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THE CRITICS

TELEVISION

Smothered by
social media
Rachel Cooke
Black Mirror
Netflix

When it comes to television, cleverness is


no guarantee of enjoyment. Charlie Brook-
er’s Black Mirror, now in its third series (it
has migrated from the impecunious Chan-
nel 4 to the flashy Netflix), is undoubtedly
a real smarty-pants of a show. Its plots are
tricksy, its dystopian themes are whizzy
and its writing is frequently unnervingly
prescient. Yet only rarely is it wholly grip-
ping. The new series – six episodes, five of
which are an hour long and one of which
comes in somewhat indulgently at 90 min-
utes – is much patchier than either critics or Back to the future: Mackenzie Davis stars in San Junipero in the new season of Black Mirror
fans will allow. If Shut Up and Dance (the
third and best film) had me feeling sick with to a five-star system. Social media-induced have a corrosive effect on our friendships –
dread, San Junipero (the fourth) only made plastic smiles – an ersatz form of happi- isn’t an obscure one, for which reason his
me long for sleep. ness that spells instant death to authentic- satire feels outsized, a custard-coloured JCB
Some liken it to Tales of the Unexpected, ity – are, as any fool who spends too long digger in a field of black Smart cars.
a beloved ITV series based on Roald Dahl’s on Facebook or Twitter will know already, It’s moderately amusing to discover that
short stories, which aired in the late 1970s pretty much the highway to hell, or at any many tech-focused websites have already
and 1980s. The comparison isn’t a good rate to a prescription for Prozac. cheerfully rated Brooker’s new films for
one, easy though it is to panic and clutch And so it proves here. Lacie Pound (Bryce the benefit of their readers. Nosedive, pre-
at straws when confronted with Brooker’s Dallas Howard) needs a four-and-a-half-star dictably, doesn’t come out too well in their
monster brain and cynicism. rating to qualify for a discount on her rent, surveys, and neither does Hated in the Na-
Shut Up and Dance, in which an unseen tion, which features drone-hacking and a
individual or group goes vigilante through deadly hashtag, or Shut Up and Dance, with
people’s mobile phones, comes with a His satire is outsized, its plot that turns on text messages. (What
bombshell of a twist, one in which the a custard-coloured JCB next: a Brooker drama in which a landline
viewer’s deep sympathy for its main char- takes centre stage?) Men Against Fire, about
acter – a teenage boy who has been caught in a field of Smart cars the effects of technology in warfare, does
watching porn online – is suddenly com- better, as does Playtest, in which a young
promised and in the most painful way im- and her only hope of achieving it lies with American, stranded in London and hop-
aginable. Yet other films in this series seem, the speech that she’ll make at her childhood ing to earn his airfare home, signs up to try
even to this arch technophobe, to follow a frenemy’s wedding. (Think of all the stran- out a new artificial-reality game, with dis-
fairly predictable trajectory. That they are gers who’ll “five star” her on hearing it!) But astrous consequences. Most of all, though,
chilly is to be expected; the fictional future when her flight is delayed, the mask briefly the geeks adore San Junipero, a love story set
is rarely warm. That they are tired is anoth- slips, and with it her rating. Quite soon, she both in the 1980s and – don’t read on if you
er matter altogether. finds herself persona non grata. “I cannot haven’t seen it yet – an assisted living cen-
Take Nosedive, the first episode, set in have a 2.6 at my wedding!” screams Naomie tre for the elderly. Oh, the screeds that have
a pastel-pink future in which human be- (Alice Eve), aspiration oozing from every already been written about this one.
ings rate each other all day long according pore. Brooker’s point – that social media can I get all the references. I’m as keen (or
not) on Belinda Carlisle as the next forty-
something; I’m alert to Ally Sheedy and
how one might pay homage to her Brat Pack
loveliness; I spent what felt like two years
of my life shifting my weight from foot to
foot in cheesy dives that strongly resem-
bled Tucker’s, the nightclub in San Junipero.
Yet, for all its much-vaunted poignancy –
Charlie-Brooker-has-heart shock! – it felt
pretty soggy to me. A blunt instrument hid-
den inside a bubble perm: we’re talking Joel
Schumacher, not George Orwell. l
52 | NEW STATESMAN | 4-10 NOVEMBER 2016
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