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British writer Charlie Brooker is making some of the most creative, thoughtful and intriguing television out there and has been ever since he created Black Mirror in 2011 for Channel 4 in England. After two acclaimed three-episode seasons there (and a 90-minute Christmas special with Jon Hamm), the series was picked up by Netflix and had its season-three premiere this week at the Toronto Film Festival.
Black Mirror continues to be as bracingly original and thought-provoking as ever, a Twilight Zone-influenced gem for the technology age that Brooker only seems to get more creative at fleshing out.
AIR DATE Oct 21, 2016
His agile mind is evident in the first two episodes. In the first, Brooker delves into “immersive nostalgia therapy” and brings much of the 1980s back, and then he pivots on an emotional hook that will leave only the hardest heart not shedding tears — all the while making the whole of it basically a visual take on a Belinda Carlisle song.
That, people, is jaw-dropping in its impressive audaciousness, particularly as it sets a joyful mood that all die-hard Black Mirror fans know will be undercut at some moment — it’s only a matter of when. The episode, titled “San Junipero,” marks another step forward for Brooker because, all told, it doesn’t merely stun the viewer with its technological horrors, but shows off Brooker’s capacious well of ideas about just what technology can be.
If the only drawbacks of the first two seasons were limited episodes — three in 2011, three in 2013 and the Christmas special in 2014 — this new deal with Netflix should fix that. The streaming site struck a deal for 12 episodes, which it is breaking into two seasons of six, beginning Oct. 21.
Brooker, whose Black Mirror skewers our screen-addicted culture, has said he came upon the title of the series because “when a screen is turned off, it looks like a black mirror — and there’s something cold and horrifying about that.” This is arguably the series I’m most looking forward to returning. For those unfamiliar with it, now is the time to get over to Netflix and catch up (easily) with what’s come before. (Here’s the advice I’ll give after learning the hard way: Don’t binge this show. Watch an episode, and let your mind marinate in what Brooker has concocted and what it all means. Take a break, and then watch another. Binging it will break your brain.)
It’s such a joy to have this brilliant series return, not only because Brooker has yet to get the full auteur treatment he richly deserves in the States, but also because each episode reminds you of what happens when creative people keep stretching their own boundaries of imagination. The series is also a magnet for directors, as the weird concepts allow them to do some of their best work. The first two episodes of season three are directed by Owen Harris and James Watkins, respectively, and are visual treats of dreams and frantic terror, also respectively.
Brooker previously has said he wanted to make a television show “that would actively unsettle people,” and he accomplished that right out of the gate with the first episode of the first season (go watch if you haven’t). Brooker said he was drawn to shows like The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery — particularly the former — because “quite often, they would end on a devastating note,” and modern television had all but abandoned that. Much of Black Mirror walks that line, and in season three, the second episode, “Shut Up and Dance,” is kind of a master class in things spiraling terribly out of control as technology and human weakness intersect. It features a performance by actor Alex Lawther (who played the young Alan Turing in The Imitation Game) that’s one of the best things of 2016.
While “Shut Up and Dance” isn’t the kind of episode that you’ll want to watch if you’re already feeling sad or depressed, it’s exactly the kind of Black Mirror episode that counters the curiosity (and dare I say joy?) found in “San Junipero” because it unapologetically — and frantically — punches you right in the face, proving how nimble Brooker is at storytelling.
Black Mirror is one of those series where too much information about an episode ruins the impact, so the main takeaway here (other than it’s time Brooker got his due) is just to be ready on Oct. 21 when Netflix drops season three because one of television’s most challenging and accomplished series returns.
Cast: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mackenzie Davis, Alex Lawther, Jerome Flynn
Creator: Charlie Brooker
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