Black Mirror is a British anthology science fiction 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.
|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|
|Distributor||Endemol Shine UK|
|Audio format||Dolby Digital 2.0|
|Original release||4 December 2011 –|
Black Mirror was inspired by older anthology series 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 relationship to 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 premiered for two series on the British television channel Channel 4 in 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. A standalone interactive film titled Black Mirror: Bandersnatch was released on 28 December 2018.
The series has garnered positive reception from critics, received many awards and nominations, and seen an increase in interest internationally, particularly in the United States after its addition to Netflix. Two episodes, "San Junipero" (from the third series) and "USS Callister" (fourth series), won a total of six Emmy Awards, with both episodes winning Outstanding Television Movie.
The series 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 released||Last released||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|
|Film||28 December 2018|
Conception and styleEdit
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. Brooker realised he could do similar commentary on modern issues, 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 series 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 series 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". In describing the nature of Easter eggs in the standalone film Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, Brooker alluded to dialogue said by character Colin Ritman that spoke towards alternate realities, and suggested that their use of Easter eggs to previous episodes helps to connect all these stories, but not necessarily within the same reality or timeline. However, Brooker asserted that the Easter eggs in Black Mirror are only there "as an extra bit of texture for fans of the show", and not meant to fully construct an atlas of Black Mirror episodes that becomes essential for understanding any episode.
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 series' 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 series 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 series on Reddit in "Crocodile".
The series' inception was in 2010. Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones served as executive producers; the two had begun to work together on Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe, a television review programme which aired from 2006 to 2008. The first pitch was for eight half-hour episodes written by different people. Technology was a lesser focus and the worlds were larger and more detailed, which Jones said was not possible to execute properly in the short runtime. The series was then commissioned for three hour-long episodes. The first script was "Fifteen Million Merits", which was written by Brooker and his wife Konnie Huq. The second script was "Inbound", an episode which was never produced. It was about war and contained concepts which were later repurposed for series three episode "Men Against Fire". The following script pitched became "The National Anthem", the first episode to air. The third episode is "The Entire History of You".:6–13
The programme was produced by Brooker's production company Zeppotron, for Endemol. Joel Collins served as production designer, with his company Painting Practice working on visual effects.:18 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.
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 series was available in the U.S. on Netflix from late 2014 onwards.
In the early stages of Black Mirror, Jones was keen to avoid casting comedy actors, as Brooker was previously a comedy writer and they wanted the series to not feel like comedy.:16 "The National Anthem" stars Rory Kinnear as Prime Minister Michael Callow, with Lindsay Duncan playing Home Secretary Alex Cairns. "Fifteen Million Merits" features Daniel Kaluuya as Bing, Jessica Brown Findlay as Abi and Rupert Everett, Julia Davis, Ashley Thomas as Judges Hope, Charity and Wraith. In "The Entire History of You", Toby Kebbell and Jodie Whittaker star as married couple Liam and Ffion.
The first series was popular and critically well received, though viewing figures decreased throughout the series. The series was expensive for Channel 4, as the anthology format meant there were no economies of scale, but it was commissioned for a second series.:59
Series two consists of three episodes. Brooker described it as "more epic in scale, but more intimate in scope". The episodes are more "understated" in their technologies. Brooker commented that the second series mirrors the first: the first series has topics of (in order) "warped political satire", "dystopian hellscape" and "relationship torn apart by technology", while the second series presents episodes of these forms in reverse.:60 Each episode in the first series had a male protagonist, so Brooker deliberately wrote female protagonists for series two episodes "Be Right Back" and "White Bear".:64
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.
"Be Right Back" stars Hayley Atwell as Martha and Domhnall Gleeson as Ash, both in human and robot form. In "White Bear", Lenora Crichlow plays Victoria Skillane and Michael Smiley and Tuppence Middleton play Baxter and Jem. "The Waldo Moment" features Daniel Rigby as Jamie Salter, Chloe Pirrie as Gwendolyn Harris and Jason Flemyng as Jack Napier.
According to Brooker, the series was still taking its budget from the comedy department of Channel 4, and there was discussion of whether it should fall under the drama department instead. Shane Allen, Head of Comedy for Channel 4 at the time, stated in 2018 that someone had been taken aback by the budget for Black Mirror, which was well above the standard for a comedy, and became involved in the editorial process. A new Head of Comedy was hired, who did not have a relationship with Brooker and Jones.:101–103
Brooker reported in 2018 that Channel 4 agreed on a third series of four episodes, but requested detailed synopses of the episodes in advance. Brooker came up with an episode "Angel of the Morning", which would later become a story in "White Christmas". He also conceived of an episode based on the earlier script "Inbound" which would have been similar to a later series three episode, "Men Against Fire". Another episode was named "Crocodile", which overlapped in parts with the series four episode of the same name. After a lengthy wait, Brooker and Jones were told that the ideas "weren't very Black Mirror". Though Channel 4 may have suggested doing a one-off special, Jones said that "we felt there wasn't any clarity from the channel".:101–103
Jones and Brooker worked on other projects for the next year, such as the comedy procedural A Touch of Cloth. After bumping into a Channel 4 staff member, Brooker emailed the channel to ask about how to continue with Black Mirror. Channel 4 had the budget for an hour-long Christmas special, but Jones and Brooker pushed for a 90-minute episode.:101–103
"White Christmas" was a portmanteau of three stories, inspired by works such as the 1983 science fiction film Twilight Zone: The Movie.:101–103 It starred Jon Hamm as Matt and Rafe Spall as Joe throughout. Actors in the individual stories include: Rasmus Hardiker as Harry and Natalia Tena as Jennifer; Oona Chaplin as Greta; and Janet Montgomery as Beth and Ken Drury as Beth's father. The episode aired on 16 December 2014.
