|Created by||Charlie Brooker|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||4|
|No. of episodes||19 (list of episodes)|
|Running time||41–89 minutes|
|Audio format||Dolby Digital 2.0|
|Original release||4 December 2011– present|
Black Mirror is a British science fiction anthology television series created by Charlie Brooker, with Brooker and Annabel Jones serving as the programme showrunners. It examines modern society, particularly with regard to the unanticipated consequences of new technologies. Episodes are standalone, usually set in an alternative present or the near future, often with a dark and satirical tone, though some are more experimental and lighter.
The show premiered for two series on the British television channel Channel 4 on December 2011 and February 2013, respectively. After its addition to the catalogue in December 2014, Netflix purchased the programme in September 2015. It commissioned a series of 12 episodes later divided into the third and fourth series, each six episodes; the former was released on 21 October 2016 and the latter on 29 December 2017. A fifth series was announced on 5 March 2018.
Black Mirror was inspired by older anthology shows like The Twilight Zone, which were able to deal with controversial, contemporary topics without fear of censorship. Brooker developed Black Mirror to highlight topics related to humanity's dependency on technology, creating stories that feature "the way we live now – and the way we might be living in 10 minutes' time if we're clumsy."
The series has received positive reviews and seen an increase in interest internationally, particularly in the United States after its addition to Netflix. In 2017, the well-received episode "San Junipero", from series three, earned Black Mirror its first Primetime Emmy Awards, for Outstanding Television Movie and Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series, Movie, or Dramatic Special for Brooker. The fourth series earned eight nominations at the 70th Primetime Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Television Movie, Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series, Movie, or Dramatic Special, and Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie for Jesse Plemons in the episode “USS Callister”, and Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie for Letitia Wright in the episode “Black Museum”.
The show was originally commissioned by Channel 4 in the United Kingdom, and premiered in December 2011. A second series ran during February 2013. In September 2015, Netflix purchased the programme, commissioning a series of 12 episodes later divided into two series of six episodes. The first of these series was released on Netflix worldwide as the overall third series on 21 October 2016. The fourth series was released on 29 December 2017.
|First aired||Last aired||Network|
|1||3||4 December 2011||18 December 2011||Channel 4|
|2||3||11 February 2013||25 February 2013|
|Special||16 December 2014|
|3||6||21 October 2016||Netflix|
|4||6||29 December 2017|
Conception and style
Charlie Brooker had completed production of Dead Set, a zombie-based drama series, and while working on Newswipe and other programmes, had decided that he wanted to make another drama series, in an anthology style like The Twilight Zone, Tales of the Unexpected, and Hammer House of Horror. Brooker recognised that Rod Serling had written episodes of The Twilight Zone using contemporary issues, often controversial such as racism, but placing them in fictional settings so as to get around television censors at the time. For Brooker, he realised he could do similar commentary on modern issues, and specifically focusing on mankind's dependency on technology, something he encountered while producing the series How TV Ruined Your Life. Brooker pulled the series' title from this approach:
"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, my new drama series, 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."
Brooker wanted to keep the anthology approach, using new stories, settings, characters and actors for each episode, as he felt this approach was a key element of enjoying shows like The Twilight Zone; he said "There was a signature tone to the stories, the same dark chocolate coating – but the filling was always a surprise." This approach would allow Black Mirror to contrast with current dramas and serials that had a standard recurring cast. According to Brooker, the production team considered giving the series a linking theme or presenter, but ultimately it was decided not to do so: "There were discussions. Do we set them all in the same street? Do we have some characters who appear in each episode, a bit Three Colours: Blue/White/Red style? We did think about having a character who introduces them, Tales from the Crypt style, or like Rod Serling or Alfred Hitchcock or Roald Dahl, because most anthology shows did have that... but the more we thought about it, we thought it was a bit weird."
