When more than one person suggests that I get on board with a particular Netflix binge-watching opportunity, I try to pay attention and put it in the queue. Alan Partridge, say, or Patton Oswalt's new special.
When a dozen different people insist I watch something immediately—well, that's when the magic usually happens.
Launched in 2012 by series creator Charlie Brooker, Black Mirror is like a Twilight Zone for the digital age. Each episode is a self-contained story, presented anthology-style, that examines a worrying aspect of modern technology—particularly social media and our brave new world of constant, insistent connectivity. The series was a critical sensation in Britain, and hit a nerve on this side of the pond when Netflix picked it up in December for its instant streaming service.
The pilot episode, "The National Anthem," concerns a plot to extort the British government. An apparent psychopath has kidnapped one of Royal Family, and in exchange for her return insists that the Prime Minister perform an appalling sex act on live TV.
Well, there's no point in being coy, I suppose: The PM is ordered to fuck a pig. Without spoiling too much, what happens next—and how it's depicted—is one of the most uncompromising and audacious social critiques to ever smack popular culture upside the head.
It's a brutal shotgun takedown of modern politics and media, but the really awful part is how familiar it all is. This isn't a far-future story; this is five minutes away. And the underlying question—do you like to watch?—will leave you squirming.
As hardcore as that pilot episode is, the series’ second installment—“Fifteen Million Merits”—is an even rougher ride. It tackles social media and reality TV more directly, but with surprising storytelling sophistication and emotional depth.
The stories in Black Mirror initially present themselves as sci-fi, but tonally, they're much closer to that other disreputable speculative fiction genre—they're horror all the way. Forget ghost stories or splatter-porn. You really want to scare yourself silly, gaze into this mirror. You won’t be able to look away, though you might wish that you could.
Black Mirror is available now on Netflix Instant, DVD and Blu-ray.
Other notable releases this week, now available on digital and disc:
Keanu Reeves plays a hardcase hitman in the surprisingly well-reviewed John Wick.
Brad Pitt leads a tank crew in the bleak WWII drama Fury.
The Book of Life is a solid family movie-night choice for the kids, concerning true love, Mexican folklore and the lighter side of underworld afterlife.
Games interested in the thinkier aspects of the medium may want to track down the new documentary Video Games: The Movie.
Also: The Judge, Open Windows, The Best of Me, My Old Lady, The Color of Time and, for you poor hopeless addicts,Downton Abbey: Season 5.