Black Mirror started last night, Charlie Brooker’s brand new Twilight Zone-esque series about social media and modern technology being all evil and stuff. He billed it strongly as a satire, a dystopian future vision of technology being used in hideous, degrading ways.
It just didn’t work.
Don’t get me wrong, there were elements that were very smart. Not once in the episode are we told that we are in the future, sure some of the technology was very much CSI, but the smart move was not explaining it. The finest moment came when a journalist broke into an abandoned University, a carcass like something from the aftermath of Chernobyl.
Where it went wrong was almost everywhere else. As a satire it was completely misjudged, was it a comment on public opinion being the driving force behind the actions of those in power? Was it about how we will watch anything if hyped up enough? Or was it all about how modern art is rubbish? It certainly failed in each of those.
When the public are shown a video of a kidnapped Princess, and told that the ransom is that the Prime Minister has sex with a pig, at first they are completely behind him. They don’t want him to have to resort to this act. However when his office try to use CGI to fake the act, the public opinion turns and in the end the PM has to go through with it. A faceless public has made him do it.
Only they’re not faceless. We spend time with them, crowded round TV’s in a hospital, bar and in bed. In fact, their characters are as strong as the Downing Street staff (i.e. barely characters in their own right). We even see that they have an emotional reaction to the ransom video. They feel for the kidnapped Princess, and even towards the end they still care about her. At the end of the episode, when the Princess is released (early, because the kidnapper knew that the PM would have to do it), the news broadcasts report it with glee. There’s too much realism at play in this episode to make it a proper satire. In a real satire, no-one would notice the Princess’ release and the headlines would only focus on the Prime Minister fucking a pig.
Even worse is the end credits sting in which we discover that the kidnapper was actually conducting an art project.
Another problem lies in the script. The episode itself could have been reduced to a five minute sketch but was needlessly stretched out to fill an hour with next to no characterisation whatsoever. Characters walk into rooms and say words, but reveal nothing about themselves, how they feel or what their role in the story is.
I felt the same way about Dead Set, Brooker’s straight faced zombie series from two years ago. Whilst he has a flair in his analysis of TV on Screenwipe and various other programmes, he winds up falling into the same traps as those he criticises.