Published Oct 20, 2016Charlie Brooker is a true multi-hyphenate if there ever was one. A columnist, comedy writer, radio presenter and cultural commentator, Brooker's got a razor-sharp point of view.
Having built a reputation as one of television's most ruthless critics with his Wipe series, he reminded us all that he could also make wonderful television with his Channel 4 anthology series Black Mirror. The show built a massive cult following for its arresting episodes, each of which served as a standalone dystopian parable, so it makes perfect sense that Netflix would come calling for more entries.
Unfortunately, the latest iteration of the show doesn't live up to its own standards for various reasons. Most glaringly, what was once a fresh format seems rather predictable now. As each episode unfolds, it's easy to anticipate the major twists that are intended to make us question everything. The episode "Shut Up and Dance," for example, offers nothing more than its cynical surprise, while "San Junipero," though a little more unique in its reveal, makes you strain so hard piecing it together that the final result likely won't move you much.
The show lacks any sense of subtlety, too. While past episodes like "National Anthem" unfolded with perfect tension and precision storytelling, this season is ruthlessly heavy-handed in its attempts to "say something" about modern society. "Nosedive" feels trite as it explores the ills of social media. Similarly, "Playtest" points a big fat finger at our craving to be thrilled by video games.
As if that weren't bad enough, the season also feels like it was written in a hurry. The dialogue, in particular, is often strained and hokey, a fact made more noticeable when it's not being covered up by warm British accents. American actors like Bryce Dallas Howard and Wyatt Russell are particularly grating.
Season 3 of Black Mirror has all the subtlety of one of those fake Banksy Twitter accounts or the latest issue of Adbusters. By the time you get to "Hated in the Nation" — a deconstruction of online bullying that's easily the season's most vital episode — you'll have been through a long and irritating enough slog that it doesn't pay off.
Brooker's outlook on the modern world is technophobic, and each episode of Black Mirror desperately tries to hammer a message about it home. Sadly, the most poignant critique is an unintentional one — our culture is obsessed with bringing back television shows even when there's nothing left to say. Black Mirror would be far better off as a franchise if it had ended after Season 2.