Tuesday, 31 March 2020

TV review: Black Mirror, series 5, Netflix (2019)

I started with these particular episodes because series 5 was the first one the TV interface offered me to view when I logged into Netflix and selected the program icon using the remote control. I’m not sure if I’ll try any of the other series available – some of which were produced by another company – because, let’s be honest, there is just so much content available online nowadays. My daughter recommended ‘Black Mirror’ to me.

The episodes are short divertissements and are weak on character though they have solid plots. They are an hour long so they are like novellas, if you would compare them to books and literature. Rather than “novels” (you might say that feature-length movies or multipart TV shows are like novels).

There is little development of character simply because there is not much time available for the filmmakers to play with. So the drama is not so much dependent on your concern for any one individual included in each episode, but rather is a function of the relevancy of ideas that have currency in the zeitgeist today. These are concept pieces rather than comedies or tragedies. While there is some character development in ‘Smithereens’ and in ‘Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too’, a movie that operated like one of these shorts would probably have to be regarded as too abstract if not weak, to give an example 2016’s ‘Collateral Beauty’, which was reviewed yesterday on this blog.

I’m old enough to remember watching ‘The Twilight Zone’ and even remember some of its episodes. Looking back, what stands out for me with regard to that show is how off the mark its predictions were. Dystopian futures rarely eventuate and I am sceptical about the likelihood of any of the futures put forward in the three programs I saw in series 5 of ‘Black Mirror’ actually happening, although some of them are set further into the future than others. The story in ‘Smithereens’, for example, could easily happen today.

Short-form video can be fun, but when it comes to this kind of product, ‘Black Mirror’ eps are actually not all that short. Back in January when social gatherings were still allowed I went to Bondi for Flickerfest to see films that were much shorter and just as good as any ‘Black Mirror’ episode, with some of them being superior in quality.  The short form promises to become more popular in future. Now Quibi is launching: a mobile phone-only short-video streaming service that will offer 10-minute videos suitable for train trips or for watching in the back of mum’s car on the way to soccer practice. 

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