NEW YORK TIMES: “Black Mirror” is hands down the most relevant program of our time, if for no other reason than how often it can make you wonder if we’re all living in an episode of it. This prescient and mordantly funny science-fiction anthology is smart enough to be just barely ahead of its time. It doesn’t imagine interstellar civilizations or postapocalyptic scenarios. Instead, it depicts variations on a near future transformed by information technology — our world, just a little worse.
In one episode from an earlier season, characters carry an implant that records their every experience — a kind of cranial Google Glass that ends up torturing a man who learns his wife has cheated on him. Another imagines a society in which citizens can block people who displease them, rendering them as mute blobs of static — a whole-body version of Facebook unfriending. In still another, a foul-mouthed cartoon TV star runs a political campaign that begins as a lark and spirals out of control — abetted by a jaded public and cynical media — into vicious demagogy. (No further comment.)
Twentieth-century science fiction was a product of 20th-century science, a period of physical advances and inventions when humans split the atom and traveled to the moon. “Black Mirror,” created for British television by Charlie Brooker, is a product of the 21st century and its digital, virtual breakthroughs. It speaks to a culture of people who live virtual second lives on social platforms, in which Silicon Valley tycoons seriously entertain the idea that our world is actually a “Matrix”-like simulation.
So it’s concerned not with body snatchers but with the internet hive mind; not nuclear winter but artificial intelligence; not the complications of time travel but the implications of being able to offload human consciousness onto devices. Its view of technology is not cold and robotic but deeply emotional, because — as with our smartphones — we’ve made the machines extensions of our bodies and souls. What’s more remarkable, the show has made its statement with a mere handful of installments: two three-episode seasons in 2011 and 2013 and a Christmas special in 2014.
Last year Netflix acquired the series, and in true American and Netflixian fashion, the new version is bigger in every way. Its first six episodes, which appear on Friday, nearly double the show’s oeuvre in one data dump. Pace yourself, though: This is very much the same disorienting, relentless series, touching on techno-cultural themes — hacking, social-media mobs, drones, the narcotic allure of nostalgia — in stories that are both dreamily speculative and of-the-moment. As before, there’s no theme music, no narrator to escort you into its clean dystopias. (Each episode imagines a different alternative reality, but they share a minimalist high-design aesthetic — what your nightmares would look like if they were art-directed by Apple’s Jonathan Ive.) “Black Mirror” buzzes onto your screen like a malware attack, dropping you in media res and leaving you, blinking, to figure out the rules. You don’t watch an episode so much as get abducted into it. MORE