their “best of” sex tape via their grain, so they’re barely moving. It’s terrifying. And nothing like sex in Demolition Man!
• Much like not having a smartphone today is seen as abnormal (you’ll be asked to explain why not), one girl is questioned over not having a grain, and is pressured until she divulges her reasoning – that she was attacked and forcibly removed.
• They live in a surveillance state – Liam has to show an officer at an airport his last week of recording before he boards – guilty until proven innocent.
I told you the grain was terrifying.
The grain consumed him, constantly pausing to rewatch moments, replaying the interview over and over, and doggedly pursuing truth and justice re: his wife’s relationship with Jonas; effectively stopping him from digesting it, moving on and doing what’s best for him in the future. His reliance on the grain cost him his wife and child, some friends probably and maybe a quick stint in jail for assaulting Jonas.
Overall: A great, intriguing watch and fantastic sci-fi idea. Easy to see why Robert Downey Jr successfully optioned it for a film.
Season Overall: Highly recommended, but beware though -God damn- this TV series is SO depressing! Booker noted Black Mirror would “fling you into a pit of despair and sometimes throw a few good biscuits after you”. Excellently written and directed, but it’s bleakness makes it difficult to binge watch. Hope you enjoyed my review, now go watch Black Mirror and let me know what you thought!