A lot of the hype and excitement I’ve heard surrounding the newly available British anthology series, Black Mirror is in regards to it’s Twilight Zone-like approach to current day societal fears and anxieties about technology, politics, and the like. And rightly so, after quickly watching all six episodes on Netflix over the weekend I can completely see the similarities in both format and storytelling.
While I haven’t seen a lot of TheTwilight Zone, I don’t even know what else you could compare this show to, which is a very good thing. Black Mirror really succeeds because of all the things it does differently. Each episode features a different plot, different cast, and even takes place in a different reality (present, future, dystopian, or alternative universe).
For me, as a frequent TV viewer, I find it’s anthology-ness refreshing. At a point in time where everything is a prequel, sequel, or remake and everything else gets a movie, book, or graphic novel tie-in, original stand-alone stories are few and far between. That’s not to say that I’m not immune to wishing for more, some of the episodes could have made for an interesting series all on their own, but I think another reason Black Mirror works so well is because they aren’t trying to do more.
You can tell a pretty compelling story in 44 mins. I won’t go into individual plot details because I think you’re better off going in blind, but short-form storytelling is a thing for a reason. Poems, songs, short stories, and short films all manage to do it.
And just because the vast majority of TV shows embrace long form storytelling doesn’t mean there isn’t an inherent advantage to doing so. Sophomore slumps, over extended and overly complex overarching storylines, and TV shows that outlive their initial premise can quickly sour with viewers.
Single episode stories also mean very little in the way of exposition. Black Mirror doesn’t coddle it’s audience. Each episode viewers are thrown in, no pilot episode introducing everyone, no second episode re-introducing everyone, no previously on segment, and no familiar episode formula to fall back on. It’s active viewing at its best.
And then of course, as I sat on my couch for several hours straight, staring at my computer screen, I realized first hand how Black Mirror succeeds on two levels – as both an entertaining TV show and as a mildly frightening commentary on our attachment to technology and its influence in our everyday lives.
With that said, I still highly recommend checking out Black Mirror for yourself. Two seasons are currently available on Netflix. (A Christmas special is scheduled to air Tuesday December 16th on Channel 4, but there’s no word on when that episode might become available in the United States. For now the first two seasons will have to do.)
If you’ve already seen the series, what did you think? Which episodes were your favorites? “The National Anthem” (1×1) and “White Bear” (2×2) top my list.