Anthology series like “The Twilight Zone” have always represented the best of classic speculative television, and “Black Mirror” is the modern-day heir to the throne. Created by Charlie Brooker, the seven stand-alone stories originally distributed on Channel 4 in the U.K. brought us an intense but fascinating collection of “what if?”s about how technology affects our society, and Netflix took notice. The first two seasons are now available for streaming, and on October 21, six new episodes will debut globally on the service.
At this summer’s Television Critics Association press tour, IndieWire spoke with Brooker and executive producer Annabel Jones, who promised a wide variety of genre with the next installments. The teases we’ve gotten so far of what to expect include a police procedural, a story that reimagines modern warfare, a tale of social media satire co-written by Mike Schur and Rashida Jones, and a video game/horror romp directed by “10 Cloverfield Lane” director Dan Trachtenberg. (Said Brooker of Tratchenberg: “He’s one of the few people I’ve met who’s geekier about video games than I am.”)
Both Brooker and Jones were excited about the freedom that comes with working with Netflix. “It’s so different to a network,” Jones said. “Where you don’t have restrictions in terms of censorship, or duration, or–“
“–Ad breaks,” Brooker added. “We don’t have to worry about all that kind of stuff.”
“So you sort of can just feel the story more,” Jones said.
This means a variety of runtimes for the new episodes, which go from a standard hour to feature-length — just part of what Brooker feels makes the format work for Netflix.
“It’s kind of the perfect platform for an anthology show as well. They traditionally have struggled with it on broadcast TV, because there’s no over-riding story, there’s no cliffhangers. So to try and trick you into… trick you?” Brooker paused, then corrected, “–Tempt you into coming back. Being on a platform where you get all six at once makes perfect sense. It’s like being given a short story collection or a ticket to a film festival, basically.”
That presents a unique challenge for the show — unlike a serialized drama, the “Black Mirror” producers have options when it comes to the order in which episodes are uploaded. In fact, like a short story collection or film festival, there’s a level of curation involved.
How do they approach it? “We’re going to order them in a specific way so that there’s a variety, I think. So there’s a different flavor from one to the other,” Jones said. “Particularly because some of the episodes are now set in America, all have American actors. So we’re just making sure that they don’t feel predictable. That will influence the running order.”
“It’s kind of like sequencing an album, I guess. Not that I’ve ever sequenced an album, but, you know, it feels similar,” Brooker noted. “There’s probably a wider variety of tone across the season than we’ve done before, because we’re doing six and not three.” And we don’t want two really bleak ones together — so let’s mix those up.”
“Really bleak” is an interesting term to discuss in the context of “Black Mirror,” given that previous episodes have featured emotional devastation (as in the case of “The National Anthem”) as well as global devastation (the final moments of “The Waldo Moment”). And Brooker seems to enjoy that aspect of the show.
“Usually if something is so horrendous that people are staggering away, I’m kind of like, ‘Yay! Mission accomplished!'” he said. “We always want to elicit a response. Not all our episodes are just sort of bleak fests and the like. We’ve got a little bit more variety this time around. But certainly we want a response from the viewer.”
He looks to Jones as a guide in the process — specifically, Jones’ tears. “Generally, when we’re coming up with the stories, they come about through a discussion and it’s always about a human dilemma or a ‘what if?’ story that usually makes me really laugh and gets you all upset,” he noted to his partner. “That’s when we go, ‘That’s a ‘Black Mirror’ story!’ If I’m howling with laughter and you’re in tears, we’ve hit on the right kind of story.”
“It’s not a gender stereotype thing,” Jones pointed out.
“Because I do cry about all sorts of other things,” Brooker agreed.
Netflix has greenlit another six episodes beyond the six that will premiere this month, and fortunately, Brooker doesn’t see them running out of stories anytime soon. “If you look around at the moment, we’re living in a ‘Black Mirror’ world,” he said. “The challenge is staying ahead of how weird and crazy the real world is becoming.”
Six new episodes of “Black Mirror” premiere October 21 on Netflix. Check out stills from the show below.