Sunday, 8 February 2015

Black Mirror (Series 1-2 + Special)

One TV series I watched when I was younger was the 1980's version of The Twilight Zone. Though I did enjoy it, I eventually checked out the original series created by Rod Serling that ran from 1959 to 1964. As most of you are well aware, it was superior to the 80's revival in every way- writing, acting, plot, etc. Over it's 5 seasons it presented us with ideas that were interesting, haunting and though provoking. From episodes set in the Old West to ones set across the galaxy on a far away planet, The Twilight Zone is still the benchmark of science fiction on TV. So when I heard about Black Mirror it peaked my interest as it shared some similarities with Rod Serling's masterpiece. But while Black Mirror doesn't reach the heights of The Twilight Zone, at times it gets pretty damn close, and that's something I never thought I'd say about any TV series... ever.

Created by Charlie Brooker (did you know he created the CeX logo?) and out now on DVD comes Black Mirror - Series 1-2 + Special, a boxset which contain some of the best science fiction I've seen on TV in years. Black Mirror generally focuses on humanity's increasing need and dependency of technology, the follies of social media and futures where both may be our downfall. Much like The Twilight Zone, each episode of Black Mirror is a self contained story. While they do seem to all take place within the same time-line, jumping in and out of random episodes won't ruin your viewing experience. Featuring 3 episodes a piece in series 1 and 2 and a feature length Christmas special, lets break down exactly what's in the box-set , rate each episode and explain why you need to own it.

Series One:

The National Anthem

If the entirety of Black Mirror does indeed take place on one overall time-line, then The Nation Anthem kicks off that time-line. Set in 2011 the episode focuses on the kidnap of Princess Susannah, Duchess of Beaumont. There's a ransom set in place for her safe return, but rather than a typical request for money, the princess' captor wants something a little more... disturbing. The captor demands that the Prime Minister have sex with a pig live on TV. Featuring a pretty disturbing story and decent performances throughout, The National Anthem is a great start to a fantastic series. 4/5.

Fifteen Million Merits
Fifteen Million Merits hurls the viewer far into the future depicting a society in which humans endlessly peddle on exercise machines, live in tiny cubicles and barely engage in conversation, all in the name of earning more credits; digital currency that can be used in a number of ways. The episode focuses on Bing, a cog in this ever working machine, but things take a turn when he falls for Abi who, like Bing himself, is just another worker bee. Compared to The National Anthem, Fifteen Million Merits is less shocking and more heartbreaking, as the episode goes from a budding love story to a revenge tale at the halfway point. The best part about it are its performances by its two main leads, Daniel Kaluuya and Jessica Brown Findlay. Essentially playing two people who crave a real life that might exist beyond their current surroundings, both actors are put through some pretty difficult scenes. With its biting satire of societies obsession with reality shows and its excellent cautionary tale about the lure of stardom, Fifteen Million Merits is a stand-out episode that has it all. 4/5.

The Entire History of You

This episode is probably the best of the lot. Set in the not too distant future in which everyone has an implant embedded in their head, The Entire History of You is written by Jesse Armstrong, the creator of Peep Show. The implant is known as a grain; a device that records everything you see, do and hear. From the main character re-watching a botched interview over and over again to see how it really went, to party-goers talking about how they often re-watch and relive past experiences, this is a future in which every second of every moment can be painfully analysed. Set to the backdrop story of possible infidelity between a couple, The Entire History of You is one of the more ground and in turn unsettling episodes of Black Mirror. With superb performances from both Toby Kebbel (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) and Jodie Whittaker (Broadchurch), this remains the best episode of the series to date. 5/5.

Series Two:

Be Right Back

This is probably the best episode of series 2, which is sadly a step down from series 1. Be Right Back is set in a time not unlike our own. Focusing on Martha and Ash; a young couple who are hopelessly in love, Be Right Back kicks into gear when Ash is killed while on the road. Utterly distraught and unable to cope with a life without him, Martha decides to upload all of Ash's emails and social network accounts to a special phone app that will basically build a chat A.I from his personality. Though reluctant at first, Martha begins to talk with the likeness of Ash daily, and ultimately embarks on the disturbing decision to give the Ash chat bot a real body. Be Right Back is haunting, moving and an interesting take on how technology could stop, prevent or slow down the natural grieving process that humans need to go through. This one is very much like a Twilight Zone episodes too, though the rest of the series doesn't live up to it. 4/5.

White Bear

White Bear is arguably the first episode of Black Mirror that stumbles. The episode opens with a woman tied to a chair in a house. She's suffering from apparent amnesia, and finds herself in a room with a bizarre symbol on a TV screen and a mysterious signal ringing in the her ears, it's an intriguing opening but the episode sadly screeches to a mundane halt followed by an interesting finale. Once the woman frees herself she finds that the world has apparently fallen into disarray due to a signal called "White Bear". The signal has dumbed down the population to the point that all they do is record their surroundings on their phones. However, not everyone has fallen prey to the signal, and some of those people have become "hunters"; people who have decided to fight and kill their way through this world that is now falling apart. The whole thing comes across like a cheap rip-off of the game Manhunt and the crappy film The Purge. At the end there's a huge twist (don't worry, I won't spoil it), and while it's an interesting reveal, it doesn't make up for what is a pretty disappointing episode. 3/5.

The Waldo Moment

I fell asleep during the episode 3 times during 3 separate attempts to watch the whole thing. I ended up watching it all on my fourth attempt, but god damn, it's a pretty shite episode. The Waldo Moment chronicles the rise to power of the cartoon character Waldo, a foul mouthed blue bear. He's crass and rude and after he goes toe-to-toe with a politician, he begins to venture from the realm of cartoons to influencing the world around us. The struggle his voice actor goes through during the episode is interesting, but the whole thing just falls flat on its face as it ultimately doesn't really deserve to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Brookers other episodes. 1/5.


White Christmas

After the somewhat lacking second series, White Christmas reminds us that Black Mirror is one of the best things on telly right now. The story opens up at some unknown snow drenched location. It looks like some kind of outpost, and inside are Joe and Matt; two men that, due to something they've done prior to the episode, have been apparently sent to this snowy isolated prison. The episode basically focuses on both Joe and Matt dishing out what led them to the outpost with the use of various flashbacks. Though Joe and Matt's stories are in no way linked to each other, White Christmas is full of surprises you won't see coming that tie both men together. Featuring fantastic central performances by John Hamm (Mad Men) and Rafe Spall (Prometheus), White Christmas is a feature-length episode that is packed full of everything that makes Black Mirror such a special series. 5/5.

Overall Black Mirror does have a few missteps, but though they can often sour what is a fantastic series, Black Mirror is essential viewing for anyone who enjoys great TV. It may not be The Twilight Zone, but this is entertainment that Rod Serling himself would revel in, while the rest of us watch, wonder what could be and ultimately hope that society uses some of these episodes as warning signs to the possible roads ahead.

Despite two disappointing episodes, Black Mirror is essential viewing. 5/5


Denis Murphy

Black Mirror - Series 1-2 + Special at CeX

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