Black Mirror: Netflix’s Dark Reality Show

The online streaming service juggernaut known as Netflix is known for their massive amount of original content. Six years ago the company released their first series, titled Lillyhammer. Half a dozen years later they have amassed smash hits such as Orange is the New Black, Sense8, Stranger Things,  and The Crown. There have been several shows dedicated to Marvel characters, animated series that will give you an existence crisis paired with a laugh, reality challenge shows, and feel-good sitcoms. They revived Clone Wars, Wet Hot American Summer, and Arrested Development. Netflix has also produced dozens of comedy specials, talk shows, and even some very successful original feature films. However nothing, and I mean nothing on any streaming service, cable channel, or movie theater can compare to the phenomenal series Black Mirror.

Black Mirror, for those few people who clicked on this article but don’t know what the show is about (highly unlikely but hey, it could happen (P.S. There will be spoilers later on)), is an anthology program. There are separate stories that highlight the dangers of technology. Much in the vein of old shows like Twilight Zone and Hammer House of Horror. Most of the shows feature a form of technology that appears fictional, but could probably one day exist. The key reason there are so many fans is the extremely dark tone of the series. Almost every episode ends with the protagonist losing, or being exposed as a villain. My personal reason for loving the show derives from the fact that there really aren’t many lines the show wont cross, but we’ll get to the details later. Most people do not feel good after watching Black Mirror. The show reminds all of us just how ugly and corrosive our lives are. It is a reflection of humanity. The title itself is an analogy for the things we stare at all day, reflecting back at us the miserable thing you see when the screen goes dark.

 

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The show was originally created by Charlie Brooker, a British native that had a decade of television work under his belt before the shows creation,  for the TV channel BBC4. The first two seasons were mainly written by Charlie and his wife Konnie Huq, along with the other show runner Annabel Jones. In 2015 BBC4 was losing the rights to the show, regardless of the huge success the series had. That is when Netflix stepped in and bought the show, keeping Charlie Brooker on as one of the main writers. The first two seasons combine to six episodes accompanied by a Christmas special. After the Netflix acquisition there were twelve more episodes and a film released (Black Mirror: Bandersnatch). Thirteen of the episodes have been nominated for awards. Many of them receiving multiple nominations, like USS Callister (24) and winning the 2018 Art Directors Guild Award for best Television Movie or Limited Series; and San Junipero (16) winning two 2017 Emmy’s for Outstanding Television Movie and Outstanding Writing. There are even more individual awards for the incredibly talented people working on the show for Production Design, Hair and Makeup, Sound, Photography, Writing, the list goes on. The show is an incredible achievement and the anthology format allows for individual moments of emotion and depravity.

One thing I have admire when talking to other people about Black Mirror is the individual favorites lists. Some of my personal favorites are Shut Up and Dance, The Entire History of You, Arkangel, Crocodile, and USS Callister. When I talk to others, I’ve heard almost every other episode listed as the best in the series, or at the very least best of the season; well all except one. The very first episode of Black Mirror was titled The National Anthem. The episode highlights how powerful social media is and what a British politician is willing to go for his country… unfortunately he has to fuck a pig on live television. The reason behind this act is to save a royal princess. So even though they try as hard as possible to save the princess using technology, ultimately the politician does the deed. It’s a fucking gross episode. Lucky the second episode, titled Fifteen Million Merits, pulled me, as well as many others, in. Daniel Kaluuya stars in one of the best episodes of the series and really gives us an episode that fits the overall theme of Black Mirror a little better. This one shows us a dystopian future where people are forced to watch advertisements and interact with study campaigns to earn a right to get famous on a televised talent competition. The episode plays out that a man (Daniel), in love with a girl, offers her a chance to become a famous singer at his expense, and instead she becomes a porn star. He, in a fit of revenge, is hell-bent and wants to take down the system that has destroyed his happiness, and ends up becoming a radio personality. The point is that everyone, no matter their ambitions or morals will always sell out to be famous. I won’t break down every single episode, I would much rather you actually go through them all on your own. The point is to show how wildly different each episode can be. Discover your own personal guilty pleasure/therapy. What sick and fucked up things are in your head based on what you like to watch.

 

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In December 2018 Netflix released a Black Mirror movie titled Bandersnatch. Written by Charlie Brooker. The film is very unique because its interactive format. The viewer gets to choose the path the main character goes down through a series of choices. There are several different endings and they vary from depressing, psychotic, meta, trippy, and action packed. There are several easter eggs to the Black Mirror series as well as a moment where you can actually see the people working on the movie itself. The aspect of the multiple paths is actually a part of the story, as well as the person viewing it having an active role in the fucking movie itself. This is an experience I honestly don’t think anything other movie could have pulled off as perfectly as Black Mirror did.

The story revolves around a boy in the 80’s named Stefan Butler, played by Fionn Whitehead, who is programming a choose-your-own-adventure game titled Bandersnatch. The game is based on a choose-your-own-adventure book he read with the same title. The writer of the book went crazy and killed his wife. So of course nothing could go wrong, right? I’ve watched/played through the movie about 3 times now. The length of the film can vary based on your decisions but for the most part every time has been around an hour-long. I got a few different endings and kept track of my decisions to see what would happen when I choose a different path. I was pretty pleased. My favorite endings were seeing Stefan go completely crazy and chop up his dad and finish the game with a 5/5 rating. Another was seeing a time warp to the people making the Netflix movie, and getting to interact with the programmer, making her go just as insane. After a few runs I thought I had basically seen everything. Then I talked to some friends that had also viewed the movie and found out how wrong I was. There were entire choices and scenes I never saw. I found out how different the endings can get and the easter eggs that could be triggered after looping back around to the alternate timelines. I was just as shocked to find out that friends of mine had never even see the parts of the movie that were my favorite. Talking about that movie has brought me more joy and excitement than any other movie I can think of in recent years. I want to watch through it several more times just to see what we all might have missed. And I have plenty of time too. Apparently the production of Bandersnatch was so daunting that we will have a few years before Season 5 of Black Mirror sees the light of day.

 

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I said it before but Black Mirror is a guilty pleasure. You really do not feel good after watching an episode. Even some of the more “positive” episodes, like Nosedive and Black Museum, are incredibly depressing. It isn’t a show you cannot binge. For all the terrible things we see in the stories themselves, the worst part is knowing that it is a reflection. These are fictional stories that represent the real darkness we all see in real life. Politicians have no idea what they’re doing and the masses don’t care (The Waldo Moment). People die and we don’t ever get the closure we want (Be Right Back). The people in the military are just used as weapons with no regard for what happens to their souls (Men Against Fire). People kill innocents, child pornography exists, evil is out there and closer to the heart then we know. And the overall theme the show continually highlights is that technology may give us great leaps but it is a disease as well. We rely and indulge on it too much and without moderation anything that has benefit is corruptible. As the creator of the show has said “If technology is a drug, and it does feel like a drug, then what, precisely, are the side effects?”

If you are reading this after staring at your screen for a few hours, then turn off the phone/TV/computer and take some time away from the cold black screens you see yourself in every day.

 

Series watched and article written by: Troy Smith

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