From Netflix and creator Charlie Brooker (Dead Set) comes the dark sci-fi anthology series Black Mirror. Series 1, 2, 3, 4 and a Christmas special are currently available on Netflix.
Originally airing on Channel 4 in the UK, Black Mirror is being hailed as our generation’s Twilight Zone – An anthology series with stand-alone episodes that warn us of the dangers in advanced technology.
#10. The Entire History of You
In the near future, everyone has access to a memory implant that records everything they do, see and hear – a sort of Sky Plus for the brain. You need never forget a face again – but is that always a good thing? Starring: Toby Kebbell and Jodie Whittaker.
The idea of having a built-in recording system in your eyeballs is fascinating. From the menu options where you can instantly scroll to whatever year, day, minute that you want is really cool and as it turns out, the framework for something incredibly disturbing. Toby Kebbell is one of my favourite actors (KOBA!) and his performance here as a jealous husband who begins to unravel in drastic ways is one of the best acting roles in Black Mirror history. The moment where he’s having sex with his wife while his eyes are triggering a different memory is darkly hilarious, especially when you see that his spouse is doing the exact same thing. Does this imply that porn is dangerous to your relationship? I don’t know – but it was creepy as hell.
In a society where one’s social rating with others greatly influences one’s life, a woman tries to improve her own rating to afford an ideal apartment by giving an appealing speech at her best friend’s wedding. Starring: Bryce Dallas Howard, Alice Eve, Cherry Jones, and James Norton.
Imagine if life was judged on how popular you are online (hah) – social media no longer inflates your ego, but in the future it also impacts you financially depending how many “likes” or in this case “stars” you have in your overall rating. The dude at Starbucks get your order wrong? Instantly give him a bad rating on your little mobile device and he might actually get a reduction in his hourly wage. Bryce Dallas Howard delivers one of the series’ best performances here as a woman just trying to boost her status in order to upgrade her life. It’s sad stuff and doesn’t feel like much like science fiction anymore does it?
#8. Hated in The Nation / Metalhead (tie)
Hated in The Nation: A series of murders is tied to Autonomous Drone Insects, mechanical replacements for colony collapse disorder, and social media hashtags. Starring: Kelly Macdonald, Faye Marsay, and Benedict Wong.
Metalhead: A woman attempts to survive in a dangerous land full of robotic guard-dogs. Starring: Maxine Peake.
Drones. Robots. Both the terrifying cybernetic dogs and bees in these two episodes are what everyone constantly jokes about whenever we see those internet clips of robots climbing walls or something else that renders humans obsolete. The world is going to end! That robot just jumped over something!! SKYNET IS UPON US! Turns out, that’s a terrifying possibility the more we tamper with artificial intelligence. I love the special effects and chaotic action that both Hated in The Nation and the stylistic Metalhead provide – movie calibre quality. These two may not be as “thinky” as some Black Mirror favourites like ‘San Junipero’ or ‘Hang The DJ’ but I love a good horror thriller and these two deliver big time in that genre.
#7. Be Right Back
The concept of this episode alone is disturbing but seeing it all play out in this little house, away from the lights of the city, makes the story even more unnerving and isolated. This woman’s fiance dies so she decides to order an extremely lifelike robot that is implanted with his memories. He is everything she remembers and more — because he drops all the annoying traits that he may have had in the past and only lives to please her. This sounds amazing at first, especially when they have sex, but things get dark fast and the ending is a brutal and emotionally draining experience. This one stuck with me for a long time after and it still freaks me out.
A man, stranded in England after a banking error, offers to participate in a playtest of an augmented reality video game for funds. Starring: Wyatt Russell, Hannah John-Kamen, Wunmi Mosaku, and Ken Yamamura.
Videogames are still tending towards virtual reality based enhancements/augmented reality. In ‘Playtest’, Wyatt Russell decides to test an upcoming new horror based survival game and the results are alarming. The game is triggered by your own fears, so no two experiences are the same and this is by design. Disgusting man-spiders, people that may or may not actually be standing in front of you – whatever. Russell delivers one of the finest leading performances of the series here and I was genuinely hoping he would make it out of this nightmare scenario by the end of the episode.
