Saturday, January 10, 2015

Streaming "must"--technology vs society in the slightly futuristic Brit TV series BLACK MIRROR

Comparison has been made between our own, ancient television series, The Twilight Zone, and BLACK MIRROR, the relatively new (2011-14) hour-long British television series from Channel 4 that tackles the idea of our new technology and how it is affecting society. It does this via a half dozen stand-alone episodes that involve different characters, their employment and relationships with friends and family. And although it is "futuristic," it is only just so -- the technology and situations we see here are but a few steps away from what we are already experiencing. Yet Black Mirror is as au courant and subtle as The Twilight Zone was (often, at least) well ahead of its time and ham-fisted in its telling.

The creation of a fellow named Charlie Brooker, shown at left, the series (from the four out of six episodes I've so far seen) is extremely bright in terms of its smart, fast dialog and minimal exposition, even as its subject matter is exceedingly dark. Brooker both created the series and wrote seven of its (so far) nine installments, and his touch is light but definitive. The series is satirical in its way and often darkly humorous -- but with a gasp just behind the laugh so that it remains a genuinely serious look at the way we (almost) live now.

These first four episodes involve everything from the British Prime Minister (Rory Kinnear, front row center, above) and his staff coming up against a kidnapping of a member of the royal family (in which the ransom is a deal-breaking doozy) to a future in which proles run on treadmills (are they perhaps producing energy) for their daily bread, while aspiring to appear on a TV talent show all too much like the schlock with which we're already saddled. (That's Rupert Everett, below, right, as the smarmiest of the three "talent judges.")

The situations in these first two episodes are so alternately mind-blowing and -numbing that we're carried away by the plot machinations of the first and the bizarre environment of the second. Even so, Brooker's fine use of irony throughout, together with the excellent casts he has garnered, make the experience continuously riveting.

The two runner/contestants we come to know and care most about in episode two are played very well by Daniel Kaluuya (above) and Downton Abbey's Jessica Brown Findlay (below). Despite the futuristic time table, how each of these decent and quirky characters ends up is filled with the same shame exhibited by our current society.

Episode three involves a technology just the other side of Google Glass, in which any past experience can be visually/audially saved and replayed at the whim of its owner. This leads to a story of infidelity and recrimination that engulfs our non-hero, played with increasing agitation and anger by a very good Toby Kebbell (below, and seen using that technology).

The fourth in the series may be its most haunting and moving, as we learn how society has found a way in which to handle the loss of a loved one. This hour calls to mind the recent movie Her, but goes its own way and discovers, as is Mr. Brooker's wont, as many negatives as positives to this new "technology." Actors Hayley Atwell (below, left) and Domhnall Gleeson (below, right) bring to life their two memorable characters with grace and grit.

I have two episodes remaining to watch (I hope that Netflix gets hold of Black Mirror's famous Christmas special with Jon Hamm very soon, as well as the rest of Season Three), but I am in no hurry. For one thing, I don't want this experience to come to an end. Secondly, as none of the episodes connect to another in any ongoing way, there's no need to binge.

Mostly though, I wait between episodes because television this good deserves to be pondered and bounced around a bit in one's brain before proceeding. You can see the first six episode of Black Mirror now via Netflix streaming

No comments: