Black Mirror on Netflix Instant: The Twilight Zone for the Attention-Deficit Generation

the national anthem black mirror
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BY ADAM FOX

I clearly hadn’t done my due diligence on bleak boob tube when it was announced that British TV series Black Mirror would join the ranks of Netflix Instant. This, of course, happens on a weekly basis to many a television show of typically shoddy quality, but when I started to hear comparisons to The Twilight Zone and promises of pitch-black satire stuffed in each episode, I couldn’t help but give it a watch.

I can happily say with confidence that Black Mirror in its entirety is one of the best things on Netflix Instant, especially if the above-mentioned description appeals to you in the slightest. How could something so right up my alley from 2012 have Trojan Horsed me so? I don’t necessarily have my finger on the pulse of current British television, but after watching a handful of episodes of Black Mirror, I was surprised that something of such high-quality, pervasive creepiness evaded me for so long.

After the initial shock wore off, I was in for a real treat. Black Mirror is the brainchild of English satirist and broadcaster Charlie Brooker. It’s far from a traditional television series in that each of the two “seasons” contain a mere three episodes, clocking in at just under an hour each. Much like The Twilight Zone before it, each episode contains a completely unique premise with its own host of characters. It’s only in Brooker’s persistent thinly veiled social commentary that, as with Rod Serling’s legendary  narration in Twilight Zone, a thread of continuity exists. You don’t need to watch Black Mirror in any type of order, although it does help build anticipation for the gold nugget sandwiched in the middle of Season 2 (“White Bear,” which is probably the best of the bunch).

rod serling

The late, great Rod Serling

Every episode of Black Mirror is bleak as hell, has a lot to say, and is set in the not-so distant future. The most appealing part of Brooker’s science-fictioned setting is how engrossing and completely plausible it is. Brooker skips the hover-board and sports-gambling hypotheticals in exchange for something that hits a little closer to home.

Keep it. I've got a Pitbull now!

“Keep it. I’ve got a Pitbull now!”

Modern technology in its entirety is taken to the woodshed here, examining the roles of YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Farmville as antagonists in the journey to be, and become, human.

The first episode of the series, “The National Anthem,” focuses on British Prime Minister Michael Callow (Rory Kinnear) and the abduction of Princess Susannah, Duchess of Beaumont (Lydia Wilson). The Princess is a much-beloved public figure with the people’s interests at heart, much like a Princess Di or Kate Middleton before her (the comparisons being undoubtedly intentional). The kidnappers are wholly unknown, but whoever is behind the plot filmed a ransom note in the form of an eminently sharable YouTube video showing a bound Susannah directly addressing PM Callow. [MINOR SPOILERS] To ensure her safe release, he must fuck a pig on live television by 4 p.m. that afternoon.

david cameron pig sex

David Cameron says, “I’d fancy me a proper swine shaggin’.”

It’s certainly pitch-black comedy and it’s intended to be, but the tone of the episode flawlessly descends from lighthearted to soulcrushing as we’re put in the place of a man in a position of power faced with a very real decision. The attitude of the British public changes as well, with 87 percent of the population wholeheartedly supporting sex with swine so long as it leads to seeing their beloved Princess Susannah once again. I won’t spoil the ending, but it’s hardly explicit while simultaneously being difficult to watch as we see Callow risk everything in the face of the seemingly omnipotent court of public opinion, exacerbated by the potency of social media.

the national anthem black mirror

“Things were so much simpler when all PMs had to do was terrorize Ireland and imperialize third-world nations…”

“The National Anthem” is an excellent, scathing initiation into the futuristic environs of Black Mirror. It’s not the strongest episode of the set, but like those that follow after it, it will disturb the shit out of you and keep you reflecting on it long after it’s finished. This characteristic, to me, is the linchpin of any work worth its weight. I was skeptical at first upon being lambasted with endless Twilight Zone comparisons that heightened my expectations, but Black Mirror has soundly exceeded every one of them. “The National Anthem” offers plenty of satire that might only truly stick with native Brits conscious of their own political state, but it’s also a strong word of caution that echoes universally.

Grade: A-
IMDb : 8.1

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6 thoughts on “Black Mirror on Netflix Instant: The Twilight Zone for the Attention-Deficit Generation

  1. Smiling while clicking on 'close window'

    Vulgar dogsh-t. If you didn’t turn off “The National Anthem” episode of ‘Black Mirror,’ you both have no soul and are precisely the kind of collective societal moron that is depicted in the episode as cheering on the Prime Minister.

    An unrealistic and stupid show, I wouldn’t recommend this to my worst enemy (if I had one). It’s the worst of the worst.

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  2. Smiling while clicking on 'close window'

    P..S. How can anyone with an IQ over their body temperature not understand the thick irony of the premise that this show clearly was built upon, meaning that it can only be ‘liked’ and “succeed” by way of corralling precisely the kind of idiots it depicts…?

    Like

  3. Smiling while clicking on 'close window'

    P.P.S. Lest you think it’s just me, here’s another point of view:

    http://www.idigitaltimes.com/black-mirror-netflix-streaming-can-americans-handle-much-british-398590

    “ The first episode of “Black Mirror,” entitled “The National Anthem,” is already infamous. If you’ve heard anything about “Black Mirror” before it was available for streaming on Netflix, you probably heard the plot for this first “Black Mirror” episode: the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is blackmailed into schtupping a pig on live television.

    “ So will this episode of “Black Mirror” have you obsessing over this show like we did with “Breaking Bad” and still do with “Game of Thrones?” Will it have you queuing up hour after hour of streaming episodes on Netflix like the “Portlandia” dopes?

    “ Short answer: No.

    ” Still a pretty short answer: “Black Mirror” is a well-done show tailor-made for critics to geek out on, but lacking anything that makes audiences go bananas for stuff.

    “ Check out the first episode of “Black Mirror” on Netflix streaming and you’ll see what I mean. “

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  4. Dear Smiling, we truly appreciate your feedback. Your main issues seem to be that this episode is unlikeable, it caters to its idiots, and is immoral. Please correct me if I’m wrong. On that first point, you cite one source which has some disdain for the episode. This episode has an 8.1 rating on IMDb and a 100 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes. Obviously, we’re talking about a matter of subjectivity here. Subjectively, you did not like this. Subjectively, the large majority of critics and viewing public thought it was excellent. The writer who wrote this piece and myself (editor), are among those who thought it was a fantastic piece of television. We are not alone.

    I can also assure you that we are not soulless, and it is, again, my subjective opinion that one does not need to be soulless in order to enjoy this episode. I don’t think you need to have personal disdain for the British Parliament to enjoy this, but as someone who sees British government as dated by centuries, out-of-touch and having a history of horrendously intolerant and violent practices, I can wholeheartedly enjoy a joke at their expense.

    Lastly, this episode is what people refer to as “black humor”—a theme that runs throughout the Black Mirror series. With this in mind, I would dispute your claim that the premise can only succeed by catering to those who don’t understand its irony. Black Mirror looks into how modern media “advances” play a role in major parts of our society, often through that lens of very dark comedy. I got the irony. I thought it was equal parts hilarious, unsettling and brilliant.

    I should remind you, as stated on the main page, that we write about very bleak shit here. That’s what we like, cinema-wise. Perhaps read a few of our previous posts and see what you think. Maybe this isn’t your cup of tea. Politics isn’t something I typically go for here, but check out the piece I wrote on El Infierno if you want something that gets into the underpinnings of that conundrum where the viewer can unwittingly become the participant, and how this can be dangerous.

    Again, your feedback is appreciated.

    Like

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