While the production does not use linking elements, the show has included allusions and Easter eggs from previous episodes into later ones. For example, "Hated in the Nation" in the third series calls back to the events of both the first series episode "The National Anthem" and the second series episode "White Bear". while the final episode of the fourth series "Black Museum" includes references to each prior episode of the series. Some of these are for the ease of reusing a name developed in a prior episode; for example, they created the fictional "UKN" broadcast network for handling news reports that drive stories, while the pizza delivery company used in "USS Callister" was used again for a company running automated pizza trucks in "Crocodile". Other Easter eggs were added as they knew viewers would be intensely dissecting the episodes and provided these as gags. However, over time the use of Easter eggs became more purposeful, as to establish a canon of the "dream universe" that the episodes take place in. Brooker noted that when they opted to reuse a cover of Irma Thomas' "Anyone Who Knows What Love Is", first introduced in "Fifteen Million Merits", for "White Christmas", as "it does sort of nest the whole thing together in some kind of artistic universe".
Giles Harvey comments in a profile of Brooker for The New Yorker that each episode "establishes the background of normality against which a decisive tweak will stand out all the more starkly". Harvey notes that the show's diverse range of genres show that it is "manifestly the work of someone who has clocked up many hours of screen time". He further comments that Brooker is "scrupulous", as "the believability of each episode depends on maintaining the complex internal logic of its dystopic world". Brooker is involved during the filming and editing processes, pointing out any inconsistencies that arise, and is "determined to make the devices and screens and interfaces used in 'Black Mirror' seem authentic". As examples of Brooker's "meticulous attention to detail", Harvey reports that Brooker carefully considered whether a falling wine bottle would shatter in the nested virtual realities of "Playtest", and whether it would rain in the eponymous location in "San Junipero". An instance of realistic technology is the email system in "Be Right Back", which contrasts with "histrionic computers" found in Hollywood; an email is sent to the main character with the heading "Martha, people in your position bought the following", containing various books on the topic of grief-counselling. Knowing that fans of the show have dissected some of these details by watching the episodes frame-by-frame, Brooker and his team have included humorous jabs at these fans through printed messages on various props, such as a paragraph in a news article held up by a character directed to fans of the show on Reddit in "Crocodile".
Series one and two
The first two series of the programme were produced by Brooker's production company Zeppotron, for Endemol. An Endemol press release described the series as "a hybrid of The Twilight Zone and Tales of the Unexpected which taps into our contemporary unease about our modern world", with the stories having a "techno-paranoia" feel. Channel 4 described the first episode, "The National Anthem", as "a twisted parable for the Twitter age". Black Mirror series 1 had a limited DVD release for PAL / Region 2 on 27 February 2012.
A trailer for the second series was made by Moving Picture Company, and featured three interspersed storylines: "a dream sequence, the repetitive factory setting and the huge dust cloud that sweeps through the street at the ad's climatic end." Aired from 22 January 2013, the advertisement was shown on Channel 4 and in cinemas. The second series had a DVD release, which like the first series DVD was PAL for region 2 only.
In 2013, Robert Downey Jr. optioned the episode "The Entire History of You" (written by Jesse Armstrong) to potentially be made into a film by Warner Bros. and his own production company, Team Downey. The show was available in the U.S. on Netflix from late 2014 onwards.
In September 2015, Netflix commissioned 12 episodes of Black Mirror. In March 2016, it outbid Channel 4 for the rights to distributing the third series, with a bid of US$40 million. Endemol released a statement saying that Channel 4 "had the opportunity to recommission [Black Mirror] since 2013 and passed on this and subsequent co-production offers put to them. [...] Further efforts were made to try to reach a settlement regarding a U.K. window for Channel 4, but these were also sadly to no avail". In a press release, Channel 4 say that they "offered to recommission Black Mirror". This marked the first time that an online streaming service had gained the rights to a show where the original network had wished to renew it. The titles of the six episodes that make up series 3 were announced in July 2016, along with the release date.
