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Black Mirror series one

April 7, 2013

imagesIn case it’s not transparently obvious by now, I’m a big fan of anthology tv series.  While this program format has been almost completely abandoned, Charles Brooker decided to resurrect it with the 2011 British series Black Mirror.  I’m always going through some anthology series as part of my regular DVD viewing and was reliving a piece of my misspent youth by watching season one of Tales from the Darkside.  Then my package from Amazon UK arrived containing Black Mirror.  I had just finished up season one of Tales (a review will follow) and had heard good stuff about Black Mirror so I decided to move to that before jumping into season two of the Darkside and I’m really glad I did.

Black Mirror is easily the best anthology series I have seen in a long time.  The way I like to describe it is The Twilight Zone for the 21st century.  There are only three episodes in the first season but all of them are awesome.  I’m going to give a short description of just the set-up for each story as this show is new enough that I don’t want to spoil it for anyone.  While the series is considered a genre show, the first episode is actually more of a political thriller and, the second doesn’t really need to be in a genre setting even though it is.  The first story is called National Anthem and takes place in modern Britain.  The princess (ok, so it’s an alternate reality modern Britain) is kidnapped and the perp says he will kill her in 24 hours unless the Prime Minister goes on live television and performs an incredibly unsavory and illegal act.  There is also a list of rules given to prevent the PM from cheating his way out of the demand.  Of course, at first everyone is in agreement that there is no way that he will be asked to do something like this by his country.  But then things amp up and events start going off the rails. The results are pretty devastating to watch and that is how the show won me over.  As I started watching National Anthem, not only could I not tear my eyes away because I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, at the same time I couldn’t believe that this was actually broadcast on television.  The other thing that held a firm grip on my attention was that I really had no idea how the story was going to end.  National Anthem proved to be a strong story with an equal powerful statement about society.

The next episode is called 15 Million Merits and takes place in a somewhat dystopian future.  The people of this world live in an environment saturated with media that includes broadcast as well as virtual reality content.  Bing Madsen is the resident we follow as he finds one individual named Abi with a real talent for singing.  He gifts Abi an entry to their version of an X-factor type show which is really more like America’s Got Talent for those familiar with that program.  The entry price is 15 million merits, hence the name of the episode.  We the get to watch the effect of the results of this competition on Abi as well as Bing himself.  The episode is a satire of reality tv and even more so the nature of the celebrity that such shows grant.  There was one point during this episode where I realized that, if it had been written for an American audience, the story would pretty much resolve itself with the scene I was watching leading to one of two possible endings.  15 Million Merits went well beyond this point and featured a conclusion that was even darker than either of the ones I had imagined.  This totally made the episode for me.

Finally, we get the episode The Entire History of You.  In this story we see a world where people are implanted with a device called a grain which allows them to record and replay their life experiences at will.  It’s an interesting technology that seems to have even supplanted regular television as people play back pieces of their lives on their televisions for one another. The story follows a lawyer who seems to suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder when it comes to this technology as we see him incessantly revisiting scene after scene over and over again.  This story, on a basic level, reminded me a bit of the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind even though the thrust of that film is about erasing memories rather than saving them.  Between this and an ending that I felt was broadcast pretty loudly early on in the epsiode, I have to say that this was my least favorite episode of the three.  When I say this, it is in the same way that I would say that a particular type of chocolate is my least favorite as The Entire History of You was still a great story with some powerful observations about human behavior.

These stories are all pretty strong stuff as Brooker doesn’t seem to feel the need to pull many punches in his writing.  This serves to further increase my respect for this series and I really can’t recommend Black Mirror strongly enough.  The quality of the wrting is very much on par with some of the classic political/social commentary episodes of The Twilight Zone like The Obsolete Man or Eye of the Beholder.  As we enter an age where people can encase themselves with information sources that only support their particular worldview, shows like Black Mirror become that much more important as they serve to make us challenge our notions and, hopefully make us stop and question ourselves. The second series has already shown in the UK and I’m already dying to see it.  Unfortunately, Black Mirror is not currently available in the US but the quality of the series is such that I think it’s only a matter of time before it is picked up by one of the cable channels.

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