Welcome to ‘Should I Check Out…” a new weekly column here at ScienceFiction.com dedicated to giving you the scoop on recent TV series, movies, games, novels, comic books, and more – entertainment that you may not have heard of or may not have had the chance to explore yet. We’ll explain a bit about what the property is, what you might get out of it, and what you might not know about it, so you can be armed with more knowledge as you ask yourself the question: should I check out this stuff… or not?
Take a look at what we’re writing about this week, and if you’ve already checked it out, let us know in the Comments section below what you think about it!
The concept of a sci-fi/horror themed anthology TV series is not a new or modern idea. Iconic shows like ‘The Twilight Zone,’ ‘The Outer Limits,’ and ‘Night Gallery‘ (among several others) having been doing it since the 1950s – and have been doing it well. The great thing about the television medium, however: much like movies, novels, and comic books, there is plenty of room for a little “healthy competition” for similarly-themed products.
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One of the newest entrants into the genre is ‘Black Mirror,’ an anthology series made popular on Netflix over the past few years. While part of the American audience may believe that ‘Black Mirror’ is a Netflix original piece of programming, the first two seasons were actually produced and aired for BBC Channel 4 in Great Britain. Those two seasons – or series, as the British prefer to call individual seasons of TV series – were first aired in late 2011 and early 2013, and after receiving a positive reception and critical acclaim, Netflix released these episodes starting in late 2015, with Netflix-exclusive third and fourth seasons being released in 2016 and 2017. A standalone ‘Black Mirror’ film, entitled ‘Bandersnatch,’ was released on the streaming service in late 2018; the fifth season of the show is due later this year.
So – what’s it all about? In the same vein as the show’s predecessors, ‘Black Mirror’ examines our modern culture with a “twist,” usually in the form of a near-future extrapolation or a surprise climactic connection to something unexpected. This show, in particular, focuses most of the episodes on our current society’s connection to technology and how things could potentially go awry.
Creator Charlie Brooker was heavily inspired by ‘Twilight Zone’ creator Rod Serling; with Serlin’s show being produced in the 1950s and 1960s, he had focused on controversial issues of the time such as racism, nationalism, and paranoia, and used a science-fiction setting to the stories in order to circumvent much of the censorship that existed in TV at that point. In an interview with British newspaper The Guardian, Brooker explained his approach to ‘Black Mirror’ thusly:
“If technology is a drug – and it does feel like a drug – then what, precisely, are the side effects? This area – between delight and discomfort – is where ‘Black Mirror’ is set. The ‘black mirror’ of the title is the one you’ll find on every wall, on every desk, in the palm of every hand: the cold, shiny screen of a TV, a monitor, a smartphone.”
While some of the tales take a fairly light-hearted approach, most of the 19 existing episodes to date are a cynical and often frightening look at how technology could affect our lives in a number of possible futures set anywhere from a few years from now here on Earth to hundreds of years out and into the galaxy. Two of the series’ most lauded episodes have won five Emmy Awards between them, with the series itself winning a 2012 International Emmy Award for Best TV Movie/Miniseries. Without giving too much away, I’ll touch briefly on the two awards-standout episodes.
“San Junipero” is the fourth episode of the third season of the series (the first season produced specifically for Netflix). The tale revolves around the titular town, which is, in reality, a virtual-reality simulation where the spirit of deceased human beings can continue to exist and function while inhabiting virtual representations of their younger selves. Many nursing homes have “visitation times” to San Junipero, where the elderly can visit loved ones who have passed on or simply experience the simulation to see if they have interest in “residing” there after they pass on. Two people, Yorkie and Kelly, randomly meet in San Junipero while both still alive in the real world, and their interactions in the simulation lead them to question the choices they’d like to make in the real world as they move closer to their deaths.
‘Star Trek’ fans will instantly recognize much of the aesthetic of “USS Callister,” the premiere episode of the fourth season of the show. Much of the action takes place in a virtual setting in a “pocket universe” of an online multiplayer roleplaying game, co-created by character Robert Daly. In the “real world,” Daly doesn’t get the recognition he feels he deserves for his role in creating the popular game, and this makes the already-reclusive man all the more bitter and resentful. In the “pocket universe” he’s created in the game, he takes his co-workers’ DNA to create replicated versions of themselves, and they are all forced to act as the crew on-board an intergalactic starship, with Daly functioning as the captain who can reprimand and order them around as he sees fit. The episode is largely produced in a “dark comedy” type of presentation, but once the virtual replicants achieve sentience, the plot takes several intriguing and thought-inducing twists.
The most recent production of ‘Black Mirror’ was the standalone film, “Bandersnatch,” which is presented in a very unique “choose-your-own-adventure” style, with viewers literally able to guide the story with their remote controls based on the choices they make throughout the showing. If you are at all intrigued by thought-provoking science-fiction and have seen or had interest in the anthology-style shows of the past (or the handful of other shows that are currently being produced in this style), then ‘Black Mirror’ is something you should definitely check out!