Black Mirror

About a year ago, American nerds on Twitter started raving about a television series called Black Mirror. I was rather surprised to discover it was an obscure British show from 2011, but found it had grown in popularity through 2013-14 whereupon Netflix picked it up, ploughed in some money, and released another two seasons. This explains how American audiences suddenly got interested.

I started watching it when I first heard about it, but gave up after the first two episodes which I thought were vaguely interesting but nothing special. Then about a month ago I’d watched everything else on my list so gave it another go, and was hooked. The series consists of stand-alone stories of between 45 and 90 minutes all set in the reasonably near future where different technologies are deployed in everyday life. Society looks pretty much as it does now, only augmented by new technologies, and although some feature in multiple stories, you generally get a different one each episode. Almost always, the storyline revolves around some ethical problem the technology throws up, and how it can be harnessed for the good, create moral dilemmas, or abused for nefarious ends. The mood is generally dark, but occasionally one is positively uplifted, for instance in the episode San Junipero.

While most people rate Black Mirror highly overall, there is little agreement over which episodes are the best and worst. I didn’t find any of them terrible, and most were very good with one or two being brilliant. My favourite was White Christmas, with an ending so horrific it gave me nightmares that evening. White Bear, San Junipero, Shut Up and Dance, and USS Callister were probably the next best, in no particular order. I think it speaks to the strength and depth of each storyline that there is little consensus on which episodes are the best, and it really comes down to what aspect strikes a chord with you. Aside from the intriguing technology, the acting is superb with many a famous face popping up, and the series being split between America and the UK keeps things fresh.

Black Mirror was probably the best television series I’ve watched in a long time, and shows the exceptional talent of Charlie Brooker, who wrote most of the storylines. I don’t mind admitting there were two or three episodes which made me wish I’d written something half as good. If you’re into sci-fi, I highly recommend it.

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19 thoughts on “Black Mirror

  1. Thanks for the reminder. There are a few episodes I haven’t seen yet, White Christmas being one of them.

  2. Yes, agree totally. And you don’t have to be into science fiction to enjoy them; there is much social commentary there too.

  3. Mark Mayenne, if you read Philip K. Dick or Robert Heinlein then you begin to realise that most sci-fi literature is social commentary.

    I haven’t watched Black Mirror. Probably because it was on Channel 4 and most of what is on there is absolute dross. I’ll have to give it a go.

  4. @Henry Crun: indeed. The best science fiction is about the social implications of new technology. Fantasy-set-in-space excluded (E.g. Dune)

  5. “if you read Philip K. Dick or Robert Heinlein then you begin to realise that most sci-fi literature is social commentary.”

    Certainly enough social commentary, but if either author was science fiction it’s news to me. Westerns rescripted with spaceships instead of horses don’t make it science fiction.

  6. But thanx for the heads up on Black Mirror. Browsed pastr it on Netflix but was under the impression it was yet more out of the Marvel Comics stable. There’s only so much mutant super heroes one can take.

  7. I liked it as well, but I felt that they started retreading ideas in the more recent seasons.

  8. On the basis that your recommendation of “Once a Pilgrim” by James Deegan turned out to be an excellent read, I have immediately ordered the Black Mirror DVDs, and look forward to a long boxsetathon. Thank you.

    NB re. James Deegan: very much in the Stephen Leather mould, if you want more of the similar. Both “The Chinaman” and “The Bombmaker” have Irish themes.

  9. I have immediately ordered the Black Mirror DVDs, and look forward to a long boxsetathon.

    Ooh, pressure’s on! I hope you like it or you’ll be back here demanding a refund.

    James Deegan: very much in the Stephen Leather mould, if you want more of the similar.

    I know Stephen Leather, but only because of Private Dancer. In all honesty I’m not a huge fan of the genre, I bought Deegan’s book because one of Tim Worstall’s readers knows the author and recommended it.

  10. Black Mirror is what happens when you throw a lot of money at The Outer Limits and Century City.

    most sci-fi literature is social commentary

    If all you’re reading is social science fiction, sure. That’s like saying “most fantasy is about the epic struggle between good and evil in a fantastic otherworld told from the viewpoint of seemingly insignificant protagonists”.

  11. Somewhat at a tangent, but I do think The Twilight Zone has aged exceptionally well.

  12. “most sci-fi literature is social commentary”
    True sci-fi is social commentary. It explores how people might react to technical innovation. Which is why much of what’s regarded as sci-fi – Star Wars for instance – isn’t. Setting action movies in galactic empires doesn’t make it sci-fi. And nor were many of the novels from the classic days of SF. They more appropriately belong in the fantasy genre.

  13. I preferred the British ones. I couldn’t get into the American versions but at some point in the future I’ll give it another go.

  14. And nor were many of the novels from the classic days of SF. They more appropriately belong in the fantasy genre.

    Cool story, bro.

  15. In a similar anthology vein, I highly recommend Inside No 9: not so much sci-fi, but very much in the dark mood. And a couple of their episodes—particularly 12 Days of Christine—are, in my opinion, some of the best television ever made.

    They are all on Netflix too…

    DK

  16. In a similar anthology vein, I highly recommend Inside No 9: not so much sci-fi, but very much in the dark mood.

    Ooh, thanks, I’ll look at that.

  17. Re “is it sci-fi” I think it’s a shame that “speculative fiction” and even “weird fiction” didn’t emerge earlier as labels. I think they are more useful in some ways – and there’s certainly some very fine work that gets sniffed at or overlooked by getting shelved under “fantasy/scifi” which perhaps another designation might have freed from its niche.

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