Black Mirror is like The Twilight Zone, brought forward to the age of social media and smart phones. Most of the stories are set in a very recognizable near future, with one or two tricky technologies that have evolved from current technology and subtly broken the society in “chaf”Charlie some way. The first episode, “The National Anthem,” could easily take place today, with characters inspired by Kate Middleton and British PM David Cameron. “Fifteen Million Merits” is the furthest afield. It seems to take place after an energy crisis that reshaped society into Brave New World plus The X-Factor, gamification, and porn ad pop-ups.
Robert J. Sawyer is one of my favorite living science-fiction authors. Black Mirror reminds me of his clever approach to social science-fiction. In Sawyer’s novels, scientific proof of the soul results in new jewelry trends and ghastlier fixations for serial killers. In Black Mirror, new technology gives spouses new ways to escalate marital disputes and brave new worlds of pornography. Black Mirror reminds me of good literary science-fiction, and that pleases me greatly.
Black Mirror is very risqué by American standards. Sex (usually disturbing sex) is at the forefront for each of the first four episodes, ranging from a lonely widow to a Prime Minister who needs Jack Bauer or a special Act of Parliament in order to avoid a billion dollar FCC fine.
Its creator, Charlie Brooker, is best known for writing satire. All of the stories contain a kernel of black comedy and cringe-inducing familiarity. Most episodes of the show aren’t scary per se, but they are often sad or uncomfortable. The characters are often toying with technology that is physically safe, but psychologically dangerous. The fifth episode, “White Bear,” manages to be both horror and horrifying.
Black Mirror is unsettling in the way that great dystopian fiction and great satire is often unsettling. It holds a black mirror up to modern life in a way that is fascinating, thought provoking, and very entertaining. Fans of good science-fiction literature and biting satirists like George Carlin or Lewis Black should definitely check out Black Mirror.
Like so much of the best British television, the two seasons of Black Mirror are frustratingly short: Three one-hour episodes, plus a new Christmas special. Black Mirror is a show to be sipped, savored, and digested, not a show to binge on. Just have Kleenex handy, and be ready to turn the show off in mid-episode occasionally if you feel a desperate need to flee from your consumer electronics.
Black Mirror is available to stream on Netflix Instant. Watching the show by other means in the US may be difficult; the US Amazon and iTunes sites don’t have it available for streaming or Region 1 DVDs.
When Todd Mathison’s relatives asked about his life at Christmas, he talked about cats for ten minutes. He has written The Real Simulacra, a mystery / science-fiction novel born from Phillip K. Dick stories and too many rainy West Coast winters. The Real Simulacra is available at Amazon, iTunes, Barnes and Noble if you ask nicely, and www.Lulu.com.