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Inside Streaming (Oct 28th, 2016)

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Probably the coolest part of getting into "Black Mirror," Charlie Brooker's dark, twisted, satirical meditation on modernity and technology, is that it's an anthology. So unlike all these narrative shows requiring months or years of fan commitment to see it all through, you can legitimately jump into "Black Mirror" whenever you like and it doesn't change the experience. Watch it from the last episode back to the first! Just sort through episode titles and descriptions and see waht grabs your fancy. It's impossible to know if you'll like "House of Cards" just by sampling a random Season 3 episode, but you could watch "Black Mirror" Season 3 Episode 4 (and really should), in total isolation, and get why everyone digs the show. This is a relative rarity in the streaming age, and very refreshing.

Having said that, you should watch every episode of "Black Mirror." It occupies a place in between a contemporary comedy of manners and a dystopian sci-fi flick. But unlike either of those genre, it consistently dodges easy answers, cheap laughs and nostalgia, offering instead a razor-sharp view of who we are and how we live in 2016 that's always entertaining but not always pleasant, and sometimes downright unsettling. (The much-discussed Season 2 Christmas special, "White Christmas," starring Jon Hamm, ends on a doubly unnerving note, challenging viewers to imagine themselves in not one but two horrific existential crises simultaneously. Also it's funny!)

Taken together, "Black Mirror" (which ran for two seasons on the BBC and has now posted an extended third season to Netflix) represents one of the fullest, most heartbreaking and insightful examinations of the digital age we've yet seen, in film or television. Or anywhere else for that matter.


Episode 1: "Nosedive"

Season 3 opens with this chilling, hyper-relevant comedy-drama, about a quietly desperate woman (Bryce Dallas Howard) and her attempts to navigate a near-future society where social media ranking has become a rigid class hierarchy.

"Nosedive" presents an extremely layered, convincing universe that seems alien, even impossible, at first, but comes to resemble our own more and more, and builds to one of the shows' most off-the-wall, intense final acts. Interesting side-note: It was co-written by "Angie Tribeca" star Rashida Jones and directed by Joe Wright ("Atonement").

Episode 4: "San Junipero"

This romantic mindf*ck fantasy - starring Mackenzie Davis of "Halt and Catch Fire" alongside Gugu Mbatha-Raw of "Beyond the Lights" - represents something of a turning point for the series. For the first time in 2.5 seasons, it ends not on a bleak, slyly grim down note, but with an odd kind of upbeat positivity.

Sometimes, Brooker almost seems to say, technology elides its potentially terrifying consequence, and actually makes life better. Though I'm a cynical person by nature, it's hard not to feel the impact of a sudden infusion of optimism in a world that had, in may ways, come to feel dire and hopeless. (This was the second episode directed by Owen Harris, who previously oversaw arguably the best episode of the whole series, the Season 2 opener "Be Right Back.")


Title: "Black Mirror"
Seasons Available: 3 
Where to Watch: Netflix
Runtime: 6 episodes ranging from 50-90 minutes. About 6.5 hours in Season 3.
Genre: Speculative Fiction
Premiere Date: October 21, 2016 (Season 3)

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