Black Mirror: Five Reasons You Should Watch
In a technology-riddled world populated by the virtuous and the vile, the twenty-first century proverb has become: “he who has the greater technology has the greater power.” Although advancements in technology have garnished mankind with glamorous gadgets and decorative devices capable of prompting previous civilizations to bow down in stupefied awe of the divine, trouble ensues when indulgence turns into obsession, and obsession inevitably turns into dependence. Where will our future descendants find themselves when even our most subtle behaviors and engrained activities are bounded by the unrelenting influence of technology? Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror explores these veins of thought, taking viewers to the dark depths of human nature in dystopian worlds both imprisoned and bastardized by the far-reaching tendrils of technology. In addition to—or perhaps in spite of—winning the 2012 International Emmy for best TV movie/mini-series, Black Mirror disembarks from the sanguine island of normalcy, taking its audience to sinister yet authentic worlds plagued by technologically gluttonized notions of morality, self-worth, and power.
A high quality, fan-made trailer can be found here.
There are many reasons to watch this show. In no particular order, here are five.
5. It takes science fiction to a very real place
Every person in the world encounters tragedy. A cheating wife, a lost opportunity, all out war—there is a very present and inescapably dark side shadowing mankind that must necessarily exist in order to provide meaning and context to the good side. From the unforgivable choices made by a single person to the large-scale travesties infecting entire societies, Black Mirror takes us effortlessly into worlds that feel tragically familiar, worlds whose similarities with our own seem to only differ in time.
One of the most compelling features of this series is that it seems all too possible. While commenting on the highly anticipated third season, Brooker noted a setback that delayed production, specifically that one of the technologically fueled dilemmas planned for an upcoming episode actually came true in reality (Parker, 2014). While we can rest assured that some of the scenarios portrayed in the show wouldn’t be possible until much further in the future, others seem ominously possible within our lifetimes.
4. It is darkly enlightening
To some people, the best shows on television are those that uplift and motivate. To this type of viewer, television can serve as a therapeutic agent, acting as a catalyst for easing one’s mind into much-needed relaxation after a hectic day. But this is not what can be expected from Black Mirror, for it will most assuredly not fill the void in your nightly entertainment schedule that develops after the season finale of American Idol or Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Instead, Brooker unapologetically incorporates highly inflammatory topics into each episode such as mass imprisonment, torture, and deteriorating political regimes, to name a few.
Black Mirror takes us to where human depravity meets shameless excess, it challenges our moral compasses in nearly every sense, and it forces us to engage with good people at their worst and bad people at their best. After each episode, one can expect to be left with a uniquely enlightened sensation sparked by a freshly acquired appreciation, hatred, or dread towards what may currently seem to be a mundane or inconsequential feature of life. Although it is wrong to confuse the series with one centering on conspiracy theories, it definitely pokes a satirical finger at those it feels are leading civilization down a troubled avenue.
3. Robert Downey Jr is turning an episode into a movie
Ironman himself has bought the rights to the third episode of season one—The Entire History of You—with the intention of turning what is arguably the most psychologically haunting episode in the series into a full-length feature film (Child, 2013). Downey Jr.’s company, Team Downey, will produce the Warner Bros. film, which will be rewritten from the bottom up by up-and-coming writer Damien Ober. It has not yet been confirmed that he will star in the film, but Downey Jr promises to do justice to what many consider to be Black Mirror’s best episode. Although Downey Jr plans on completely changing the storyline, the prospect of a well-funded variation to this immaculately crafted episode has many people convulsing in feverish anticipation.
This episode explores a possible future where a technology is invented—the ‘grain’—that is implanted into the brain, thereby allowing everything seen by one’s eyes and heard by one’s ears to be recorded automatically for future viewing. No disks or flash drives required—just dial in the desired time on your key fob-sized controller and watch your memories unfold in front of you as if they were happening all over again. But some experiences should never be recorded, and some events don’t need a recording device to become forever embedded into the dark reaches of one’s conscious memory. The story decays into a dark and infernal nightmare when one becomes defined by his or her reservoir of memories, memories that ultimately become more real than the present.
2. It teaches Americans that the British can create a masterpiece series as well
Americans are a proud people. We tend to isolate ourselves within our own culture and then wonder why other societies think us to be so self-centered. This is somewhat odd considering that our society is in effect a 300 million people strong melting pot consisting of foreigners from every corner of the world. Regardless, there is a standardized taboo prevalent in countless households reinforcing the idea that film and television from other countries are somehow inherently unexceptional when held next to their American counterparts. The fact that American society is predominantly unilingual also fuels the unwillingness to look overseas for quality cinematic entertainment. Sadly, many Americans simply don’t want to bother with a movie or show that will take a sustained effort to enjoy—in the form of reading subtitles or decoding foreign accents.
