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
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.