Netflix taketh away (bye bye, Battlestar Galactica, among others), but Netflix also giveth — and I’m not just talking about the possibility of more Star Trek, or even about J. Michael Straczynski’s upcoming series Sense8. I’m talking about an awesome sci-fi import from across the pond: Black Mirror.
I’m totally obsessed with this show. It’s the best sci-fi anthology since The Twilight Zone, and it’s not for the faint of heart. Its incisive critiques on social media, technology addiction, and humans’ unfailing ability to convince themselves of their own realities (usually with the help of technology and social media) often take brutal forms. I’ve had to turn away more than once, but for me that signals powerful television. All the cringe-worthy moments have a purpose. And now, all those cringe-worthy moments are a lot easier to view, thanks to Netflix.
Black Mirror is produced by Channel 4, a publicly owned, not-for-profit British television broadcaster. Perhaps the fact that shareholders don’t own the network accounts for its cutting-edge programming. The network commissions national content and invests in bringing British talent to the screen (the channel also does films), and has recently branched out to international co-productions.
Usually, if American viewers want to cash in on this goodness, we have to get a little…inventive. Inventive enough that I’ve already burned DVDs of Black Mirror for my family and friends for Christmas — thanks for spoiling that idea, Netflix. But now, all those episodes are just a click away. And since Black Mirror’s two seasons only amount to six total episodes, you can easily burn through the whole thing in a night. But I’d highly recommend against that — for one thing, the whole experience is over far too quickly. It’s one of those shows you want to draw out for as long as possible. It’s also grim enough in its tech predictions that I’m not sure I’d want to binge-watch. I teach, write, and think about tech enough that I’m already in that always skeptical and sometimes terrified realm when it comes to the implications of the tech we’re building and integrating into society. Binge-watching probably isn’t good for my psyche, but an episode a day fits the bill.
The first episode of season 1 is one of the more difficult episodes of television I’ve ever watched. It features the UK Prime Minister in an untenable situation, largely via social media. He has a horrible, horrible decision to make, and viewers expect that he’ll be able to solve the problem neatly, the way most presidents and prime ministers on TV do. But in this episode, as with all the others, there are no easy outs.
There’s also a forthcoming Christmas episode featuring Jon Hamm, who looks impressively haggard in the stills (perhaps he watched all of Black Mirror in one night). Right now it doesn’t appear that the episode will be on Netflix — or at least, not yet — but it will be on DirecTV’s Audience Network, whatever that is. Or perhaps it’ll be time to get creative again. Regardless, I’ll happily immerse myself in technological dystopia on what’s supposed to be the cheeriest day of the year.