Is the Team Behind ‘Black Mirror’ Starting to Run Out of Ideas?

Matthew Loffhagen
Netflix
(Photo: Netflix)

There’s only so many times that Black Mirror can rely on the same basic premise before it gets boring.

Sure, the first few seasons have proved to be some of the more popular entertainment in television at the moment, but with success comes a need for reinvention.

The moral of the story can’t always be that technology is bad. Pretty soon, this foregone conclusion is going to be so predictable as to make show unwatchable.

The new trailer for a season four episode entitled Arkangel provides something of a warning sign, as Black Mirror looks dangerously like it’s about to lean heavily into the same tropes and clichés that, once fresh and original, have become significantly less shocking as the show has progressed.

The story here looks pretty simple: a mother is worried about her child getting too far away from her, and as such, has opted to have her tagged with some kind of ill-defined technology that we’ll no doubt learn more about in the episode itself.

Whatever this weird tech might be, it is apparently “safe”, although even the trailer can’t keep up that premise for too long.

The whole thing looks like a cookie cutter Black Mirror episode. Main character willingly accepts commonly used technology without worrying about the consequences, then main character eventually learns to their horror that actually, too much technology is bad.

It’s also possible that someone in this episode will turn out to be a pedophile, because there are only so many moving parts in a Black Mirror episode, and when you’re dealing with kids, it’s inevitable that showrunner Charlie Brooker is going to try and make things as uncomfortable as possible.

It’s hard to get too enthused about this particular episode of Black Mirror. We know some much cooler stuff is on the horizon in the upcoming season, including a funky Star Trek parody that’s probably going to end in a violent, bloody mess.

Black Mirror Trek
Source: Netflix

Either way, the core concept behind this entire anthology show is beginning to wear thin. It’s hardly biting social commentary to point out that people spend too much time on their phones, but that’s essentially the entire reason Black Mirror exists.

You like Facebook and Twitter? You take a lot of selfies? You’re probably a bad person – at least, according to the Black Mirror writers, who make a living out of perpetuating luddite technophobic attitudes.

There is, very occasionally, a rare treat among the Black Mirror episodes past that suggests that this show could be something more complicated and interesting. San Junipero is the classic beloved episode – probably in large part because it’s sweet and cute, and has a vaguely uplifting ending.

This isn’t to say that every episode of the show should have a happy ending – that goes against the Twilight Zone vibe that Black Mirror is trying to emulate.

It’s just a shame that, with the increased budget that this show is getting now that it’s on Netflix, we’re not getting more period pieces, or quirkier stories that travel further away from modern society.

Take, as a comparison, Neill Blomkamp’s mid-budget YouTube series of horror sci-fi shorts Oats Studio: Volume 1. These fly between a far larger variety of different settings and time periods, and are equally dour and critical of modern life, but don’t just feel like they’re going through the motions and condemning people for spending too long on Instagram.

Here’s hoping that there’ll be enough in Black Mirror season four to make it stand out, and that the show’s writers aren’t running out of things to say about the challenges of our increasingly technologically-dependent society.

Otherwise, Black Mirror might end up being part of the problem. One modern trend that’s very rarely examined is the way that our culture is stagnating as movie and TV producers refuse to innovate or breathe life into our entertainment.

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