BLACK MIR­ROR

the cracked world of Char­lie Brooker is com­ing to Net­flix.

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Contents -

We Brits tend to have con­flicted feel­ings about our coun­try­men hav­ing suc­cess over­seas. It makes you feel like po­litely wav­ing a small Union Jack on a stick. But there’s of­ten an ac­com­pa­ny­ing fear that will spoil things: that your favourite band might re­turn from tour­ing US are­nas as coke-ad­dled ego­ma­ni­acs. So we’ll un­der­stand if you feel any trep­i­da­tion about tech-night­mares an­thol­ogy show Black Mir­ror leav­ing Chan­nel 4 be­hind to go global, with the first of two six-episode or­ders for stream­ing gi­ant Net­flix.

It’s a move that’s come about in large part due to how well the show did when it de­buted on Net­flix US in De­cem­ber 2014, when the crit­i­cal gar­lands in­cluded a tweet of praise from Stephen King – some­thing which de­lighted cre­ator Char­lie Brooker.

“I’m a big Stephen King fan,” says Brooker. “Who wouldn’t be chuffed about that? When we were mak­ing the orig­i­nal se­ries we weren’t think­ing in terms of peo­ple around the world at all – we were just think­ing, ‘Let’s not fuck this up!’ We fig­ured it was a pretty Bri­tish show.”

So does mov­ing to a new home fun­da­men­tally change the ap­proach? The fact that episode one of the new batch, “San Ju­nipero”, opens in Cal­i­for­nia in 1987 might cause you to won­der whether there’s a drive to in­ter­na­tion­alise the show.

“Well, we’re aware this is be­ing launched glob­ally, so peo­ple in Mum­bai will be able to watch it at the same time as peo­ple in Ket­ter­ing,” ac­knowl­edges Brooker. “So that’s in our head some­where. And there’s more vari­ance in set­ting. But we’ve still got some very Bri­tish things go­ing on through­out, and Bri­tish set­tings for sev­eral episodes, so hope­fully we’re mar­ry­ing a global out­look with a Bri­tish sen­si­bil­ity. We’re still fly­ing the flag!”

Amer­i­can au­di­ences as­sume I’m, like, the Un­abomber

When it comes to the nos­tal­gia-fest that’s “San Ju­nipero” – cen­tred on a night­club where pretty young things dance to the likes of The Ban­gles and Belinda Carlisle – it’s a case of the story nat­u­rally sug­gest­ing the set­ting.

“I was think­ing, ‘How could we do a pe­riod episode?’,” Brooker ex­plains. “More than think­ing, ‘We’re on Net­flix now, so let’s give this one an Amer­i­can set­ting.’ It suited the story. Also, it was un­ex­pected. When you put Black Mir­ror on you prob­a­bly ex­pect to see some­one with a translu­cent phone frown­ing, go­ing, ‘Argh, these ma­chines are ru­in­ing my life!’ So I thought, ‘Well okay, we’ll open in 1987 Cal­i­for­nia. We don’t want to just be the show where ev­ery week some­one has their life ru­ined by a de­vice. Which isn’t to say that we don’t have mo­ments that are re­ally hor­ri­ble, be­cause we do! But there’s slightly more vari­ance in tone.”

That’s cer­tainly true of “San Ju­nipero”, which fo­cuses on a touch­ing ro­mance, and has a con­clu­sion Brooker de­scribes as “the clos­est we get to a feel­good end­ing”. Yes, the se­ries which brought us mass-par­tic­i­pa­tion pun­ish­ment of a child-killer and the Prime Min­is­ter shag­ging a pig now has an episode you could le­git­i­mately de­scribe as “heart­warm­ing”. “It’s not al­ways a com­plete and ut­ter bleak­fest,” Brooker adds. “We’ve got slightly more satir­i­cal episodes, as well as un­fold­ing night­mares.”

Would he ever do an out-and-out com­edy, like The Twi­light Zone used to?

