David Dettmann / Zeppotron/Netflix
U.K. sci-fi series “Black Mirror” has become a bit of a cult favorite in recent years. For the uninitiated, the show takes a “Twilight Zone”-esque format of a single contained story with a different cast of characters from episode to episode. Rather than focusing on the supernatural or extraterrestrial, though, it instead grounds its weirdness a little closer to reality, with the unintended effects of advancing technology on modern society being a central theme.
At times dystopian but mostly placed in the not-too-distant future of our own world, the first two seasons of the show explored topics such as how the incessant cataloguing of life in social-media driven society can linger and haunt after a person’s death. It’s clever and well-crafted, and it has repeatedly managed to find facets of modern living to drill into and invert in a thought-provoking way.
And I can’t bear to watch it.
And I’ve tried, man. I’ve tried. Considering how weirded out I am by even my own lackluster attempts at cultivating a social media presence and the time I’ve spent living a life through a technical interface, this sort of stuff should be right up my alley. But I can’t get into it. It’s a little too real, and it’s a little too cruel.
The first two episodes of the third season of the show, which just became available for streaming in the U.S. last week, are prime examples. The first, “Nosedive,” follows a woman living in a society where a person’s social media presence is accompanied by a peer-generated ranking from one to five. These rankings are incorporated into every facet of society, from determining discounted monthly payments on a condo to gauging eligibility for necessary medical procedures.
I made it about 15 minutes into that one before bailing. Bryce Dallas Howard’s forced smiles and the self-serving kindness characters showed each other in an effort to ramp up their own scores digged a little too deep into my uncanny valley gag reflex and sparked visitations from ghosts of Instagram feeds past.
“Playtest,” the following episode, has young American backpacker Cooper stranded in Britain agreeing to playtest a new VR horror game as a way of scrounging up some funds for the plane ticket home. Things don’t work out for the best (as you may imagine), but the pain Cooper goes through while falling down his personal digital rabbit hole is callous and excessive, not really shining much light on the concept of virtual escapism as much as doling out undeserved punishment. Made it about 30 minutes into that one before fast forwarding to the ending (lame, I know, but c’mon — time is fleeting).
From what I’ve seen of “Black Mirror,” the individual storylines are well-acted and intricately crafted, and the show as a whole has an expansive view of the society we live in now and the society we might be living in a few years down the road. But for all its topicality and as much as I can see the draw of its quality, I’ve gotta back up and admit that it’s not for me.
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