Binge Guide

Weekly Binge: Black Mirror

by | January 15, 2015 | Comments

In the wake of rumors that Netflix may discontinue streaming all BBC series on Jan. 31 if contract negotiations fall through, it’s somewhat comforting to know that there will still be some quality British programming left for Anglophiles to devour. The Channel 4 production Black Mirror has largely flown under the radar, but it’s fascinating, sometimes brilliant, and certainly worth a look if you’re in the mood for some twisted social satire. Here’s why:

Black Mirror

Black Mirror

What’s the premise? Black Mirror is an anthology series of standalone episodes that explores the tricky relationship between society and technology, often depicting either a heightened reality in contemporary times or the ominous possibilities of a not-so-distant future.

What’s it like? If SyFy and the Discovery Channel decided to collaborate on a scripted program and called upon Rod Serling, Kurt Vonnegut, and Roald Dahl — short story Roald Dahl, not Chocolate Factory Roald Dahl — to co-write every episode, you might end up with something like Black Mirror. In fact, the show has most notably drawn comparisons to Serling’s own iconic anthology series, The Twilight Zone, and it certainly fits that mold both structurally and thematically. What differentiates Black Mirror, however, is its specific focus on technology and the ways in which our darkest human impulses can be enabled or amplified by our reliance upon it. So, yes, you can think of it as a Twilight Zone for the digital era, a scathing critique of modern society delivered in twisty, eerily prescient single-serving installments.

Where can I see it? Currently, the only way US residents can watch Black Mirror is on Netflix, where you can stream every episode with the exception of the Christmas special starring Jon Hamm, which aired just last month in the UK.

How long will it take? Aside from season one’s hourlong second episode, each installment of Black Mirror runs about 45 minutes, so you could conceivably run through everything in a little less than five hours. But we don’t recommend that; the show is so grim at times that we’d suggest you take a break between episodes and do something pleasant. Maybe take a walk, practice some yoga, or visit a petting zoo.

What do the critics think? Though only a handful of critics weighed in on Black Mirror and season two didn’t receive enough reviews to generate a Tomatometer score, the first season stands at 100 percent. Alan Sepinwall of HitFix wrote, “What makes the series so powerful is that it doesn’t just present another collection of stories where technology turns on us, but where we use technology to turn on — or tune out — each other,” and writing about the series as a whole for AV Club, Todd VanDerWerff stated, “There are times throughout all six episodes when it’s easy to fear that Brooker’s satire is only skin deep. But he and his collaborators have something to say about so many subjects besides technology.”

Why should I watch this? Look, we’re going to be honest. This is not feelgood television. If you’re in the mood for something light and uplifting, you may want to look elsewhere. On the other hand, if you’re in need of a calculated jolt of bleak cynicism with a dash of sinister paranoia, Black Mirror would be a pretty good way to get your fix. The individual episodes vary somewhat in quality, but they’re all provocative, smartly written, and superbly acted — you’ll see folks like Jessica Brown Findlay (Downton Abbey), Hayley Atwell (Marvel’s Agent Carter), and Domnhall Gleeson (Unbroken) show up in major roles. And while technology does serve as a unifying theme for the series, each episode is cloaked in several layers of satire, whether dressing down contemporary voyeurism, critiquing the culture of celebrity worship, or exploring the dangers of obsessive grieving. If this all sounds a bit heady, don’t worry; the storytelling isn’t dry by any means, and there should be enough sweeping tension and pitch-black humor to keep you engaged and properly disturbed.

What’s my next step? The most obvious post-Black Mirror recommendations would be some of the other anthology series that preceded it, like The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and Tales of the Unexpected, which was inspired by the short stories of Roald Dahl. Social satire is a popular theme in science fiction, but a few relevant selections from the big screen would include Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report, Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop, or Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.

Are you ready to look into the Black Mirror? Tell us why!

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