Must-see shows for 2019

It’s a year of TV drama with He­len Mir­ren as Cather­ine the Great and Richard Gere in his first TV show since Ko­jak. It be­gan with a bang and the lat­est it­er­a­tion of the ground-break­ing and mind-bend­ing Black Mir­ror. Donal O’Donoghue meets its mak­ers, Char

RTÉ Guide - - Contents -

Donal O’Donoghue chats to Black Mir­ror’s Charlie Brooker and looks at the big TV shows com­ing our way this year

Ihave seen the fu­ture of TV, or have I? Bandersnatch, the fea­ture-length episode of Black Mir­ror that dropped onto Netflix with­out any fan­fare on De­cem­ber 28, claims to be the first in­ter­ac­tive adult TV drama ever. Crit­i­cal opin­ion has been di­vided, both lauda­tory (“Charlie Brooker’s meta mas­ter­piece”, The Guardian) and luke­warm (“Bandersnatch Has Many Paths, but Do Any of Them Add Up to Any­thing?”, The New York Times), but Bandersnatch cer­tainly made a splash. Fol­low­ing its de­but, one of its stars, Will Poul­ter, left so­cial me­dia in the in­ter­est of his men­tal health and even now, cre­ator Charlie Brooker is still not quite sure what he has made. Is it a TV show or a video game or the fu­ture of both?

“I don’t know if it is the fu­ture of any­thing so much as the lat­est it­er­a­tion of something that’s ex­isted for sev­eral decades,” says Brooker. “But it does feel like a point in tech­no­log­i­cal his­tory where this ex­ists in a seam­less way on a plat­form that is not a gam­ing plat­form. So that does feel to me quite rev­o­lu­tion­ary.” Be­side him, his pro­duc­ing part­ner, Annnabel Jones, nods in agree­ment. “You are on a global stream­ing plat­form watch­ing movies and TV and sud­denly something else comes along that has the look and smell of a film and you en­gage and be­fore you know it, you are drawn in.”

In a nut­shell (although it de­fies cat­e­gori­sa­tion), Bandersnatch is the story of a young video game progam­mer (Fionn White­head) in 1984 Lon­don who sets out to cre­ate a new game (Bandersnatch) but falls down the rab­bit hole. At var­i­ous points in the nar­ra­tive, the viewer is given op­tions to click on, from pick­ing break­fast ce­real to po­ten­tially life or death de­ci­sions. Thus the show can last as long as you stay within the var­i­ous loops be­fore ar­riv­ing at mul­ti­ple end­ings. Jones be­lieves that there are five de­fin­i­tive end­ings, while Brooker, who once made a case for many more, now says that there might be just two. Although he may have been jok­ing about this, as it’s hard to read his cor­ru­gated smile.

Like a re­cent po­lit­i­cal cam­paign slo­gan, Bandersnatch is all about tak­ing back con­trol. Or so the mak­ers would have us be­lieve. So un­like the cult ’60s sci-fi se­ries, The Outer Lim­its, you now call the shots. Or do you? Some crit­ics have said that rather than be­ing lib­er­at­ing, Bandersnatch is ul­ti­mately lim­it­ing, a show that of­fers the il­lu­sion of choice but in fact nar­rows your op­tions down to a bi­nary con­fig­u­ra­tion, cre­at­ing a black and white world rather than many shades of grey. Maybe that is the ul­ti­mate ironic mes­sage in this Rus­sian-doll like cre­ation. In any case, it fired the in­ter­net into over­drive as view­ers tried to tease out ev­ery pos­si­ble op­tion, fu­elled by Brooker’s rev­e­la­tion that they filmed one se­quence which they sub­se­quently couldn’t ac­cess.

As it took nearly two years to film Bandersnatch, the fifth sea­son of Black Mir­ror was pushed back but Netflix has con­firmed that it will still de­but in 2019. Lit­tle is known about this new sea­son, ex­cept Brooker let slip that the sto­ries might be more op­ti­mistic, less dystopian and dark. He shakes his head and won­ders if in­deed he ac­tu­ally said that. “Gen­er­ally that was a com­ment where I was say­ing that, over­all, I didn’t want all the sto­ries to be dystopian and de­press­ing and bleak, be­cause that gets very pre­dictable. It was partly, well, the world is a bit like that at the mo­ment, so how much stom­ach do I have for writ­ing that? And just to keep things fresh. You’ll see a mix of styles in the fifth sea­son.”

Brooker is adamant that tra­di­tional lin­ear-sto­ry­telling will en­dure and Black Mir­ror will con­tinue to do what it does best; tell sto­ries. “A com­mon mis­read­ing of the show is that it’s a warn­ing about the dan­gers of tech­nol­ogy, which I don’t think it is,” he says. “It’s just sto­ries, re­ally. We just hap­pen to use tech­nol­ogy in the same way The Twi­light Zone used the su­per­nat­u­ral. The at­mos­phere is dif­fer­ent. When we first did the show, the gen­eral at­ti­tude to­wards tech­nol­ogy seemed to be a very pos­i­tive one. Ev­ery­one was like, this phone is great! And now there’s a lot of dis­cus­sion about what so­cial me­dia is do­ing to our brain, is this so­cial me­dia go­ing to hit me in the balls? We just have to try to not have to be that in­flu­enced by that be­cause we’ve al­ways done the same job, which is to tell our lit­tle sto­ries.”

I have seen the fu­ture and in many ways it’s very like the past.

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