In developing the third series' stories, Brooker had looked back to the first two series and the Christmas special, and recognised that all the stories were about characters becoming trapped in a situation that they could not escape from. Coupled with the anthology format that asked for viewers to get immersed within the stories to understand the nature of each, this created a sense of darkness and horror, which could make it difficult to watch successive episodes without becoming uncomfortable. With the third series, Brooker wanted to explore different formats, still having a few "trap" episodes but adding more conventional stories like a romance and police procedural, making the new series more digestible for the viewer. A trailer for the third series was released in October 2016. The third series cast includes Bryce Dallas Howard, Alice Eve, James Norton, Cherry Jones, Wyatt Russell, Alex Lawther, Jerome Flynn, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mackenzie Davis, Michael Kelly, Malachi Kirby, Kelly Macdonald, and Faye Marsay. The directors for the third series include Joe Wright, Jakob Verbruggen, James Hawes, and Dan Trachtenberg. The third series was released on Netflix worldwide on 21 October 2016.
According to Brooker, the fourth series has even more variety in the episodes than in previous series. Brooker says that there is "some more hope" in the series, crediting this to the fact that writing began in July 2016 and continued throughout the 2016 U.S. election, and "I genuinely thought, I don't know what state the world's going to be in by the time these [episodes] appear, and I don't know how much appetite there will be for nothing but bleak nihilism." The series features an episode story conceived by Penn Jillette. Jodie Foster directed the episode "Arkangel", starring Rosemarie DeWitt; one episode was filmed in Iceland ("Crocodile") and another is overtly comedic in tone ("USS Callister"). Jesse Plemons, Cristin Milioti, Jimmi Simpson, Michaela Coel, Andrea Riseborough, Andrew Gower, Georgina Campbell, Joe Cole, George Blagden, Maxine Peake, Douglas Hodge, and Letitia Wright appear in the fourth series. In addition to Foster, the episodes were directed by Toby Haynes, John Hillcoat, Tim Van Patten, David Slade, and Colm McCarthy.
In May 2017, a Reddit post unofficially announced the names and directors of the six episodes in series 4 of Black Mirror. Filming for the fourth series concluded in June 2017. The first trailer for the series was released by Netflix on 25 August 2017, and contained the six episode titles. In September 2017, two photos from the fourth season were released. Beginning on 24 November 2017, Netflix published a series of posters and trailers for each episode in the fourth series of the show, referred to as the "13 Days of Black Mirror", concluding on 6 December 2017 with the announcement of the release date. All six episodes were released to Netflix on 29 December 2017.
In December 2017, when Brooker and executive producer Annabel Jones were asked about possibly creating a fifth series of Black Mirror, they said, "We would love to do it". Netflix announced the fifth series via social media on 5 March 2018, though did not announce its release date or episode count. On 20 March 2018, at the 2018 Royal Television Society Awards, Brooker confirmed that the fifth series has begun filming.
In October 2016, Brooker said that he had ideas of where sequels to both "White Bear" and "Be Right Back" would go, but it was unlikely that either would be made. Furthermore, Brooker also stated that there were some characters in the series three episode "Hated in the Nation" who could potentially recur. Actors have appeared in multiple Black Mirror episodes, but for unrelated roles, such as Hannah John-Kamen ("Fifteen Million Merits" and "Playtest"), Michaela Coel ("Nosedive" and "USS Callister"), and Daniel Lapaine ("The Entire History of You" and "Black Museum").
When asked in interviews, Brooker has repeatedly stated that there are no plans for a sequel episode to "San Junipero". He told Los Angeles Times that they "want to keep [Kelly and Yorkie] happy there". However, Brooker has said that the show "may be referring to San Junipero again" in Easter eggs, which the show has used before. Brooker has also raised the idea of doing a sequel to the episode in "a completely different form", such as a graphic novel or "an experience".
The first series has been praised as being creative and shocking with twists-in-the-tale reminiscent of The Twilight Zone. Michael Hogan of The Daily Telegraph described the first episode, "The National Anthem", as "a shocking but ballsy, blackly comic study of the modern media". He went on to say that "This was a dementedly brilliant idea. The satire was so audacious, it left me open-mouthed and squealing. Rather like that poor pig." The series was taken up across much of the world, including Australia, Israel, Sweden, Spain, Poland, Hungary and China. The series has become popular and been well received in China, becoming one of the most discussed series in early 2012. User ratings on Douban reached 9.3, higher than most popular American dramas. Many viewers and critics praised the depth of the series. A reporter from The Beijing News thought the programme was "an apocalypse of modern world", "desperate but profound". Another article from the same newspaper thought each story criticised television from different aspects. Xu Wen at The Epoch Times thought the stories reveal modernity's moral turpitude.