#5. White Christmas
Three interconnected tales of technology run amok during the Christmas season are told by two men at a remote outpost in a frozen wilderness. Starring: Jon Hamm, Rafe Spall, Oona Chaplin, and Natalia Tena.
The first of now two thrilling and masterful Black Mirror episodes in which there are mini-stories cooked into the premise is a masterfully written tale that keeps you guessing until the very end. Charlie Brooker is a genius. The fact that he’s writing 99% of this anthology series and weaving these incredible stories together into a cohesive and thrilling episode of TV is unheard of. Every single hour-long episode of Black Mirror could be it’s own ground-breaking film. That’s almost like Charlie Brooker has written 19 blockbuster game-changing sci-fi films in what – five years?! White Christmas has one of the best endings of the series and for a “holiday” special, it doesn’t get much better than this. Suck it Dr. Who.
#4. Black Museum
Everyone loves the final episode of this latest series of Black Mirror — and rightfully so. ‘Black Museum’ is a twisted tale with three shocking mini-stories woven into the narrative. The first story that Douglas Hodge tells Letita Wright about the doctor who accidentally becomes sexually excited when the feeling of pain enters his system is one of the darkest and most sinister tales I’ve ever seen – not just from Black Mirror – I’m talking in any format. Apparently Penn Jillette came up with the idea for that one. Yes — the magician Penn conjured up one of the most disgusting stories that I’ve ever seen on my TV. The conclusion is extremely satisfying (even though you can see the twist coming) and there are a ton of Easter eggs from past Black Mirror episodes which were fun to spot.
#3. Fifteen Million Merits
In a world where people’s lives consist of riding excercise bikes to gain credits, Bing tries to help a woman get on to a singing competition show. Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Jessica Brown Findlay, and Rupert Everett.
After the opening episode in series 1 of Black Mirror in which the prime minister is forced to have sex with a pig on live television (come on USA – noone is able to get that popping in 2018?), the series really kicks into gear with its second story — the futuristic and stunning ‘Fifteen Million Merits’. People live day to day on essentially gaming points or credits. I don’t know if this is a cautionary tale of what happens when bitcoin replaces our current forms of currency, but it’s definitely a deep look into how technology can evolve and change the way we live our day to day lives. The world that they created for this episode is hands down the most advanced one of the series, whereas most other stories feel like “near-future”, this one goes beyond that. Daneil Kaluuya was an awesome lead and I loved this longer episode – it was the one that really sold me on the show years ago in the first place.
#2. White Bear
Victoria wakes up and cannot remember anything about her life. Everyone she encounters refuses to communicate with her, and they all seem to know something she doesn’t. But what? Starring: Lenora Crichlow and Michael Smiley.
It is very hard to talk about ‘White Bear’ without ruining the glorious pay-off of it’s conclusion. I love this episode – so much. There’s just something so beautiful in how Charlie Brooker writes these stories of justice and revenge, while planting social commentary and technology into the mix. This one is both post-apocalyptic in it’s setting and straight-up horror action before the rug is pulled out from under your feet. I damn near clapped when the episode came to a close. It’s that good.
#1. USS Callister
A woman wakes up on a Star Trek-esque space ship where the crew praise their all knowing and fearless captain, who has used DNA scans to simulate real people within his game. Starring: Jesse Plemons, Cristin Milioti, Jimmi Simpson, Michaela Coel, and Billy Magnussen.
Beware the cruelty of a quiet man. Jesse Plemons’ performance as the calm, beaten down owner of a tech company who uses his free time to live in a twisted fantasy world is my favourite episode to date of Black Mirror. The concept is so mind-blowing and the results make for one of the best things I watched in all of 2017 – film included. We’ve seen an ultra realistic take on augmented reality and gaming before in the series, but they all pale in comparison to the horror of USS Callister. Like everyone else, I assumed this would be a silly Star Trek spoof. Hell no. It is far more than what it appears to be on the surface and once you figure out what is happening, you’ll be stunned at how twisted and brilliant this hour-plus masterpiece is.