Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Tuesday 25 October 2016

Black Mirror

I tend not to be an early adopter of new TV shows.

There’s quite a lot of pretty decent stuff happening in TV, theses days… Some of it superior to cinema, and with the advent of Netflix and Amazon, we rarely find ourselves short of something good to watch.

I tend to let others do the hard work, though. I wait for people I like, whose judgement I trust, to recommend the best of what’s on offer.

There are exceptions to the rule. I found Orange is the New Black before it was a huge hit, and it’s still odd to me that more people haven’t seen Last Chance U or Unreal, both of which I rate.

TV does tend to be a bit feast or famine, though, and, recently, we found ourselves wanting something new.

Lots of people had been recommending Black Mirror, so it seemed like a good time to try it.

I tend to prefer series, where stories can build over a period of time, so I’d ignored Black Mirror on the strength that these are discrete stories… There’s nothing wrong with an anthology, of course, it’s simply about preference.

Charlie Brooker talking about Black Mirror in the Guardian,way back in 2011
I am, however, a big fan of Charlie Brooker. I used to love his TV column in the Guardian. He always strikes me as quite a clever man, and he married a Blue Peter presenter… What’s not to like.

I watched the first episode of series one on my own, and then had a chat with the husband about it. He thought that the show had got better, so we sat down together to watch the first episode of series three.

Among the good, there is so much rubbish TV around that watching something a little more cerebral seemed like a nice choice. The stories are quite clever and the writing’s good.

The two episodes I’ve seen of Black Mirror reminded me of the old Plays for Today on the BBC, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

It led me to think about what Black Mirror is and whether it fits any genre. I suppose it’s satire, of a kind, although, with politics in the world playing out the way they are, it’s pretty hard to be satirical. Black Mirror doesn’t seem to me to be SF in any meaningful way, and, while it can be pretty dark, it isn’t really horror.

I guess what Black Mirror might be is Literary Fiction for Television. That’s OK, too.

The problem is, I didn’t find the two episodes I watched terribly enthralling, and I did want to be enthralled. The writing was good and the ideas weren’t bad, either. The problem with the ideas was that they’re the kinds of ideas that have been floating around in SF for a couple of decades. The problem with the delivery wasn’t that it wasn’t slick, but that neither of the stories I watched seemed to go anywhere very interesting. Sadly, they were predictable.

The acting was great, the set-ups worked, production values were good… All of this should have resulted in something top notch.

I shall continue to watch Black Mirror, not to see what happens or where it goes, but to try to examine why something ostensibly this good didn’t satisfy me.

In the end, perhaps it was because these stories failed in the sympathy/empathy departments.

Yes, the two stories I watched could easily  happen in the real world in ten minutes flat, but that wasn’t enough to call this SF, or for me to feel sympathy with the set-up or empathy with the characters.

Clever is always good to see, and, no doubt, there will be stories that deliver more emotionally… It’s odd, because Brooker always seemed so very engaged to me… Angry, perhaps, and rightly so, but certainly engaged. I found these two stories rather cold.

On the whole, I can’t help thinking we probably need more television like this. In the end, I don’t know whether we’ll get it. This kind of television isn’t cheap to make, and it relies on a large and loyal audience. So far, so good. This falls between so many stools, however, that I’m not sure it can hit the mainstream hard enough to really last, and I’m not sure it can keep its audience, which seems to me to be made up of a lot of geeks and nerds who might begin to expect more satisfying stories that go further.

We shall see, but, for the moment, I think I’ll reserve judgement on this until I’ve seen more episodes, except to say that if Charlie Brooker intended to write Tales of the Unexpected for the twenty-first century, this is probably it.

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