Black Mirror

Introduction

I had heard of Black Mirror quite a few times over the years, but despite having access to it via Netflix I never thought to check it out before. That changed awhile back when I decided to watch the San Junipero episode from Season 3. I had heard Black Mirror was an anthology, and while some episodes have connecting elements it could be watched in any order. Hearing just how good San Junipero was, I figured I could start there and if I liked it could then go back and start at the beginning.

Well, needless to say San Junipero was amazing! But, it was quite awhile before I actually sat down to begin watching the other episodes. In fact, it wasn’t until the release of Bandersnatch that finally gave me the needed kick in the butt. As there are quite a few episodes in total, I wanted to give my quick impression of each one. I’m also careful NOT to spoiler anything, because you REALLY need to go into this and experience it with no previous knowledge!

Individual quick reviews

  • The National Anthem – An obscene and over-the-top premise quickly sets the tone of what to expect from this show. But, a great ending does set things up…
  • Fifteen Million Merits – An interesting premise, but felt very claustrophobic and under-developed regarding the technology and plot relating to it. But I do have to give a shout-out to Daniel Kaluuya‘s performance, especially his monologue at the climax.
  • The Entire History of You – The first episode to wisely use futuristic technology, along with fantastic acting and realistic portrayals of relationships. This is the first episode to make me REALLY want more!
  • Be Right Back – The first of the more emotional episodes, this one isn’t quite as well-developed. I think the introduction of the android(?) was too soon and her adjustment too easy.
  • White Bear – One of the best episodes, the premise and ending will make you think and grimace simultaneously.
  • The Waldo Moment – Ugh. Definitely the weakest episode, and honestly shouldn’t have made the cut. Unfortunately nothing warrants mention.
  • White Christmas – A great “anthology within an anthology” episode, and the ending is fantastic. Also, Jon Hamm was incredible!
  • Nosedive – Another episode with an almost strange implementation of technology, I think it’s only because of Bryce Dallas Howards’ acting that this episode works as well as it does.
  • Playtest – This episode is my guilty pleasure pick. Taking technology and video games into account, there are some genuinely scary moments and a great setting! Also, Wyatt Russell shows an incredible range of emotions and behavior.
  • Shut Up and Dance – One of the least tech-featured episodes ends up being one of the most dramatic and intense of the series. Hard to watch, especially the ending, but it’s undeniably Black Mirror at its best.
  • San Junipero – Absolutely one of my best picks! A great story, unique way of showing the technology in a delayed manner, and both heartbreaking and uplifting acting.
  • Men Against Fire – This episode had an interesting premise and technology, but I don’t feel it was fully developed and was left underwhelmed.
  • Hated in the Nation – Basically a full movie, this had an outstanding story and technology! It takes a bit to get going, but thankfully due to various run-lengths of each episode this one was allowed space to breathe and grow organically.
  • USS Callister – A very ambitious episode with a stellar cast. Definitely one of my top picks!
  • Arkangel – This episode was too slow and I didn’t really care about the characters, as interesting as the technology was.
  • Crocodile – Wow! Very grim and dark. A great opening/beginning, and continues to spiral out of control from there. A stunning shooting location helps set the tone.
  • Hang the DJ – A very sweet episode, perhaps with a better ending than San Junipero. You can’t help but smile!
  • Metalhead – It was very interesting to see an episode entirely in black-and-white, I would love more in this style! A grim post-apocalyptic setting and shorter runtime made this one of the most intense episodes.
  • Black Museum – A very interesting “anthology within an anthology” episode, like Metalhead I would love to see more like this. Fantastic ending!
  • Bandersnatch – While not technically part of Season 5, Bandersnatch is labelled as a Black Mirror-related release. Not a normal episode or film, instead it’s characterized as a choose-your-own-adventure. It’s hard not to like the retro-inspired setting and tone, while the acting and pace of the story are both excellent. Your first viewing may take a long or short amount of time, but either way I guarantee you’ll go back at least once to try other things.

Conclusion

I’ve never really watched that much TV, past or present, cable or not. We’ve had Netflix for a number of years now, but the rare times it was used for TV shows were for old favorites. However, in the past few years Netflix has (co-)funded numerous series, usually modeled after the British style of fewer but longer-running episodes. We’ve slowly started to check these out, and Black Mirror certainly stands high in favor!

BBC’s And Then There Were None

I’ve already written about the fact that And Then There Were None is my favorite mystery, and probably novel, of all time. It’s a perfect mystery without the added ending, and the amount of suspense and terror coming up to the end is almost too much. Recently I was browsing on Amazon and was surprised to discover that the BBC had adapted the novel to a 3-episode miniseries. While my expectations were sky-high, I went ahead and ordered it since the reviews all seemed to be pretty good (I didn’t read them, as I didn’t want to be spoilered by what changes may have been made in the adaptation).

The first impression when I started to watch this is the incredible music by Stuart Earl; the cello and other instruments engulf the viewer and like the mansion on the island seem to be an inescapable trap, in turns caressed and pummeled like the the waves of water as the weather worsens. Unlike the book, in the miniseries the backgrounds of the characters are brought up throughout the show in a more prominent manner. It’s an interesting change and I don’t mind it, but it does cause the beginning of the miniseries to be a bit confusing as to what’s actually happening at the present time.

