I kicked off 2018 by doing two things: I went on Facebook hiatus. (Haven’t posted in a whole week, ma!), and I decided to catch up with the rest of the world and watch Black Mirror. Rarely have two random acts felt so cosmically, poetically linked.
An anthology series about technology and its myriad effects on human life, Black Mirror debuted on British television in 2011, before Netflix brought it overseas in 2016. Since then, absolutely no one has damned it with faint praise. In a time when the majority of streamable content takes too damn long to kick in (“It gets better after the first few episodes, promise”), Black Mirror is a shot in the arm, triggering an immediate rush that’s thrilling, terrifying and nauseating. It’s either the most important thing on TV, or it hits so close to home, it’s “the f*cking worst,” to quote more than one friend. If anyone tells you it’s boring, I strongly suggest avoiding that suspect individual at all cost.
Black Mirror often gets compared to The Twilight Zone, because each episode is a stand-alone narrative that’s tends to be really weird. But c’mon, The Twilight Zone is Faerie Tale Theatre compared to Black Mirror’s utterly plausible premises. Can you imagine a terrorist forcing a government official to perform an unspeakable act on live TV? What about a society in which American Idol is used to distract the human race from the planet’s energy crisis? Or a grieving app that, through repurposed online profiles and social-media activity, allows us to talk to deceased loved ones? Of course you can. All that stuff is pretty much already happening, right?
As dystopian as the show might be, creators Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones are actually comedians, albeit the kind who prefer their satire pitch-black. Third-season opener Nosedive, their definitive piss-take on social-media, depicts an alternate reality where a five-star rating system determines one’s socioeconomic status. (Accidently spill coffee on a stranger? Might not get a seat on the plane.) In first-season finale “The Entire History of You,” brain chips and eye implants allow us to obsess over all the minute details of our lives. (You can even show them on TV at dinner parties!) Sometimes Brooker and Jones lose their balance—the episodes about online trolling and a criminal-justice theme park are basically torture porn—but a series that ends a Christmas special with a man living a thousand years a minute in his own mind has every right to go overboard.
I expected to be all caught up before writing this column, but since the series is far from an easy binge, I’m admittedly only halfway through the third season. It’s actually nice not devouring a whole series in one or two sittings. I have plenty of time to recognize all the Black Mirror-esque interactions that make up my day. For instance, earlier this week, I met someone for the first time. We’d never laid eyes on each other, but thanks to Instagram, we knew everything about each other—what we did for a living, our respective neighborhoods, the names of our dogs and our partners. It was one of those, “Well, here we are in the future” moments that would’ve been unsettling. But I figure, as long as I stay off Facebook and never get eye or brain implants, maybe I’ll be okay.