Black Mirror series 5 review

Another year, another bleak foray into the existential dread of the nature of the human condition. Although, this time, things seem a little different. Perhaps showrunner Charlie Brooker has discovered inner peace, or at least a substance based substitute, because Black Mirror series five is perhaps the franchise’s most optimistic and bright outing yet.

Continuing on Netflix following six expectedly dark episodes and one bizarre and disappointing AR experiment that Bandersnatched expectations and threw them down the loo, series five provides a comparatively conservative three episodes. The viewing order is seemingly random, so I’ll briefly break each down in the order I was shown; Striking Vipers, Smithereens, and finally Rachel, Jack, and Ashley Too.

Reflecting on the three as a whole, there are two major differences when compared to previous series. Firstly; less of a reliance on future technology for narrative devices. Unlike the memory chips, cookies, and robot dogs of past series’, this edition could almost be considered contemporary. Facebook (sorry, Smithereens) and VR games are the targets of Brooker’s cutting ire instead. Of course, there is some tech that goes beyond the realm of current possibility, mainly within Rachel, Jack, and Ashley Too, but instead of being horrifying and dread inducing, it’s just a bit too silly to believe. That said, this is the same series that tried to sell us on a prison-torture theme park, so make of that what you will.

That leads me nicely onto difference number two; tone. Historically, and especially during its initial Channel Four run, Black Mirror has taken an almost laughably bleak view of modern / future life via desperately depressing scripts. Horrifically dark twist endings would flirt with almost absurdist finales that would make even the grimmest Twilight Zone epilogue look like an episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark. Not so in series five. While only one of the three endings could be considered ‘happy,’ another is certainly optimistic, and the final one is ambiguous, but admittedly, more traditionally ‘Brookerish’.

Striking Vipers 

Striking Vipers is about two dudes shagging as Street Fighter characters while telling themselves that ‘it’s not cheating’ (life hack fellas – if you’re hiding it from them, it’s cheating). Alright, so there’s more to it than that. The question of sexuality is probably the most underdeveloped aspect, and LGBTQ+ viewers will likely be disappointed to see how glossed over this conversation is, as it essentially amounts to ‘no homo.’ The VR concept is novel, and I’m always game for a conversation that encourages video games to be viewed as an art form worthy of intellectual discussion (as well as scantily clad fighters with fire punches), but the social commentary just doesn’t hit the mark here.

It should go without saying that all three episodes are shot real nicely, maintaining the washed out Black Mirror colour palette that gives the series its own identity. Performance wise, it was lovely to see nobody’s favourite Avenger Anthony Mackie show off some proper acting chops. He’s great, and I’d love to see him in more things. Overall, Striking Vipers is a beautifully filmed episode with great moments, but an ultimately undercooked script.

***

blackmirror_season5_04

Smithereens 

So this is the best one, without question. The commentary about the out of control state of social media, as well as how damn effective it is at keeping your personal data, to the point where it does a better job than the police, is terrifyingly on point. Andrew Scott is absolutely sublime here. He brings a genuine frustration that is so absolute, so severe, yet mathematical in nature. You don’t know what he’ll do next, and his performance combined with the tight script will have you on pins for the sixty five minute run time.

Other performances are equally excellent. I particularly enjoyed Topher Grace as a would-be Mark Zuckerberg, Billy Bauer. What could’ve easily been a one note villain becomes a sympathetic and almost likeable pawn of his own making, which was a great twist. One tiny gripe; the woman playing the lead British Police Officer was just…not good or convincing? Did no one pick up on this? Her intonation was all over the place, and the direction wasn’t strong enough to iron this element out. Luckily every other actor puts in the work and the result is a tense, brutal episode, that, while ultimately ambiguous, comes the closest to the quintessential shock and suspense that only Black Mirror can deliver.

*****

BlackMirror_Season5_Episode2_00_40_10_23-99e8216

Rachel, Jack, and Ashley Too

Yikes. At the polar opposite of Smithereens comes Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too. Not only the weakest in the series, but a contender for worst Black Mirror thing, ever. It’s between this and Bandersnatch, because boy, this one was a tough slog.

There’s a great script in here somewhere. If the focus had been on Ashley O (Miley Cyrus), and the toxic relationship with her (hilariously) evil Aunt, we could’ve had some ace commentary about the music industry, corporate greed, and the breakdown of strained family relationships. Instead, we focus on two plucky sisters who learn the value of sisterhood via a talking, swearing Hannah Montana doll. It’s a mess. The Ashley doll is bafflingly played for comedy and the result is a haphazard, tonally inconsistent romp that ends (perhaps appropriately considering the lead) with a finale ripped straight from a Disney Channel movie.

That said, the performances delivered, cinematography choices, and editing are all on point. Miley Cyrus gives a surprisingly subdued, genuine performance that lets you empathise with Ashley’s situation. It’s just a shame that this well developed characterisation ultimately devolves into Pizza Delivery costumes / generic baddies / rat robots / doll road trip / crashing a virtual pop concert / forming a punk super group. Don’t hate me for spoilers, I’ve saved you an hour of your life.