In its second series, Black Mirror continued to receive praise. In his review of the episode "Be Right Back", Sameer Rahim of The Telegraph wrote, "The show touched on important ideas – the false way we sometimes present ourselves online, and our growing addiction to virtual lives – but it was also a touching exploration of grief. To my mind it's the best thing Brooker has done." Jane Simon of The Daily Mirror newspaper website, said that the second episode of the second series, "White Bear", lacked the "instant emotional tug" of the series opener, "Be Right Back". She went on to say that, a third of the way through the second episode, she had lost hope of it concluding well, "the acting was unbelievable, the script was riddled with horror-film cliches, the violence was a bit over the top", but that by the end, "I turned out to be absolutely dead wrong on every single count." She ended the piece with: "It’s another work of dark and twisted genius from Mr Brooker." The second series is popular in China. Wen Bai at Information Times thought the second series was still "cannily made", and "near perfection".
In December 2014, Stephen King noted his admiration of the series. The show's Christmas special that year, "White Christmas" received critical acclaim. Ben Beaumont-Thomas of The Guardian praised the comic satire of the episode and noted that "sentimentality is offset with wicked wit, and Brooker’s brio and imagination paper over any gaps in logic." The Daily Telegraph reviewer Mark Monahan gave the episode 4/5 stars, noting that the drama was "thrilling stuff: escapist entertainment with a very real-world sting in its tail". Monahan equated the episode with the stronger of the previous Black Mirror episodes, stating that "it exaggerated present-day technology and obsessions to subtle but infernal effect, a nightmare-before-Christmas reminder that to revere our digital gizmos is to become their pathetic slave."
Journalists have reported that some of the concepts in Black Mirror have come true, in fashion, within the real world, and have called the show a Magic 8-Ball for the future. The first episode, "The National Anthem", revolves around the British Prime Minister being blackmailed into having sex with a pig; in September 2015, four years after the episode aired, allegations were published that David Cameron, who at the time was British Prime Minister had placed a "private part" into the mouth of a dead pig as part of a university initiation rite. Brooker has called the event a "coincidence, albeit a quite bizarre one", and was quite perturbed when he first heard the allegations: "I did genuinely for a moment wonder if reality was a simulation, whether it exists only to trick me", he said in an interview. Several news reports compared Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign to "The Waldo Moment", a 2013 episode in the second series; later, in September 2016, Brooker also compared the Trump campaign to the episode and predicted Trump would win the 2016 election. The third series episode "Nosedive" presented a social rating-based system that several found mirrored by China's proposed Social Credit System. Brooker has been surprised to see how some of these events had come to pass. "It was quite trippy, though. I'm kind of getting used to it, because it seems like it's quite often that there are things that are in the stories that come true." Ten days after the release of series four episode "Crocodile" - which included a self-driving pizza delivery truck as a major plot device - Toyota and Pizza Hut announced the e-Palette, a driverless delivery vehicle, at the 2018 Consumer Electronic Show. The conceptual vehicle drew numerous comparisons with its fictional counterpart, and the official Twitter account for Black Mirror commented on the announcement saying, "We know how this goes."
In November 2012, Black Mirror won Best TV Movie/Miniseries at the International Emmy Awards. Bryce Dallas Howard received a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for her performance in the episode "Nosedive". At the 69th Primetime Emmy Awards, Black Mirror received three nominations with two wins, including Outstanding Television Movie for "San Junipero". "USS Callister" received two Primetime Emmy nominations and five Primetime Creative Arts Emmy nominations in 2018.
In June 2017, Brooker announced a series of novels based on Black Mirror that will offer "new, original, darkly satirical stories that tap into our collective unease about the modern world". Brooker will edit three volumes of novellas that will feature anthology short stories by different authors. The first instalment will include stories written by Cory Doctorow, Claire North and Sylvain Neuvel. It is scheduled for release on 20 September 2018; the second instalment later that year; and the third in 2019.
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