Feb 14, 2013

[TV] Black Mirror: Series 1

I can't help but feel that more and more a lot of US network television ends up being highly disappointing. And thus I end up shopping around for other shows to watch either by going further back into the past or finding stuff from other countries.

British television seems t o be a unique incubator for compelling storytelling, perhaps born of the fact that their concept of a "series" is a lot shorter than the US "season". While US shows typically run for about 20+ episodes, their British counterparts typically get away with 6 episode runs with 13-episode shows like Doctor Who being more the exception than the rule.

And then you get to the really good shows that compress all of its storytelling into three episodes. Even as they run an hour long each, that's really a limited amount of time to work with. And yet they manage to work every last minute to the bone, thus putting on some really interesting shows.

This is definitely one of the more landmark creations to come out. And with the second series just starting, it may be time for you to finally get into this particular show.

Synopsis: Black Mirror may be better termed to be a mini-series instead of just being a speculative television show given it's sort of "short story" format. As created by Charlie Brooker, the show tells three separate stories across its three episodes as somehow reflective of what life might be like if we continue forward with some of our quirkier technologically-enabled practices.

The first episode was "The National Anthem" that focuses on the Prime Minister, one Michael Callow (Rory Kinnear). The crisis that he faces involved the kidnapping of Princess Susannah (Lydia Wilson), whom you can sort of compare to the likes of the late Princess Diana. Given how much she is loved by the people, getting her back is of utmost importance. But the kidnappers have release most peculiar and disgusting demands of the Prime Minister himself. And there is little that can be done to contain the situation given the demands were made on YouTube.

Next up is "15 Million Merits", where we have a bunch of people in some futuristic world live a life that seems both familiar and strange to folks like us. Every day they generate power on exercise bikes that earns them merits. These in turn can be spent on virtual goods for their avatars in the MMO reality that everyone can escape to or just to pay to skip often obscene and very much in your face. And at the center of our story is young Bing (Daniel Kaluuya), who is inspired by the singing voice of fellow resident Abi (Jessica Brown Findlay) and wants to help her get into a talent competition.

And the last is "The Entire History of You", which presents a reality where everyone has a device called a "grain" implanted into their heads that allow one to record pretty much everything that you experience and then replay it (or in their terms "re-do") either in one's head or even transmitted to any nearby TV screen. This includes a young lawyer by the name of Liam (Toby Kebbell) constantly going over his most recent performance review as he obsesses over every line and eventually examining his the interaction between his wife (Jodie Whittaker) and a friend named Jonas (Tom Cullen).

Each story pretty much feels like it's a movie on its own. They're highly complete narratives that you can "enjoy" from start to finish, although admittedly a lot of the stories presented have their respective disturbing qualities. And what makes things so vivid is not how strange and unusual the world presented is but more just how close to reality the stories tend to be. There are already people who broadcast a lot of their life to pretty much everyone via social media, so that's not too far away from the always-on recording system in episode 3. We already live in a world where news spreads across social media faster than news agencies can verify things. And people already do some silly things all in the name of virtual goods.

It comes as no surprise that there are reports that Robert Downey, Jr. wants to turn The Entire History of You into a full-length motion picture.

The feel of the series is definitely like The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits. We have self-contained stories told using different actors, different settings and all that good stuff. The only thing that links the stories together is the technology connection as the show is trying to show us how some of our current tools and toys can be twisted into something else given enough time and maybe a little extremist progression.

The series is brilliantly intelligent and each episode is quite the masterpiece in terms of both writing and the actual acting. The creative team behind this show have done well in finding the right talent to bring these stories to life. And that's never an easy feat, even for a limited series like this that only runs for three episodes.

Black Mirror is one of the most refreshing and surprising shows I've encountered in quite a while. Yes it's a shame that it only has three episodes, but I promise that these three episodes are far more satisfying than 24 episodes of some other lackluster drama.

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