Black Mirror (Season Six)
Charlie Brooker is back, finally. It seems, however, that there is a palpable lack of diminishing returns poking through in-between the buttons of his shirt. Whether this is merely technology fatigue on his part or the audience watching, but for the first time, it seems like Brooker may be slightly out of step with the rest of the population he is culturally and scientifically entertaining. Something he found so apparently easy to do in recent seasons appears to be more of a challenge. Originality was always a byword for any Black Mirror season, but this, at times, is proof-positive that you can only flog a horse so long before it falls over.
Joan Is Awful
One of Brooker's enduring skills was to tempt his audience with what is not only likely, but usually arguably inevitable in the near future. In Joan Is Awful, the first of five episodes in this sixth season, Brooker takes a stumble, swiping at quantum computing, which even his most ardent fans do not really understand, or have even had the chance to imagine a dystopian future in which it is even involved. As such, he opens with a sometimes funny misfire with strong performances from some big names. There's a nod or two to image rights in perpetuity which is far more likely, but even buying into that doesn't make the plot any more malleable.
With what appears to be a large chunk of the budget already spent on Salma Hayek (see above), the second of five stories is Loch Henry, a film shot in the Scottish highlands seems ideal. Here, many fans of the franchise will have their first real disconnect. Strong enough to double check they haven't flicked onto (insert random anthology horror series here), the story of a young film-maker urged by his girlfriend to make a movie about a serial killer in his old home town from years before and the unfolding events that come about due to the investigations involved. The performances are a bit jarring, not least the accents in some cases, but there is a satisfying twist. Brooker's now familiar and notorious nod to technology is entirely absent, however, only highlighting the episode as uncomfortably out of place.
Beyond The Sea
Whilst still not exactly poking the bull with a stick thematically, this is much closer to the Brooker we have come to expect. Great storytelling, good performances and with just enough veiled dystopia to keep you engaged. At eighty minutes, calling it a 'short' is a bit of a stretch, however, but there is some much decent stuff here to make it worthwhile. The story of two astronauts who are able to cognitively connect and be physically present to their families with the aid of a physical avatar throws up some moral questions when tragedy strikes. There are some obvious questions that are not addressed on purpose for the sake of convenience, but excellent performances from Aaron Paul, Kate Mara and Josh Hartnett make this the pick of the bunch by some degree.
This was on a hiding to nothing really, coming after the standout. A simple short that is as obvious as it will be pissed where it was put in the running order. Not for the firs time, Brooker opts for moving away from technology to concentrate on a much more traditional fairy-tale. A paparazzi darling and movie superstar disappears off-set and a price is put on her head for the first picture of her, which prompts a group of money-hungry photographers to be the first to obtain the scoop. Only they get much more than they bargained for. Honestly, this is beneath Brooker and doesn't really belong in the much loved anthology in which it sits. Forgettable enough for me to have to look it up as a reminder for what came fourth. Yawn.
Boney M comes up a couple of times in the anthology (Joan is wearing a Boney M t-shirt in the first episode) and here also, the ghost of Bobby Farrell shows up as an apprentice demon, tasked with making his accidental summoner commit three murders in three days in order to stop the world from entering an apocalypse. Again, more suited to The Twilight Zone, this plonks itself most convincingly in the seventies and is both well written and performed ably. It isn't complicated by any stretch and re-inforces the notion that this isn't the Black Mirror we were expecting or for that matter, wanted.
Overall, for the most part, there is nothing wrong with the quality here on show, comfortably sitting in average throughout and occasionally popping into great, but not for long. The issue of the quality was never in doubt, but the content contained within. You could, at a push, suggest that two of the five films chosen fit the franchise mould that drew at least this reviewer to sit down excitedly on release day. Brooker has always been synonymous for originality and a tongue firmly planted in cheek as he quietly decimates his subject matter, but alot of that is absent here. He used to scald. This time, he struggles to maintain a flame.