RIP Black Mirror

RIP Black Mirror: The once freshest show on TV has never felt more stale

The quality took a Nosedive

When Black Mirror debuted on Channel 4 in 2011, to say it arrived with a bang would be the understatement of the century. It takes a phenomenal amount of balls to centre your pilot episode around the British prime minister having to shag a pig live on telly in order to save the life of a princess – but Charlie Brooker made it clear from the start he was willing to go there. What followed was a debut season of dark tales centred on near future sci-fi and dangers of technology. Black Mirror debuted to critical acclaim and became an instant pop culture phenomenon. By the time season two had aired its earth shattering White Bear, every time Black Mirror came back it felt akin to a national holiday. But after a move to Netflix, an increase in streaming demand for episodes and a mixed response from critics and fans alike, it really is time to say it. RIP Black Mirror, the once great show has well and truly gone to the (robotic murderous Metalhead) dogs.

I blame season five

Season six of Black Mirror has just debuted on Netflix, and whilst it is not directly responsible for the RIP Black Mirror sentiment, I do fear it’s the nail in the coffin. Before that nail was hammered in by a directionless season more focussed on shocking twists than telling the sort of thought provoking stories the show is famed for, we had season five. If season six was the final nail, season five is the rest of the battered coffin.

Season five gave us the likes of Smithereens and Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too. For my money, these are two of the worst episodes of Black Mirror ever made. Not even Miley Cyrus doing a pop rework bop of a Nine Inch Nails tune could save it. Season five aired back in 2019, and left a sour taste in our gobs all the way through the four years and a global pandemic that followed. The pressure was on for season six to give the show a new lease of life – for it to find its feet again in the sweet spot of the mainstream seasons three and four and the more indie Channel 4 days of seasons one and two.

The series-low Mazey Day

But season six never quite gets there. It’s a solid run, with more overall successes than misses. But something’s missing. It doesn’t hit like it hit before. Even when Black Mirror came back with the mainstream gloss in 2016, all Bryce Dallas Howard fronted and with a big streaming service budget – it still felt… right. Season six was its chance to do that all over again, but the stories don’t slap like they used to. Unless you’re here for the cheap thrill of a big twist, in which case you’re probably pretty satisfied.

Where did it all go wrong?

I have to say that I think a big part of why Black Mirror is in its RIP era, why it feels so stale and not as inventive as it once did, is that I think as the world moves into the near future the show was setting its episodes in back in the day these technologies are slowly moving into place and not feeling as menacing as they once did. Black Mirror has been airing for over a decade now, and in those 12 years of it being on our screens this planet has been to hell and back. Politically and beyond. Things that felt fictional but not majorly out of reach in 2011 have become reality, or worse than, in 2023. This makes it hard, I’d assume, for Charlie Brooker and co to come up with narratives that feel grim enough. Rewatching the likes of 2016’s Nosedive feels almost old fashioned now, and its ratings system like a little relic of what we thought in 2016. Still a great episode, but not one that feels like it did when it debuted.

This sees the show for season six lean into the past. Lean into horror. Lean into stories that whilst they can be successful as standalones, just don’t feel like Black Mirror. Take Demon 79 for example – a decent little filmic episode, but one that you feel like you could watch anywhere. Loch Henry, another example: An enjoyable hour of TV but one that just feels like a dark story in the realm of an extended episode of Inside No 9 rather than an earth-shattering Black Mirror moment.

Beyond The Sea and Joan Is Awful are the times you sit back and think there’s still life in the old Black Mirror format for now, but they feel too few and far between. Stranded in a load of mediocre, with a focus on quantity over quality that’s resulted in a show that was once the greatest on TV becoming a stale loaf of predictable shock factor. RIP Black Mirror, it was amazing whilst it lasted.

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