This week, most of the people in my office have been discussing what they did over our Thanksgiving break, sharing stories of gathering with family, traveling, or Black Friday adventures. When it comes to my point in the conversation, I’ve been basically been saying the same thing over and over: “Forget Thanksgiving – have you guys seen Black Mirror?” If you saw me in person over Thanksgiving weekend, you can testify that I definitely could not shup up about this show.
Of course, the debut of the new Gilmore Girls episodes have been the talk of the pop culture world, but while I was enjoying some time off I also finally got around to binge watching the anthology series Black Mirror. This is a series that I’ve heard nothing but raves about since it originally debuted in 2011 and that has long been on my list of shows to watch, yet I had somehow never actually sat down to watch it. I was prompted to finally do so for two reasons: 1) I had to do something to distract myself from watching the new Gilmore Girls episodes until the late afternoon viewing party that I was attending and 2) one of my favorite podcast, The Watch, was going to be discussion the new episodes and I didn’t want to have anything spoiled. Since there are only 13 episodes in the entirety of the series to date – got to love the British – it was not an unmanageable binge watch. I sat down to watch the first episode and was instantly infatuated.
For those that have never heard of Black Mirror – and I’m guessing that is a lot of you – the series originated in Britain for the first two seasons and then was picked up by Netflix for additional episodes. Black Mirror is an anthology series; unlike recent anthology series in the U.S. (American Horror Story, American Crime, American Crime Story), individual episodes of Black Mirror are stand-alone rather than an entire season. Each episode features a new story and a new cast. There is no thread that connects the individual episodes other than thematically; theoretically you could jump into watching Black Mirror with any episode as an entry point, though I do suggest starting with the first episode of the first season (“National Anthem”) because it does a nice job of teaching you how to watch the show and is probably one of the more easily accessible stories. Black Mirror is something of a modern-day Twilight Zone; each episode focuses our relationship with technology and the consequences of the dependence, for good and for ill (mostly for ill). The title comes from the omnipresent of screens – smart phones, monitors, tablets – in our lives. Black Mirror can be dark and depressing, but it is also at its heart a satire. It is also occasionally very funny or sweet. On paper, this isn’t necessarily a show that I would normally be drawn to, but it is so smart and well done that I couldn’t stop watching it. I finished the original 7 episodes that aired in Britain as well as the new 6 episodes for Netflix in just over two and a half days. The individual episodes differ in length depending on the story; most range from 45 minutes to a little over an hour. Though occasionally some bigger stars turn up – Jon Hamm is probably the most famous of the bunch – the actors are mostly not household names (I thought “Hey – it’s that guy” a lot).
To go too much into plot will ruin watching the episodes, but the nice thing about an anthology series is that if you aren’t into a particular storyline, the series resets with the next episode. That being said, though my enjoyment of individual episodes varied a lot, even a “bad” episode of Black Mirror is better than most of what’s currently on television. The series has a way of continually pulling you in and surprising you; you can certainly say a lot of things about Black Mirror but “predictable” isn’t one of them. Many times an episode would completely surprise me, zigging when I expected it to zag, much to my delight. The stories can be a little disorienting in the beginning because you are constantly being thrown into a completely new narrative with each episode and it isn’t often immediately clear where things are going or what the reality of this story is. I like when shows throw you into the deep end and force you to sink or swim; Black Mirror isn’t unnecessarily confusing, but it assumes that its viewers are smart and patient enough to let the story reveal itself at its own pace.
As I said, I watched all the episodes in the order in which they were released, because I’m kind of neurotic like that, but you can really watch the show in any order that you like. All the episodes have something to recommend themselves, but if I had to pick my favorite episodes they would have to be “The Entire History of You” (season 1); “Be Right Back” (season 2); “White Bear” (season 2); the Christmas Special; “San Junipero” (season 3); and “Hated in the Nation” (season 3). Season three dropped on Netflix in October and another batch of episodes is already in the works. I can’t wait.
Black Mirror has quickly become one of my favorite shows and I’m kind of sorry that I consumed all the episodes so quickly because now I have to patiently wait until more episode are released. I do recommend doling out the episodes more slowly than I did, not only to stretch out the enjoyment longer but also because watching all these episodes in a compressed timeline puts you in kind of a weird headspace, making you look at technology and the world in a different light. There’s really no reason to rush through watching the episodes and I wish I had taken more time to really reflect on them individually before diving into the next one so quickly. But they were just so good that I couldn’t wait to see what the next story would be. It’s also best if you know as little as possible about the episodes before you watch them; half the fun of these episodes is just going along for the ride. The journey is as important as the destination. I really can’t recommend Black Mirror enough.
All three seasons of Black Mirror are currently streaming on Netflix.