This sci-fi miniseries from the UK should be much more widely talked about than it is. Black Mirror is the best thing I’ve seen on TV this year (Breaking Bad comes a close second). It is superbly crafted, intelligent, disturbing, and compelling. And it is not just entertaining TV; Black Mirror also serves as a timely warning about the dangerous possibilities of technology.
Created and written by Charlie Brooker, the first season of Black Mirror aired in 2011 and the second in early 2013. Each season is made up of three self-contained episodes. There are no recurring characters or continuing storylines, and episodes are linked only by theme. “[T]hey’re all about the way we live now” Brooker writes in an article for The Guardian, “–and the way we might be living in 10 minutes’ time if we’re clumsy.” Each episode takes an element of modern society and/or technology – social networking, reality television, the proliferation of smartphones – and pushes it very gently in a dystopian direction. Surprisingly (and unsettlingly) most things don’t need much of a nudge before they become disturbing. In the second episode of season one (titled “15 Million Merits”), for example, we are presented with a futuristic community that is powered by workers on exercise bikes and entertained by first person shooter computer games, soft-core pornography, and reality shows like “Hot Shots” (read “American Idol”) and “Botherguts” (“The Biggest Loser”, perhaps?). Everyone has their own avatar, and ‘merits’ earned through cycling can be used to buy new accessories for your computer generated you. The only way out of the rat race is to impress the judges on “Hot Shots” and be given a spot on television. However, even this ‘escape’ is not the dream it promises to be.
Every episode of Black Mirror ends in a way that is at once completely surprising and completely obvious. Each ending made me think: ‘Of course! Of course it would have to end that way’ but at the same time I didn’t see it coming. Each episode is beautifully and soul-shatteringly formed – a perfect little gem, a self-contained story that is enormous in scope and theme. Where Black Mirror really succeeds is in the way it is able to capture the world we live in today. We recognise ourselves and our society in each scene – in the “Hot Shots” TV talent competitions and the way we create ‘singers’ just to turn them into sluts (Miley Cyrus, anyone?), and in the never ending purchasing of virtual stuff (“[I]t’s confetti”, a character in “15 Million Merits” laments). As Charlie Brooker writes in The Guardian: “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.” Black Mirror is an often chilling reminder of where we could be heading, and it is incredibly crafted television. Suspenseful, eerie, sometimes slightly shocking, but a must-see. Watch Black Mirror, tell your friends about it, and watch it again. You won’t be disappointed.
At the International Emmys in 2012 Black Mirror won the award for Best TV movie/mini-series. Black Mirror airs on the BBC Channel 4. Watch clips from Black Mirror at the Channel 4 website, or read Charlie Brooker’s article in The Guardian here. There are rumours of a third season – fingers crossed!