Last week, Netflix revealed that Black Mirror, the dystopic British anthology series that takes a dark look at the future of technology, was coming to the streaming service with a whole new batch of episodes. We’re huge fans of the series already—but if you’re not, here’s just a few reasons why you should be.
Now, that little tidbit of information may fly over the heads of all but my fellow UK-based readers (who are currently nodding sagely in agreement, supping at a cup of tea), but for those who aren’t familiar with Brooker, he’s essentially one of the sharpest, funniest satirists working in the UK at the moment. A talented writer and broadcaster, before Black Mirror Brooker was best known in the UK for his satirical Newswipe and Screenwipe series. On both, he reviewed television and news events with a deeply sardonic bent—often nailing to the wall how and why we consume and create media and news, and the absurdity that entails. It’s that sort of laser-focus and keen-eyed view of the world and media around us that lead to Black Mirror.
But Black Mirror isn’t Brooker’s first attempt at blending genre writing with his satirical outlook on the 21st century; he also wrote the British miniseries Dead Set, which followed the cast and crew of a series of Big Brother during a zombie apocalypse. That exact sort of approach—blending a critique about the state and adoration of reality TV through the lens of zombies ripping people apart—is so in line with Black Mirror that Dead Set is almost like a prequel, despite being completely unrelated.
But while Brooker’s satire primarily focuses on the here and now, Black Mirror is all about telling stories of our future—and how our current technology and media, especially social media, could look in a decade or two.
In its nature as an anthology series, each episode of Black Mirror is contained within its own standalone world—but they’re linked by the advanced nature of the technology that is in the hands of its characters and the public in general. It’s sort of a sideways step, or look at our near future where everything is familiar save for some incredible piece of technology.
Things like services that let you recreate replicas of people based solely on the information they’ve shared on social media accounts. Technology that lets you rewind and relive, and even edit, your memories. Google Glass-esque implants that let you record and capture images, watch television or even “block” people from your view, like you would on Twitter or Facebook. Amazon Echo-like devices that use advanced A.I. to manage your smart-device-enhanced homes. It never strays far enough to be into a world of spaceships and high-level science fiction, but it’s far enough to get to see some amazing technology.
But Black Mirror’s great strength is in taking that technology, or more specifically our reliance on that technology, and giving it a thrillingly dark, yet entirely logical twist. The ideas of the tech I mentioned above might, at first glance, sound amazing—they might even sound like natural evolutions of technology we have today.
But Black Mirror makes you think about that technology, about what it could really be used for... and basically, how humans will screw up this incredible technology and turn it into something petrifying, or become slaves to it (like we are to our phones and tablets today) and turn ourselves into something equally scary. It’s sort of like Twlight Zone for the 21st century—but darkly funny in a way, as it pokes and prods at the silliness behind the way we consume and embrace technology as part of our lives, no matter how messed up it can be. What would it feel like to be on the receiving end of a real-life “block,” like the characters in “White Christmas,” where no one can see or acknowledge your own existence? Could you really bring someone back from the dead just through trawling what they shared of themselves on social media, as happens in “Be Right Back”?
Black Mirror is all about the darkness of the future, tapping into our anxieties over technology and the role it plays in our lives—and not just any future, but one we’re making for ourselves.
But while technology (and a healthy fear of it) have always been hallmarks of good science fiction, what makes Black Mirror work so well, what makes it so chilling and intense, is that among the technology it’s a deeply human series.
The focus is always stunningly real. It’s never about the ramifications of technology on a wider societal level but through the lens of a handful of characters. The technology, as scary as it can be, is never the element directly responsible for the messed-up scenarios that play out in each episode; it’s the people who make, use, and (almost worryingly above all) normalize it. It’s what people do, what they stoop themselves to, that makes the show so engaging. The technology itself is just a hook to take a look at ourselves in a fascinatingly dark manner.
It’s the realism, the tacit acknowledgement that any one of the dystopias that plays out in an episode of the show could actually happen, that amps the fear up even more. It’s telling how close Black Mirror cuts itself to our world that when an unfortunate story about the British Prime Minister recently made waves on the internet, the first response (beyond shock) was to compare just how similar the incident was to the scenario of Black Mirror’s first episode, “The National Anthem.”
Without that real, human element to it, Black Mirror wouldn’t be anywhere near as special as it is—with it, it’s one of the most important pieces of science fiction in the last decade.
Above all, however, the best thing about the decision to bring a new series of Black Mirror to Netflix is that it means a scifi show this smart and well-made has a chance at survival, and to flourish beyond the relatively niche admiration it currently has.
You know how us Brits like our TV: in small doses. It’s why there have only been seven episodes of Black Mirror in the past four years. The freedom of a service like Netflix allows the show to expand itself beyond the confines it would usually find itself in and deliver even more brilliance to your screens. Twelve whole episodes of it! It’s an embarrassment of Black Mirror riches.
But also because it also means Black Mirror avoids what could have been a very real threat of cancellation—in the UK, the series was made for the national, publically-owned Channel 4. Channel 4 is partially funded by the British public, while making the rest of its money up as a commercial business. It’s a setup that has made Channel 4 garner a reputation as a place for edgy, daring shows (especially scifi like Black Mirror and, for example, Utopia) that you wouldn’t see on a network like the BBC.
However, recent news in the UK about the current government’s proposals to completely privatise Channel 4 could mean that the broadcaster has to cut back on its programming with a reduced budget—leaving Black Mirror potentially doomed. On Netflix, alongside the service’s own cache of original programming like House of Cards or Daredevil, Black Mirror no longer needs to worry about the whims of broadcast Television in the UK; it’s free to keep scaring the living daylights out of us for as long as it needs to.
The best thing however? You don’t have to wait to dig in—if you’ve never seen Black Mirror before, all six episodes (aside from the wonderfully nightmarish, yet bleakly hopeful Christmas Special) are available to watch on Netflix right now.
Go on. You know you want to.