Damson - What we're watching... #10
10) 15 Million Merits
A Charlie Brooker satire on reality TV? Surely not. When this aired in 2011, The X-Factor was at its cultural peak. You can definitely see where the influences for this episode came from. Daniel Kaluuya (Before he became a megastar) is a contestant asked to go through menial tasks to improve his life. Unless you are a huge fan of the Saturday night "make or break" , this might not hit every beat for you, but it's still an incredible piece of television.
9) Shut Up and Dance
Most episodes of Black Mirror leave you feeling a little grubby, but this one must surely take the biscuit. A simple enough setup, with a teenager, played brilliantly by Alex Lawler is blackmailed by someone who has hacked his webcam and recorded him having a bit of "alone time". When you think you have the general gist of where it's going, the twists start coming thick and fast, culminating in one that is so horrific and brutal it will make you want to have a shower immediately. Bleak, unpleasant, and great.
8) White Christmas
Probably the most miserable Christmas special of any TV show ever made. This one seems to be pretty divisive amongst Black Mirror fans, but we really enjoyed it. Part of the reason for that is the casting of Jon Hamm and Rafe Spall as the two lead characters. The story is basic enough, two men are stationed at a remote outpost in the middle of a snowy wilderness and begin sharing life stories to pass the time. As you'd expect, things get a little dark and disturbing. Not exactly in the same vein as most Christmas specials that you're likely to watch, that's for sure.
7) Hang The DJ
One of the rarest of things: A Black Mirror episode with a relatively happy ending! Playing on the idea that dating nowadays is awful, with the never-ending use of apps (Tinder, Bumble etc), the characters are dropped into a world where people date based on an algorithm. They go on dates decided for them, eat meals chosen for them and stay in a relationship for a period of time predetermined by the program, all in the name of finding your "perfect match". The performances from Georgina Campbell and Joe Cole here are brilliant and very likable. Essentially, watching this is a feel-good way to spend 50 minutes.
A biting commentary on the insidious way technology alters the way humans behave. Set in unnamed American suburbia, all pastel colours and coffee shops, this may not look as bleak as the usual Black Mirror episodes, but don't worry, it still has that feeling of impending doom littered throughout. Bryce Dallas Howard has never been better as the wannabe social climber who puts way too much stock into how the world sees her. To be fair though, if you were rated out of five for every interaction you have, I imagine you would become a little obsessed too. The penultimate scenes of the episode may be a little on the predictable side, but it's still an incredibly satisfying watch.
5) USS Calister
Or "The Star Trek one" as it will be forever known. The always amazing Jesse Plemons is the lead character cast as a bit of a loser who playacts in a virtual reality simulation he has created called Space Fleet. The twist is that he has integrated avatars of everyone in his office that has ever wronged him, and makes their lives miserable. The brilliant old-school Star Trek backdrop makes this stand out to a lot of other Black Mirror episodes as it seems on a grander scale, but this is only one part of the story. USS Calister explores bullying, toxic masculinity and all of it's degrading results, creating an episode that is fascinating, exciting and also morbidly funny in parts. Black Mirror is always at its best when dealing in gallows humour.
4) San Junipero
There have been few episodes on TV or streaming services in the last few years that gave us the feels like San Junipero did. It's nice to watch an episode of Black Mirror and cry with sadness and happiness, instead of recoil with disgust. When it moved from Channel 4 in the UK to Netflix and a more world wide audience, the budget was understandably increased, and it really tells with episodes like this. The sets are more detailed, more elaborate, and one of the results was this beautiful love story. Starring Guugu Mbatha-Raw and Mackenzie Davis who go from party pals to lovers in a hot and humid Southern California setting. The twist is that they meet at different points over a 30 odd year period. This is a seriously touching story and not one to be watched if you are feeling a little fragile.
3) The Entire History of You
The Entire History Of You is a real gut-punch of an episode. As with most Black Mirror episodes, the world is instantly recognisable with one key difference: Most humans have been implanted with a "Grain", which records absolutely everything and allows memory playback in clarity at will. As you'd imagine, this doesn't exactly lead to happy lives. The cast, as ever is great, with Jodie Whittaker, Tom Cullen and especially Toby Kebbell excelling. This is the only episode of Black Mirror that isn't co-written by Charlie Brooker, but his fingerprints are still all over it. It's a totally unrelenting examination of how technology can inflict damage on our already frail human ego. Rumour has it that Robert Downey Jr. was so impressed with the episode concept his production company has bought the rights to make it into a feature-length movie.
Easily the scariest Black Mirror episode ever. Augmented reality is very, very weird. You would have to be nuts to volunteer to be a beta tester for it, especially when it is full immersion and uses your own memories to put your worst fears into the virtual world, yet that is exactly what Wyatt Russell's character does when he is desperate for money to make it back to the US. As you can imagine, it doesn't go well. You can tell that Charlie Brooker is a huge video game fan. Which is evident from the episode title, the not-so-subtle Resident Evil references and even the covers of Edge magazine hidden in the background of some scenes. It's a real love letter to the sort of survival horror games he clearly loves, but with the extra Black Mirror style satire. An incredible piece of work.
1) Be Right Back
Here it is. Our pick for the greatest Black Mirror episode created (so far). This high concept tearjerker stars Domhnall Gleeson and Haley Atwell, acting out of their skin, as a couple cruelly torn apart when Gleeson's character is killed in a car accident. It poses a few important and tough questions. How do you replace the one you've loved and lost? And if you could make an exact replacement, would you? The moment when Martha meets the android version of Ash for the first time is on of the most profoundly sad and brilliantly acted moments in Black Mirror history. Be Right Back is essentially a story of dealing with grief, but with a sci-fi twist. It can't be overstated how much this episode got to us. A seriously emotional gut punch that stays with you long after the episode has finished. The ending is slightly ambiguous and makes you question what was the right thing to do morally, but all the best things should make you question yourself, right?
November 23, 2019