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In Praise of Black Mirror

Black Mirror is back on Netflix with a sixth season of five episodes.

I watched the third (and longest) episode, “Beyond the Sea,” which is beautifully made (directed by John Crowley, of Brooklyn) and heart-wrenching.

The entire cast is excellent, but it’s a revelation especially for Josh Hartnett—briefly an “it guy” and almost-star 20 years ago, now he’s back with seasoning...and wow, is he good! Kudos, and I predict a comeback off of this. I think he deserves it.

Oh, and it was very well scored by recent Oscar-winner Volker Bertelmann.

I have all the respect in the world for Black Mirror and its creator and principal writer, Charlie Brooker. There have been so many attempts to recapture the genre–anthology magic of The Twilight Zone. Some have had pretty big auspices (Amazing Stories). But most have been profoundly disappointing, or just forgettable and trashy.

This is the only genre anthology series that, with its technology-run-amok angle, both distinguishes itself and approaches (and sometimes surpasses) Serling’s original in literary and artistic value. I have dearly loved watching the episodes, even the occasional misfire (the comedies seem to be less successful).

But I have noted, with the sixth season, that the show seems to be a victim of its own success. It has done such a brilliant job exploring (and skewering) social media, A.I., and various “hologram episode” (on Star Trek) issues of memory and perception that the tropes and revelations just aren’t as fresh as they were back in 2011.

How could they be? The world has caught up, and is in some ways even scarier.

However, it remains a perfect use of the anthology format. “Beyond the Sea” is nearly the length of a feature film, but it wouldn’t have the complications and intensity needed for a stand-alone movie. The world-building is incomplete: in a feature, we’d need to explore fully the “replicas” and how they are made; the technology of this alt–1969; and the ideology of the anti-replica crazies. We’d need to know more about the space mission—and we’d have to involve mission control and larger world.

But as an anthology episode, you can just blow past that and tell the human story that you want. Which they do, and it’s devastating.

The show is a magnificent achievement and my compliments to everybody involved.

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