The Speculative Dread of “Black Mirror”

Giles Harvey in The New Yorker:

BlackLike TVGoHome, “Black Mirror” is powered by an engine of speculative dread. As an anthology show, it is made up of stand-alone episodes, each featuring its own fictional world and cast of characters. Some episodes use existing technologies as the basis for their nightmare scenarios. What if an Anonymous-style group of hacktivists began blackmailing members of the public with unsavory snippets of their Internet browsing history? What if a popular cartoon character, controlled by an actor at the helm of a live-motion-capture system, successfully ran for Parliament on an anti-establishment platform? Others entertain unsettling day-after-tomorrow hypotheses. What if people had a microchip embedded in their necks that recorded their lives and allowed them to replay memories at will? What if there was a software program that enabled a bereaved person to communicate with a lost loved one by creating an avatar using the deceased’s digital footprint?

The show, which first aired in Britain, on Channel 4, in 2011, became an international hit, with licensing rights sold in more than ninety territories. In 2014, Netflix acquired exclusive U.S. streaming rights for the first two seasons. Last year, Brooker and his longtime collaborator Annabel Jones signed a contract with Netflix to make twelve new episodes. (The deal was reportedly worth forty million dollars.) “Black Mirror” answers to a mood of global unease about the breakneck pace of technological development; Brooker’s audience already knows what it is like to witness the sudden arrival of the future—or, as he put it in his weekly column for the Guardian, to recognize how “nuts-deep into the future we already are.” Last month, on the day the third season was released, a cyberattack crashed several popular Web sites, including Spotify, Reddit, and Netflix. On Twitter, Stephen King described “Black Mirror” as “terrifying, funny, intelligent. It’s like The Twilight Zone, only rated R.” Zadie Smith considers it one of the best things to appear on British TV in decades. “It’s the ultimate commentary on shit television by virtue of being head and shoulders above everything else,” she wrote in an e-mail. “It reminds me of TVGoHome in that it’s formed out of a sort of exquisite rage, but it’s also so terrifically and fully imagined—the speculative fiction element is sublime.”

More here.