The programme is best when it aims to shake, not shockby Lucinda Smyth / November 4, 2016 / Leave a comment
This piece contains some minor spoilers
When Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror first aired on Channel 4 in 2011, it was astonishing. There was nothing else like it on television. Engaging with contemporary concerns surrounding internet privacy and social media, it not only presented an eerily prescient view of the near-future, but crucially it did so from the perspective of the ordinary and everyday. It explored dystopian possibilities at a fine-grained level, often depicting the lives of average people, employing low-key lighting and mostly lesser-known actors. This small-scale intimacy is what made the show effective: it felt claustrophobically close-to-home.
Fast-forward five years and Black Mirror has had a Hollywood makeover. Now in its third series, the show was acquired by Netflix last year, and under its direction is noticeably bigger, glossier and sharper. Offering six episodes per series instead of three, the American streaming service has doubled the size of the show in one dramatic data-dump. The acting line-up includes Bryce Dallas Howard (Jurassic World), with a directing credit from Dan Trachtenberg (10 Cloverfield Lane), and writing help from Michael Schur and Rashida Jones (Parks and Recreation). How did all this come about, and what effect has it had on the tone of the show?
The first stage of this transformation dates back to 2014. Though still broadcasted by Channel 4, the festive episode “White Christmas” marked a significant departure from Black Mirror’s early homegrown approach. Firstly, it starred Jon Hamm, then at the peak of his Mad Men fame. Hamm’s vulpine good looks and smooth American charm were a far cry from gawky Domnhall Gleeson (“Be Right Back,” series two), or ruddy-faced Rory Kinnear, who played the Prime Minister in the infamous pilot. (This episode featured a prime minister in an uncompromising situation with a pig, and resurfaced last year amidst Cameron rumours.) “White Christmas” aired on US Netflix that December, and, largely as a result of the Hamm-factor, stimulated American interest in other Black Mirror episodes. By the new year, Black Mirror had become a minor sensation. It was announced nine months later, in September 2015, that Netflix had bought the series for a reported $40 million, and would be shooting twelve new episodes.
So now six of those have arrived, what impact has the shift had? What about the new series—sorry, season—is different? Visually…