“Well, one is prob­a­bly the clos­est to that that we’ve done. But there’s al­ways lit­tle jokes in there. Be­cause an Amer­i­can au­di­ence doesn’t have knowl­edge of me as a com­edy writer they as­sume I’m, like, the Un­abomber – some anti-tech­nol­ogy zealot who’s try­ing to warn the world! But nine times out of ten the sto­ries come about from an idea that makes me fuck­ing piss my­self! Then it’s in­ter­est­ing to play it out straight.”

As well as a greater range of set­ting and tone, sea­son three has a lit­tle more visual va­ri­ety.

“When we did the first sea­son it started with the con­tem­po­rary Bri­tain of ‘The Na­tional An­them’,” Brooker re­calls, “Then went to ‘Fif­teen Mil­lion Mer­its’, a com­pletely fan­tas­ti­cal world. We hadn’t done that in the sec­ond sea­son – things were a lit­tle more nor­malised. So we’ve got weirder stuff go­ing on in some of these episodes.”

If you’re fret­ting that transplanting Black Mir­ror to Net­flix might some­how re­sult in di­lu­tion or artis­tic com­pro­mise, rest as­sured: these moves to put a few more flavours in the choco­late box aren’t the re­sult of the clouds part­ing as a Net­flix exec de­liv­ers a di­rec­tive in the boom­ing tones of God.

“They’ve been very hands-off,” Brooker says. “Pretty much all they said was, ‘You’ve done seven episodes so far. We like those. Carry on do­ing that sort of thing.’”

But be­ing in­volved with the stream­ing ser­vice has had an im­pact on the bud­get. “We were aware that there was a big­ger can­vas to play with,” Brooker ac­knowl­edges. Net­flix’s pro­file, reach and rep­u­ta­tion have also helped at­tract a dif­fer­ent or­der of tal­ent – in­clud­ing di­rec­tors with the name recog­ni­tion of Atone­ment’s Joe Wright and 10 Clover­field Lane’s Dan Tracht­en­berg. Though Brooker’s had a hand in ev­ery script, he’s also wel­comed new col­lab­o­ra­tors, in­clud­ing Parks And Re­cre­ation’s Rashida Jones (who played Ann) and Mike Schur (the show’s cre­ator).

“Peo­ple are aware that there’s quite a lot of cre­ative free­dom,” Brooker ex­plains, “and that it’s an im­me­di­ate global plat­form. We’re work­ing to a large scale, with some very ex­pe­ri­enced di­rec­tors. And the dif­fer­ent di­rec­tors each bring a dif­fer­ent sen­si­bil­ity. Dan’s film plays to his strengths in terms of ten­sion and claus­tro­pho­bia, and has a de­li­cious sense of fun. Joe Wright’s is ex­tremely cin­e­matic, has an idio­syn­cratic visual style and its own pal­ette, and again is prob­a­bly not what peo­ple are ex­pect­ing from Black Mir­ror.”

With all six episodes due to go live si­mul­ta­ne­ously, Brooker says he’s fas­ci­nated to see how au­di­ences will re­spond to the new de­liv­ery method.

“I think it’s the per­fect for­mat for an­thol­ogy shows. The Twi­light Zone was of­ten on the verge of can­cel­la­tion be­cause it didn’t rate that well – be­cause there’s no cliffhanger, there’s no rea­son to tune in next week. We’ve been ap­proach­ing them – with our hi­fa­lutin’ ways – as lit­tle films. And be­cause there’s a lot of va­ri­ety through­out the six, it’ll be like hav­ing a lit­tle short film fes­ti­val de­liv­ered to you.”

Just for a mo­ment, he can savour the thought. Then he re­mem­bers.

“And then there’s an­other six a year down the line, which I’m al­ready wor­ry­ing about...”

Black Mir­ror comes to Net­flix on 21 Oc­to­ber.

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