Black Mirror

Black Mirror

2011 - United Kingdom

Technological Suspense in Anthology Form

Black Mirror review by Matt Owen

Black Mirror is a British sci-fi anthology that was written and created by Charlie Brooker, who is also known for his writing work on shows like Dead Set and Cunk on Earth. This popular series is easily comparable to some of the greatest anthology shows of all time, including The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. Across the show's 6 seasons, viewers are treated to often unsettling and/or thought-provoking stories that focus on the terrifying unknowns that technological advancement brings. That said, Black Mirror is far more intriguing than your average horror series, resulting in some truly excellent television.

Charlie Brooker

For context, Black Mirror originally debuted on British television's Channel 4, with 2 seasons and a few holiday specials. In 2016, the series was picked up by streaming service Netflix, which has since produced 4 additional seasons. While the Channel 4 and Netflix-produced episodes offer slightly different flavours of storytelling, the overarching themes and production quality are solid all around. However, like most other anthologies, the quality of any given season or episode mostly relies on the viewer's subjective inklings. For example, some viewers may be enamoured by the Season 3 episode, “Playtest”, which focuses on a young man who tests an experimental horror game, twisting his mind beyond belief. Alternatively, a given audience may prefer more light-hearted tales of tech, such as Season 4's “Hang the DJ”, which tells the story of a young couple who find true love by rebelling against the very fabric of their reality.

Black Mirror

In my opinion, Black Mirror is one of the most progressive and satisfying anthology shows of all time but before I start packing on more praise, it's important to give you a clear idea of what it contains. First and foremost, Black Mirror is a somewhat grounded sci-fi series that paints cautionary tales about the progress of technology. Each episode often boasts a plot twist, making stories rarely predictable. However, things do become a bit tired in later seasons, so the show makes some changes to mix things up, for better or worse.

Black Mirror - San Junipero

To get a better idea of what I mean, let's take a closer look at Season 6, which recently premiered in the summer of 2023. Of the 5 episodes in Season 6, only 3 of them have stories that involve technology, as the last 2 episodes are more of a traditional horror/supernatural variety. That means fans of the tech-filled stories might be disappointed with those final 2 episodes. However, none of the episodes in Season 6 are poorly made, as each one features stellar casting, competent writing, and high production values. In fact, one of the show's most critically acclaimed episodes, Season 3's San Junipero, is more of a meditation on romance and time than it is on tech. That's why I'm hesitant to pigeonhole Black Mirror as just a “creepy anthology series with a focus on technology”, as it's often far more than that.

In fact, Black Mirror is more about watching relatable characters overcome struggles that are enabled by technological progress, tackling some important themes along the way. In the span of its 6 seasons, Black Mirror touches on various hot-button topics, including the modern illusion of privacy in an ever-connected world, the terrible effects that social media has on our self-image, and the dangers of AI and human replication. That said, not every episode of Black Mirror is packed with societal or political commentary. Sometimes, the show is at its best when it simply throws the audience headfirst into wildly perplexing scenarios, leaving us dazed as we figure things out for ourselves.

Black Mirror

Regardless, you can usually rely on some solid star power when it comes to Black Mirror, especially in the later seasons. While early seasons occasionally feature recognizable actors like Domnhall Gleeson and Jon Hamm, the later Netflix-produced seasons are abundant with celebrities. In Season 5 and Season 6 alone, you can catch the likes of Anthony Mackie, Miley Cyrus, Zazie Beetz, and Josh Hartnett. Better yet, these high-profile actors rarely phone it in, and on occasion, offer career-high roles. Look no further than the Season 6 episode, “Beyond the Sea”, which features an emotionally devastating performance from Aaron Paul.

Black Mirror

With over 25 episodes to choose from, each offering wildly varied self-contained stories of approximately 1 hour in length, it can be hard to figure out if Black Mirror is right for you by simply picking an episode at random. If you're interested in checking out Black Mirror, but are unsure of where to start, here are three episodes to consider. For a truly mind-bending episode that features technology at its centre, I highly recommend the Season 2 special, “White Christmas”. For a quirky yet unsettling episode that offers old-school Star Trek vibes, check out Season 4's “USS Callister”. If you're a fan of true crime documentaries, try out Season 6's “Loch Henry”, which might change the way you look at things.

Black Mirror

Overall, Black Mirror is a gripping series that will keep you interested, especially for fans of disturbing stories. If you enjoy dark anthologies or dramas that deal with the turbulence of advancing tech, like Westworld, you'll likely find a lot to love with Black Mirror. That said, not every episode is created equal, so expect some stinkers depending on your personal taste. However, when it comes to consistently inventive writing, top-tier casting, and some of the best plot twists in television, Black Mirror is one of the best of the bunch.

Published on July 5th, 2023. Written by Matt Owen for Television Heaven.

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