**

_d61444b6-76fe-11e9-b041-b8edd22396b2

Overall, Black Mirror series five is the very definition of a mixed bag. Smithereens is instant classic and one of my personal favourites, with its realistic commentary that doesn’t veer off into absurdism, grounded by an exceptional lead performance from Scott. Then Rachel, Jack, and Ashley Too is essentially well filmed trash that not only jumps the shark but proceeds to come back on a hoverboard, slaps the shark in the face, call its mum a dirty word, then jump over it all over again. Striking Vipers sits somewhere in the middle of the scale of badness, but the muddled script and message make me lean towards it being on the worse end.

I do, however, prefer the small episode release model though as it allows me to appreciate each episode properly and thoroughly. With series four, I find myself forgetting the specifics, as well as episode names, so I’m game for tighter series’ moving forward.

If history is anything to go by, one thing is for sure; Mr. Brooker pays attention to what people say. The main complaint on the twittersphere has been the lighter tone, so if his Netflix overloads allow it, I’d expect the inevitable season six to pile on the macabre scripts to make up for what could in hindsight be a breath of levity before we properly dive into the pits of despair.

★★★

Bojack Horseman series 5 (2018) review

‘Bojack Horseman’ continues to be equal parts entertaining and difficult to watch in it’s emotionally crippling, hilarious fifth series. Where the end of series four left us with a glimmer of hope that our titular steed would be on track to making the improvements needed to better himself, this series shows that things will be getting worse before they get better. If they get better.

BojackHorseman5

‘Bojack’ is a show that while getting progressively darker and more emotionally savage, also seems to get better and better with each series. The characters become even more compelling with further backstory provided for the likes of Princess Caroline and Mr. Peanutbutter and their specific narratives becoming almost as prevalent as the title character’s. The development for Princess Caroline in particular took the driver’s seat this series as she attempts to solve her particular brand of depression by filling the void with adoption. While it is gratifying to see her momentary happiness at the end of the series; a child never solves a crisis of purpose. Diane also took centre stage this series, becoming a near mirror image to Bojack in terms of a lack of direction, but still attempting to maintain her dignity and moral high-ground. That said, perhaps sleeping with her ex-husband repeatedly somewhat diminishes that goal. And then, there’s Bojack. Sadly, despite the last series gifting him a sweet and caring sister in Hollyhock, series 5 brings a number of skeletons from his closet and pushes him to an absolute new low by episode eleven. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to validate our protagonist and the show is doing an insanely good job of making the audience question our feelings about him. It also seems to be setting in motion a multi-series narrative culminating all of the terrible things we’ve seen Bojack do since the start of the show in an explosive fashion. Expect to hear the names of Sarah-Lynne, Charlotte, Herb and Penny as we start to gear up for a finale.

BoJackS5_EP10

‘Bojack Horseman’ revels in its satire of Hollywood and never shies away from controversies of the past year. Unsurprisingly, they chose to tackle the topic of sexual harassment, victim blaming and collateral damage of the actions of these cases. The obvious stab at the recent Weinstein controversy is addressed in a suitably powerful but typically farcical fashion centring around a sex robot that has a dildos for hands and can only shout expletives. The show uses a generic character as a conduit for the satire at first, but the lack of consequences for abuse and assault are disturbingly reflected onto Bojack during the final two episodes. This further strains the audience’s relationship with him and makes us wonder if we’ll ever consider him a good guy.

10_24

If there wasn’t comedy in this show, it might be one of the most depressing pieces of television on at the moment. Yes, the same programme with talking animal people as it’s leads, is indeed, the most reflective and honest look at society and Hollywoo(d) culture today. Fortunately, it is still a comedy and the jokes this series are some of the shows best. Aaron Paul’s Todd remains one of the few virtuous characters left on a show where almost all of our main characters are sliding into further depression and self-destruction on a mountain of their own terrible decisions. Todd provides a lot of the laughs; a brilliant episode revolving around meeting his asexual girlfriend’s parents and the aforementioned sex robot are just two examples of his endearing levity. The plot driven and deeply nihilistic episode ‘Free Churro’ is a prime example of the now staple ‘experimental episode,’; this time consisting of a single monologue for the entire length of the episode from Bojack. This perfectly illustrates the broken relationship with his parents, yet also provides a number of outlandish jokes that remind us that this is a black comedy. Despite all of this however, the focus is always on the drama, and Bojack series five might just be the darkest the show has gone to date.

1_EyCNGww9oqyQKIV7JdWIdQ

In conclusion, I loved ‘Bojack Horseman: Series Five.’ The show feels like it is sewing the seeds of a finale as it continues to encourage their audience to think about not only issues in the media around showbiz, but also the bigger questions, like what it truly means to be a good person. Or even, are there good and bad people, or just people doing good and bad things, as Diane explains to Bojack in the final episode. It’s rare for me to be so invested in a show, but I truly can’t wait for series six. I also find myself heavily invested in every character and am equally anxious to see how they further develop as I wonder if our leads will ever face their own demons and make the necessary improvements to their lives to finally be happy.

9/10

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