With Hollywood seemingly focused on remakes and broadcast television struggling to get many shows past a first or second season, it is refreshing to find something both daring and original. Netflix and cable television tend to lead the way in bold new works and “Black Mirror,” which just released its third series on the streaming platform, is not to be ignored.
The easiest way to describe the show is to call it the modern-day version of “The Twilight Zone.” But to do so is not quite fair or accurate. Certainly there are parallels between the two, but without the limits of broadcast television (and especially without the watchful eye of the standards & practices department), “Black Mirror” is able to push the boundaries to the extreme.
An anthology series, each stand-alone episode focuses on a separate story line and features different actors. Throughout the first three series (seasons in Britain, where the show originated), familiar faces include Bryce Dallas Howard, Jon Hamm, Downtown Abbey’s Jessica Brown Findlay and Game of Thrones’ Faye Marsay. This is the perfect binge-watching show as each season is short, with series one and two comprising of a total of 7 episodes while the third installment features six.
The stories all feature what is best described as “speculative fiction” with the primary focus on modern technology and society. There is no doubt that almost all of us have become slaves to our iPhones, computers and technology in general. So what would happen if these devices turned on us, a la HAL in “2001: A Space Odyssey” or “The Birds” in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film? Imagine a world where you could literally remember and replay any event. Would that be an improvement or ultimately a negative?
While the series maintains a mostly high level of quality and stories, there are some that stand out from the crowd. The holiday special “White Christmas’ featuring Jon Hamm is one of the best of season two, while season three’s trio of final episodes may be the best of the bunch, with “San Junipero” vying for the title of best of the series. This story, set primarily in the 1980s, makes great use of the time’s music, including a well-known song in the final minutes that one would normally assume was written specifically for the episode…had it not been released in the late 80s. Also, be sure to stay through the credits, as the post-script of several stories plays out during them.
Some viewers may be put off by the subject of the series first episode, “The National Anthem,” but stick around and at least give the full three episodes of the first series a chance. Because of its originality and the use of mostly English actors (especially in the early episodes) there is a bit of a learning curve. This is certainly not mass-market Hollywood entertainment and, at first, that can be a bit jarring to the viewer.
For viewers who have completed all 13 episodes, now the long wait begins. A fourth series has been announced but no release date has been determined. That leaves fans with plenty of time to discuss the existing stories and their subjects.
You may never look at your iPhone the same way again. Or perhaps “Black Mirror” will encourage you to put it down and look around…before it’s too late.
****1/2 out of *****
Created by Charlie Brooker
A Netflix Original Series
Series 1-3 Now Available
Photo: Daniel Kaluuya as “Bing” in the “Black Mirror” episode “Fifteen Million Merits”