To those of us who have realized the error in this thinking, whether American or otherwise, it’s painfully obvious that this vainglorious mindset merely deprives one from taking part in what really is a worldwide artistic conversation. Although one can hope that most readers here don’t embolden this unfortunate taboo, it seems inevitable that some still do. If you haven’t yet explored the world of international cinema, yet feel like venturing away from safe American film and television, look no further. As a British series, Black Mirror will ease the process of breaking your xenoglossophobic habit, while leaving you with a disillusioned thirst for more. There truly are excellent international shows and movies that completely escape the purview of the American masses—don’t miss out.
1. There are only six episodes
This might seem like a vice rather than a virtue at first glance—who wants to start watching a show when there are only six episodes? But consider what would happen if a production team took the same amount of creative energy and attention from a twenty episode long season and funneled it into just three episodes. You will undoubtedly be left with a product whose quality rivals that of film. This is precisely what we get from Black Mirror—a compact set of uniquely devised narratives rich in aesthetic structure with scripts given the necessary time to mature. Not only does Charlie Brooker’s award winning series give us great stories to contemplate, he also makes us question where the line in the sand separating television from film really is.
Of the two seasons aired so far, each hour-long episode encapsulates an entirely different storyline than the others, allowing viewers to watch the series in any order desired while also depriving them of any and all expectations regarding the next episode. It is strongly advised that instead of watching all six episodes one after another in a weekend (like I did), the viewings are spaced out, allowing one to fully appreciate and absorb each episode. Since the show is addictingly entertaining, this will be found to be an incredibly difficult task to manage; but setting a slower pace and savoring each short story will hopefully remedy the suffering upon finishing the last one, as well as lengthening what will be a glorious week or two of television.
Child, B. (2013, February 12). Robert Downey Jr to turn episode of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror into film. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/film/2013/feb/12/robert-downey-jr-black-mirror
Parker, R. (2014, January 9). C4 to split third series of Black Mirror. Retrieved from http://www.broadcastnow.co.uk/news/commissioning/c4-to-split-third-series-of-black-mirror/5065206.article
What do you think? Leave a comment.
Really good read, completely agree with the realistic shackling of sci-fi it achieves so well in relation to domesticating it’s subject material. The Entire History of You will always be one my favourite episodes of all television.
Thanks for the kind words, I’m glad you enjoyed it. I can unapologetically proclaim that The Entire History of You is one of the greatest short stories of our time, I can’t wait for the movie to come out.
Mr Brooker is almost a lone sane voice in an increasingly insane world.
This show was amazing I like the fact that he looks at the ethical questions of technology in such a way that it is believable and effecting the everyday. It totally screws up the deus ex machina device used in so much Sci Fi. Brilliant and thoughtful well done Charlie.
This first episode reached down my throat and lodged a lump in there. Powerful stuff. And relevant!
Neil Gibson’s Twisted Dark comic book had the same effect on me when I read that earlier in the year…
I like the way you described that, I know exactly what you mean. The third episode had that effect on me, although the first was also great. I’ll have to check out Neil Gibson.
Hah, Twisted Dark is awesome! Met the writer at a con and bought the first volume. So creepy. I think they have the first volume to read for free on their website if you wanted to check it out?
It was good but when she started shtumping the robot (ep in season 2), I kept thinking about the anti-robosexual public information film from Futurama…
I thought it was really good, it creeped me out a bit, sort of a grown up version of AI.
I think the thing that a lot of people miss is that Brooker isn’t trying to create a masterpiece. It’s not supposed to be a masterclass in scriptwriting or acting. It’s an hour long TV drama that has to be commercial enough for mass appeal and leftfield enough in concept and execution in order to carry the weird-ass premise. A lot of people are saying BM is cliché or badly performed but for me, it reminds me of old Twilight Zone episodes. Some of them were as ropey and hammy as anything, but what stayed with me was the central conceit. At least we can all agree there’s nothing quite like this on television these days. Wonderful, thought-provoking stuff.