On the day of the press screening for "White Christmas", Brooker and Jones had a meeting with Channel 4 executives, who told them that they wanted to continue the series but due to budget constraints, it would need to be a co-production. The pair had travelled to Los Angeles a few months prior to try to get co-production money, but were unsuccessful. The channel also suggested that Brooker could write an episode of Electric Dreams, a 2017 adaptation of short stories by Philip K. Dick.:123–124
In December 2014, the first two series of the programme were released on Netflix in the United States after they bought exclusive streaming rights, leading to increased attention for the programme. In a bidding war between channels, which included several American networks, Netflix led with a commitment of two series of ten episodes each. Brooker and Jones reported in 2018 that though they and Netflix were both keen to have Channel 4 as equal partners, they could not get a meeting with Channel 4. They eventually got a meeting without discussion of a co-production with Netflix, where the channel suggested a renewal for three episodes. The channel later offered six episodes if full treatments could be given in advance, but Brooker and Jones were concerned due to past rejection of ideas. They had a limited time to reply to U.S. offers and chose to make a deal with Netflix.:125–126
In September 2015, Netflix officially commissioned 12 episodes of Black Mirror. In March 2016, it outbid Channel 4 for the rights to distributing the third series in the UK, 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 series where the original network had wished to renew it.
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. Producer Lucy Dyke commented that Netflix had an expectation that the series would become "bigger and better" and "more international", while production designer Joel Collins said that Netflix were happy to support ideas on the same scale or on a larger scale than previous episodes. The first episode that Brooker wrote for the series was "San Junipero", and it was an intentional departure from previous episodes as well as a "deliberate raspberry-blow" at fans who were concerned at the series' Americanisation.:126–127
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 titles of the six episodes that make up series 3 were announced in July 2016, along with the release date. A trailer for the third series was released in October 2016. It 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 series were released. Beginning on 24 November 2017, Netflix published a series of posters and trailers for each episode in the fourth series of the series, 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.
According to Engadget and Gizmodo, as a means of viral marketing Netflix sent private messages to users of Turkish website Ekşi Sözlük. The messages were sent from the account "iamwaldo" and read "We know what you're up to. Watch and see what we will do." Though the advertising was met with positive reception from some users, others were critical of distress that the messages may have caused.
The first Black Mirror full-length film Bandersnatch was released on Netflix on 28 December 2018, after being formally announced the day prior. Set in 1984, the film follows Stefan, portrayed by Fionn Whitehead, a young programmer who begins to question reality as he adapts a sprawling fantasy novel into a video game and soon faces a mind-mangling challenge. Bandersnatch is an interactive film, prompting the viewer at times to select one of two choices on screen that affect how the work is shown; There are over one trillion potential paths to view the work with five distinct endings. The film also features Will Poulter, Craig Parkinson, Alice Lowe, and Asim Chaudhry.
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 they 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 had begun filming. With the complexity of Bandersnatch, Brooker had to delay production of the fifth season; however, Netflix confirmed that it would be released in 2019.
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 series "may be referring to San Junipero again" in Easter eggs, which the series 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". Brooker has suggested that Bandersnatch character Colin Ritman (portrayed by Will Poulter) could potentially show up in future Black Mirror episodes, given that the character, in certain paths, seems to just disappear but has awareness of alternate timelines and realities.
On Rotten Tomatoes, series 1 received a 97% rating, series 2 received an 86% rating and "White Christmas" received a 93% rating. Series 3 holds an 86% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and score of 82 on Metacritic, and series 4 has an 84% Rotten Tomatoes rating and score of 72 on Metacritic.
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 series' 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 series 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 three Emmy Awards and four Emmy nominations in 2018.
In June 2018, Brooker announced that he, along with Annabel Jones and Jason Arnopp, have written an oral history companion to the series titled Inside Black Mirror. The book features sections on each of the 19 episodes in the first four series, containing conversational interviews from cast and crew and images from the episodes and behind the scenes. The book was released in the UK on 1 November 2018 and in the US on 20 November 2018 from Penguin Random House.
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 was scheduled to include stories written by Cory Doctorow, Claire North and Sylvain Neuvel. Initially scheduled for release in 2018 and 2019, the project was postponed indefinitely as Brooker and Jones could not dedicate enough time to it.
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