Monday, March 2, 2015

UK'S "BLACK MIRROR" TAKES CROWN OF SCI-FI TV


I love discovering a show that ticks nearly all the boxes. Usually, the conversation about mainstream entrainment features some form of "almost" and "not quite" and "could have been so much more." To avoid further disappointment, we set the bar low, but we shouldn't have to. Enter Britain's Black Mirror (2011-), a miniseries of speculative fiction with a dash of occasional satire that damn near blows its most famous predecessor, The Twilight Zone (1959-1964), out of the water. Yes, there are weak spots and plot holes and the potential for "close, folks, but no cigar!" No matter, I'm under its spell and have nothing but praise, so let's dive in. NO MAJOR SPOILERS.

Episode 1, "The National Anthem," is a real point of contention. Those who love it go on with the show; those who hate it may refuse to continue. Black Mirror's  non serial format works in its favor. Every episode is a one off with a fresh cast and can be watched selectively, out of order. Don't care to know if the prime minister will engage in televised bestiality to save a beloved kidnapped royal? By all means, skip ahead!


"Fifteen Million Merits" is overtly abstract in set-up and execution. While other stories make an effort to ground themselves in some sort of palpable reality, its staged theatrical feel is stark, unapologetic, and reads like a visual thesis. There's nothing familiar for the viewer to latch on to, yet it remains fascinating if for no other reason than a small, but pivotal prop called compliance in a juice box. It's so damn clever.


"The Entire History of You" and "Be Right Back" had me watching with bated breath. The trappings of technology are at the centre of these narratives and pinpoint acutely how we filter our actions and relationships through its many devices. The implication is that every leap in personalized technology has a decidedly negative impact on human interaction. It comes between us, makes us suspicious, stalls our natural process, and when we try replace each other with any form of A.I., we are even more disappointed because it cannot replicate the human element to our satisfaction.


"The Waldo Moment" spouts another tech-centric storyline, but is the weakest of the bunch, pissing away its potential on lacking character arcs of an all around despicable lot of people. The nature of politics is so dirty it can even turn a goofy cartoon bear into a flaming arsehole with a thirst for blood and world domination.


The top prize, however, goes to "White Bear" where every element of production converges to create a magnificent atmosphere of chaos. The key here is the point of view. There are two groups of audiences present: we - the viewers, and the strange voyeuristic mob within the narrative. We are made to identify with someone who may or may not deserve our sympathy, but after the reveal, it's nearly impossible to shift our focus back to 'proper' identification. The audience manipulation is truly brilliant.


The first 2 seasons are available on Netflix (a dream layout for those with commitment issues to seemingly never ending seasons with double digit episode counts.) Season 3 debuted in December 2014 and is currently airing on Channel 4.

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