Mr. and Mrs. Rogers, the caretakers, also share some screen-time, and unlike the book their relationship is shown to be much more precarious, culminating in Mr. Jones even striking his wife. The rest of the characters follow their book counterpoints for the most part. Some of the characters, notably Dr. Armstrong, are a bit over-dramatic and amped up for the screen, but I guess that’s not really surprising these days. I also pictured Justice Wargrave as being shorter and heavier. The house itself is a wonderful feature, and pretty close to what I had always pictured. I did always envision a full wrap-around balcony both on the ground and second floor.

While I mention that I pictured Justice Wargrave differently, I must say the casting of Charles Dance was perfect (if you’ve never watched Game of Thrones, he’s fantastic as Tywin Lannister!), especially in the last scene of the third episode here. His reasoning and underlying sinister behavior just makes everything that much more unsettling. The other actors are also excellent, and I was pleasantly surprised to see Sam Neill as General MacArthur.

Overall while I was happy to see a miniseries from the BBC, I do wish it was a little bit longer. I have no doubt this 3-episode miniseries handled the source material better than a movie could, but there’s no doubt the book spends more time between each murder; that helps the suspense and unease grow, as well as prolonging the mystery of what’s going on inside the house and on the island. I do remember reading the book that more time was also spent with several pairs or groups searching the island, as well as taking time to talk at either the dining table or in the lounge room; almost all of that is skipped in the miniseries. I think going to 5 or 6 episodes could have easily been done, even if more time was also used for the characters’ backstories and such.

Psych

As I’ve written in multiple posts previously, I’m a total slut for mysteries, whether it’s books, TV, movies, and even games. A mystery is to me the culmination of a well-constructed plot and engages the reader/viewer/player more than anything else.

While there have been many good mystery series on TV, most of them tend to focus on police procedure and violence, especially those in recent years/decades. One great series that puts more focus on comedy, wit, and a nice dash of irreverent 80s references is Psych.

Debuting in 2006, Psych was the second mystery/crime hit for the USA Network, following Monk‘s debut in 2002. In this series though, the eccentricities have been dialed way back, and we also get phenomenal chemistry and interesting interactions between all the main actors. Even in the very first pilot episode, Sean and Gus already have a great background story growing up in Santa Barbara. Once he is caught and nearly in jail for trying to help solve a case for the police, Sean desperately relies on the skills he acquired growing up with a single father who was a detective for the very same police department.

Wowing the officers and getting off the hook with the detectives, the chief pulls Sean in on another case, and not before long Sean pulls in Gus to start a psychic detective case. It sounds as wild as Gus’ exasperated look belies, but Sean is a very keen observer with a photographic memory, assisting the police and his own clients solve everything from robberies, missing persons, hauntings, and of course murders.

Over the course of 8 seasons, the actors and characters have a very nice growth and maturity. In the center would have to be Sean and Juliet’s relationship, as his crush is agonizingly and slowly, but surely, returned by Juliet, and it’s a very sweet friendship as well as romance that we get. Sean also repairs and grows the relationship with his father, and that is also really nice to see. Sean’s friendship with Gus is pretty steady with a few ups and downs throughout the series, much like a normal friendship should be.

In conclusion, it’s really nice to see a series like this come along, something that truly has its heart and mind in a good place, and isn’t overly violent, mean, or anything else drastic that seems to overwhelm TV these days.

Stranger Things

 

You need to watch this show! Yes, pay for a Netflix subscription if you’re not already a member. Let’s start with the incredible music of Stranger Things and logo shown in the intro; I could literally listen to this all day, and I already have. These pulsing synths continue throughout the show, coming in at perfect times and never over-staying their welcome. We also get some other songs throughout the series, and they’re hit or miss; I’d have preferred just the score by SURVIVE.

The cast of this show is also wonderful. The five younger kids, arguably the main characters, are some of the best child actors I’ve been in a TV show or movie, so kudos to the actors themselves as well as the directors who helped draw out these performances. The high school kids are also very good and show the teenage turmoil we’re all painfully aware of. Winona Ryder has a bit of a comeback in this series, as I can’t honestly remember what else she’s been in since the early 90s. David Harbour as the local sheriff is terrific, and easily conveys the conflict as a widower and divorcee. Matthew Modine is great as the scientist without any apparent morals.

I won’t go over the plot here, as it’s something you can find on its IMDB page and also because I recommend watching it with a blank slate. The show is equal parts mystery and thriller, with a bit of X-Files, Twin Peaks, and Call of Cthulhu thrown in. In other words, I feel this show was made exactly for me, and I can’t wait to see what future seasons come up with!

And Then There Were Fewer

 

I remember watching Family Guy way back in the day when my brother had purchased the first volume on DVD. I had never heard of it before, but it was quite funny and I became a fan, buying a few of the additional volumes released over the years. Eventually my interest waned, but would still occasionally watch it either on DVD or Netflix. I didn’t watch many of the later seasons, even as Netflix added more and more of them. I’m not sure how I found out about the episode And Then There Were Fewer (spoiler alert!), but as soon as I learned it was a riff on And Then There Were None crossed with Clue, I HAD to watch it, and thankfully it was already on Netflix.

Simply put, I love this two-part episode! The music, the lighting, the genuine mystery of who the actual murderer is, it’s all here and works perfectly together. Now this is a Family Guy episode, so there’s a lot of characters making appearances and doing their spiel for a joke fairly often; luckily it doesn’t fully detract from the mystery at hand. I was both very happy and pissed off when the episode ended, because I wanted more! A few other shows I’ve watched have done a similar mystery-centered episode, but I can’t remember one ever being as well-constructed as this.