The cast/crew bit: written by Charlie Brooker, starring (amongst others) Daniel Kayuula, Toby Kebbell & Rory Kinnear
The ten-word synopsis: Three incredibly dark, distorted technology-based tales from Brooker.
It’d be easy to brand as a sadistic and twisted, but last years’ twisted trilogy from the mind of comedian/journalist Charlie Brooker really was a high point in the past few years of British television. Designed partially to shock, Black Mirror contaminates the mind like nothing else shown last year. Quite how a program about the Prime Minister being forced into having sex with a pig got commissioned is beyond me, (Or at least would be if Brooker weren’t involved) but I for one am glad it was.
Those who haven’t seen Black Mirror are probably best-off doing so now before I spoil anymore, as even pre-jump I’ve ruined one of the series’ most powerful moments. (It’s avalible on 4OD.com for British readers, and Amazons’ got the series on DVD for everybody else) The first episode, The National Anthem, takes a concept that would work just as well as the set-up to a comedy and plays it absolutely straight. We can’t help but sympathise for the poor fictional Prime Minister, who is played with the grim reality his situation deserves by Rory Kinnear. Yet the story isn’t really about him- It’s about us, the public, and how we react. The shows’ title refers to the appearance of a smart phone or computer screen whilst off- A black mirror, with Brooker keen to stress that the series is about the world technology may well take us to. The first episode is the closest to home, being about today’s social networking sites. The PMs’ hand is forced by a series of YouTube uploaders and those who contributed to that days’ trending topics on Twitter rather than whoever was holding ‘Princess Suzanna’ (Read: Kate Middleton) hostage. What would be a decent drama, albeit one thats appeal unravels slightly once you get over the shock, is turned into an outstanding piece of television by the realisation that, with the right push, it really could happen. We’re one twisted but able kidnapper away from us all subjecting our nations’ leader to the most traumatic events of his life.
Entitled 15 Million Merits, the second episode is far more abstract. Set in a future world in which our lives seem even more obsolete than they do right now, it follows Bing, a young, quiet, unassuming lad through his day-to-day routine, which involves basically doing nothing at all, but always being watched by the careful eye of technology. There are big digs at Xbox Kinnect and reality TV (God knows they both deserve it), and manages to turn what are usually subjects tossed-off in a juvenile fashion into something genuinely creepy and head-spinning. For me, 15 Million Merits was the highlight of the series, creating and disposing of a world and characters I cared about in the space of 50 minutes. Daniel Kayuula puts in an absolutely spellbinding performance as Bing, and would win the Owen TV Award for Best Actor, if such a thing existed.
The abstract nature of the world I eluded to is the real beauty of this episode. Whereas The National Anthem is face-punchingly obvious in its assault on social media, quite what this instalment was trying to say isn’t obvious until long afterwards. In what I like to call ‘The Donnie Darko Effect’, I found myself lying awake on night of broadcast, before deciding at 1AM that I really couldn’t sleep and began watching it on 4OD. Bing’s final, confrontational speech (You’ll know what I’m talking about if you’ve watched it) makes perfect sense in our world as well as there’s- Its built up to for 40+ minutes, but taken out of context it’s just as powerful. The ending as well- (Look away for the rest of this paragraph if you haven’t seen it, please) Whereas Bing initially looked to prove the wrongs of the system, he’s now been sucked into it, just doing his ‘rant of the week’ because people find it entertaining. It’s a tragic reflection on not just what human beings desire, but also career of Charlie Brooker himself- He went out, wanting to prove a point, but people just clapped at him, asking for more.
The final instalment, The Entire History of You, was something of a let down, but still posed an interesting and original idea. I think the episode may have lost some of the power that the original two had by falling inbetween them- Whereas episode one was very real and modern-day and episode two was a futuristic,different world, this was set around 20 years into the future, and as such didn’t have the impact of the other two. It’s also probably notable that, despite them being unrelated stories, The Entire History of You does feel slightly like a ‘Greatest Hits’ tape. Just like the rest of the series, it’s all plotted around one original idea, and the key scene involved the main character (The disappointingly unlikeable Liam, played by Toby Kebbell) being forced to watch somebody he loves having sex with another person. Familiarity breeds complacency, and that’s what how finale felt- complacent. It’s not bad by an stretch, but it just wasn’t anywhere near the stand-out quality of the rest of the series.
The headline says “Series One”, but in reality, this reality, rather than a twisted Brooker-created version, there may not be a second. The original was a critical success and received decent viewing figures, but Channel 4 is yet to commission another run. Despite the somewhat disappointing but still good final episode, Black Mirror was the highlight of last winters’ cold, long evenings as far as the tellybox went, and to not receive more of it? That would be a world worth branding twisted an sadistic.
8 Million Merits out of 10