I think you make some good points here. To add, I would say that Brooker’s main intention for the series was to point a satirical finger towards those he thinks are leading us down a troubled path; that is, Brooker was actually trying to accomplish something with the series and provoke a reaction from the public. But as you say, the show must retain certain characteristics if it is going to be a success on television. Putting these two avenues together, we are left with what I would personally consider to be a masterpiece series. A masterpiece not in the same way as the Sopranos or Game of Thrones, but a masterpiece nonetheless.
I agree – it also reminds me of Tales of the Unexpected.
Black mirror – unsettling from start to finish, conflicting as hell. possibly the best one of all series so far.
Wow White Bear!
I can’t decide if it was quite clever but essentially as subtle as a flying mallet or just merely as subtle as a flying mallet.
I found White Bear enjoyably horrifying. Like all programmes of its kind comparisons between it and ur reality television dystopian drama, The Year of The Sex Olympics spring readily to the mind.( Actually I got into the work of Nigel Kneale thanks to a recommendation from Charlie himself). The punters in White Bear are more human than the doped up eternally orgasmic morons in TYOTSO who are reduced to child-like mirth when confronted with violent death and intense suffering, Indeed the White Bear frequenters could be a group of Daily Express readers on a trip to Havens, mingling their horror at the murder of a child with a joy in eternally tormenting the Myra Hindley figure…. take the Daily Express out of the picture and they could indeed be us liberals, reduced to outrage and sadistic inventiveness when confronted with a pronounced evil doer- Colonel Gaddafi, a monster? Well let’s cheer while some militia men rape him with a bayonet and display his body like a slab of meat. The rioters in London a menace? Send the army in and crush those ‘chav scum’. I heard plenty of endorsement for this from people who describe themselves as liberal, it is a kneejerk inarticulate pseudo morality turned creative. If channeled by cunning rulers, perhaps ‘torment a serial killer’ theme parks will become a reality.
Oh and I noticed a great deal of screen distortion in the first part of the drama and thought it was a stylistically brilliant touch. At the break, I realized that actually most of it was the fault of my dodgy signal. A shame as it did considerably heighten the nightmarish quality!
Great points, thanks for the comment. I was initially going to write an in-depth article around a topic similar to the one you mention here, but instead tried to basically advertise the show specifically to the American audience. I did this because I have yet to meet another American who has watched the show, which is extremely unfortunate considering how great it is.
I tried to like the first season of Black Mirror but ended up after each episode thinking that too much time had been invested in being clever and not enough in being enjoyable or entertaining.
I think you have to manage your expectations with a show like Black Mirror. If you are expecting a show that will be ceaselessly gratifying or will constantly provide positive stimulation to the viewer, then you will probably be sorely disappointed after each episode. If you are expecting a psychological boot camp or a thought-provoking satire, then you will be endlessly entertained.
I have only watched one episode, but it is very intriguing. Directv shows them on their Audience channel for anyone looking where to watch.
I heard Directv was featuring the show, thanks for pointing that out Liz.
Sounds like a fascinating show, albeit a tough watch. Thanks for spreading the word; I’ll check it out.
My pleasure, you won’t be disappointed.
I thought Black Mirror was brilliant. One of the most enjoyable hours of television in a while.
God dammit Mr Brooker you’ve done it again!
Charlie’s trying too hard (and I say that as a big advocate of his).
Episode 2 of last season didn’t have to be so earnest…allegory presented in the style of a Sixth Form drama submission – awkward and contrived despite the best intentions to be clever and meaningful.
We don’t do enough British horror telly in my opinion, so if Black Mirror increases the likelihood of more being commissioned, I say hooray!
I like that the episodes alternate between technology effecting us on a more intimate level and the episodes that are just a total mind fuck.
Black Mirror was good, but Jesus was it dark – I can’t remember when I last saw something that bleak and horrifying on British TV. Which is why I’m all the more impressed with Channel 4 for letting him make it.
Yes, extremely dark. This, to me, is one of the greatest aspects of the show, as well as what sets it apart from normal, sanguine television.
I know as a cynical, technology-obsessed knobhead I’m supposed to worship the ground Charlie Brooker walks on but despite the nods to the far superior Wicker Man and Clockwork Orange I thought that was poor.
I do like some of Brooker’s articles, but don’t think I’ve ever liked any of his screenplays, the characters are either just cyphers or entirely obnoxious. With this latest one he managed to write something where you fervently dislike every single character in the entire episode.
Also, despite loads of dicks on twitter saying stuff like “the scary thing is it’s not that implausible” they’re very, very wrong – the whole conceit is utterly implausible, not to mention ridiculous. I get it’s a ‘satire’ – it would be pretty difficult to miss that – but surely as well as being a (heavy-handed) metaphor for media witchhunts and gawping dur-brains filming everything around them, shouldn’t it be believable as a straightforward story on its own terms? Which, unless you are insane, it definitely was not. SPOILER Hey folks, let’s turn a Myra Hindley-style atrocitry into an interactive Alton Towers with psychological torture experience!
Sorry, sorry, not often an Internet ranter. I hated it.
Hey thanks for the comment Kevin. Although I am saddened that you hated the show, you should never apologize for a good ol’ fashioned internet rant. You are obviously entitled to your own opinion, one which I don’t think I will be able to change here in the comments section. Agree to disagree.
But I will challenge your statement that the show is utterly implausible. Actually, someone left a nice (and long) comment above that nice articulates exactly how and why the show, in fact the very episode you mention, is extremely possible if not likely. If you ever venture back here, I would recommend that you read Forest’s comment above.
To be fair though, I think the entire point of that week’s episode was to make you have a level of disgust for everyone, was more story than character driven, the intrigue was based around what is going on rather than caring too much about the characters.
Though I loved it, I do kinda get what you’re saying. I’d love to see Brooker expand his ideas into a film, he obviously has tons of ideas, think he’s sometimes hampered by time/budget constraints.
I thought the BM concept was good and scarily it was semi-plausible, think of the anger in Soham or in Liverpool around the Bulger case, in Brooker’s BM they’d filmed torture and murder for fun .Mind, only on the proviso they did it just once. A full month of that and A. The person’s brain would be fried and B. No group of people would be sadistic enough to do that to someone over and over, however bad the crime they’d committed.
Great article. I think it’s worth mentioning that part of brilliance behind The Entire History of You was the skill and experience of co-writer Jesse Armstrong. Other episodes suffered with character development and pacing where Entire History was able to convey the intricacies of an entire relationship in under an hour. TV at it’s best!
Thanks, you make a good point as well. I am curious about how the movie will match up, I hear good things about Damien Ober.
I loved Black Mirror. Subtlety is an overrated trait of drama, I thought all the metaphors and messages were great, you couldn’t have the visceral drama and feelings without them.
I will be letting my kids watch this – as I have all BM, apart from the pig one (of course!). Great way to get them thinking about the world we live in and what kind of people they will have to deal with.
I fully agree with your point about the small number of episodes allowing you to fully comprehend and appreciate each one for its own merits. Too many shows tend to just pump out episodes until the fans become saturated and tired with it, so it’s nice that black mirror does not fall into this trap. Good article.
Hey thanks for reading, I’m glad you agree!
I can’t decide whether to love or hate Brooker’s work. On one hand it’s fairly original off-the-wall subjects but then it falls down by simply not being believable. Would any society create a theme park where the objective is to gleefully film every moment of the repeated day-by-day torture of a young woman, however detested a criminal she might have been (but can’t remember)?
Well, I doubt that any society of today would do that (…probably), at least not in the same way. I think Brooker’s idea in that episode was to take the preexisting sensationalism that many people have towards high-profile murder cases and extrapolate it, taking it to a disturbing place that is hard to define as either outrageously unbelievable or clearly indicative of the near future.
It seems to me that there has always been a trend in societies to publicly reprimand the guilty, whether it be to put them in the stockade at the public square, or to have a young disruptive student write his or her name on the chalkboard while the class watches. There seems to be a human desire to participate in the punishment of others, a desire that Brooker has taken to the extreme in White Bear.
Think what I appreciate most about Black Mirror is that opposed to envisioning a world where humanity is entirely dependent on technology only for it to dramatically malfunction, the focus is instead on how our lives are (often seemingly for the worse) affected by technology that does exactly what it’s supposed to.
Agree with the others championing The Entire History of You, and likewise am not sure if I have the heart to sit through it again. Much less a feature film adaptation.
Hoping against hope the threatened American remake series ends up dead in the water.
These are great reasons! Black Mirror has some of the most insightful commentaries on our society. Even though Black Mirror depicts a far stretch perception of society, we know it’s not entirely too far- in fact, it could very well be a representation of where we will be in the next decade.
I think one of the most appealing aspects of the show is that we are almost looking at ourselves from the outside. The show feels almost as if it’s vaguely familiar but completely unknown.
“ [T]here is a standardized taboo prevalent in countless households reinforcing the idea that film and television from other countries are somehow inherently unexceptional when held next to their American counterparts.”
Citation needed. I have not seen this in my own experiences; if anything, the impression in the United States is that the British are more artistically refined.