Black Mirror series 3, ranked.

[spoilers ahead]

[subjective personal opinion ahead]

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6 (6). Hated in the Nation

Boring, predictable and overlong, this one feels like a one-sentence pitch forcibly extended into a 90 min episode. The foreshadowing is very on the nose, the twists are straighter than EU bananas. The main idea could have been executed in a number of better ways, and the inclusion of the ADIs felt somewhat silly. I’d have expected more of the episode spent on exploration of the social media-mob-like mentality, rather than hard sci-fi gimmickry and bad CGI. I can’t help but feel that this is one of those episodes than in the previous, 3-eps long series, would have stayed on the cutting room floor.

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5 (3). Shut Up and Dance

None of the reminding five are bad episodes – but some are better than others. In this one, a simple – a bit too simple – idea is made decent by good directing and acting (I’m a sucker for Jerome Flynn). A nice double twist at the end redeems its lack of substance. It’s got one other thing going for it – I’m sure it made thousands of people tape-over their laptop cameras!

4 (2). Playtest

A straightforward horror. Great acting from Wyatt Russell, overshadowing everyone else. What makes this episode falter is its length – paradoxically, it would’ve been much better as a feature-length movie, with plenty of time to explore the inner horrors of Cooper’s mind. As it is, it feels a bit rushed, but still good.

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3 (1). Nosedive

Classic Black Mirror, this one wouldn’t be out of place in any of the previous seasons. Let down slightly by the ending, but for 90% of its running this one is a nail-biting ride in the vein of Fifteen Million Merits or White Christmas. The design and special effects are pitch-perfect – from sleek phones that make the iPhone look like an old Nokia, to the run-down “retro-futuristic” “old” cars. And the message is one that affects everyone who’s ever done anything “rate-able” on the internet – which by now, is pretty much all of us.

 

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2 (5). Men Against Fire

Not so much a cutting edge of satire, as a bludgeoning sledge-hammer. This is the world won and ruled by the likes of Katie Hopkins and her followers – only with better AR technology… but the chilling realization here is that the AR is not really necessary in a world where a publicist can compare real people to cockroaches and keep the job. And while every episode of this season attempts to tackle several social and technological issues at once, only a few juggle all of them as successfully as this one.

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1 (4). San Junipero

A beauty of the episode, this is Brooker at his most poignant and life-affirming. You’d never guess there’s so much warmth in the man made famous for throwing insults at a TV screen. The 80s visuals are as perfect here as the future in Nosedive. And it’s a great reminder that, for all his warnings and pessimism, CB is not some tech-hating Luddite.

Writing Inspirations: Netflix

As you might otherwise know, I have recently went through an episode of typing faster than any I’ve ever experienced: 100,000 words in less than two months, to finish the first draft of THE LAST DRAGON KING – the final volume of the Year of the Dragon saga.

I don’t like silence when writing, odd as it may seem, even more so when I have to write plenty and fast. A typing marathon like that requires more than just a random radio station (always BBC R4 or R4 extra 🙂 or TV switched on in the background – it requires something that stirs the muse – something that reminds me of what it’s like to do art. I already wrote about the kind of mangas I like to read – this time it’s about shows I watched and listened to.

Comedians and musicians are, to me, the ultimate artists: the contact with the audience, the instant feedback, the improvisation talent. This is as far from writing as it gets, and perhaps this is why I’m so drawn to stories about them lately.

Netflix’s HIBANA is another one of those quirky Japanese stories about the travails of being an artist – not unlike Bakuman, except about comedians rather than mangakas. It tells the story of a manzai duo – the kind of centuries-old Laurel&Hardy double-act that might seem a bit old-fashioned in the West, having died out with the likes of Morecambe & Wise. But the (semi-autobiographical) story of the main hero’s struggle is as contemporary as it gets – and one that I’ve heard told many times by artists of all walks of life. To go the commercial route, or the esoteric? To aim high or low? How long to wait for the break through – and how not to give up when it doesn’t come? All this told in the cool, brilliantly cinematic manner, with the back streets of Tokyo playing a role equal to the three main characters.

Note of caution: as Japanese stories tend to, it gets really weird at the very end. If you skip the final episode, you will still have a decent, contained story of the SPARKS duo. If you continue, you’ll be taken for the kind of ride that only Kamiya-sensei can take you.

The other Netflix series, the GET DOWN, is very much on the opposite side of the spectrum from Hibana: it’s loud, it’s brash, it’s a made-up, hyperbolic fantasy of a story with at least as many downs as it has ups. It wasn’t well received by the critics and the audience – but I enjoyed it for what it was, a musical fairy-tale about finding your inner artist and sticking to it no matter what. I’m not normally a fan of having to turn off your brain while watching something, but the Get Down had enough going for it otherwise for me to watch it all the way to the end, where all the disparate plot threads meet for an uplifting finale.

And of course, I binged Stranger Things, but then you’ve all seen it by now.

Next week in writing inspirations: Podcasts.

They’ve killed Ripper Street. The bastards.

I’ve just learned the BBC decided to axe Ripper Street for the next season.

For those who don’t know, it’s a criminal series taking place in East London in 1890s – after Jack the Ripper murders. Think CSI meets From Hell.

It had its highs and lows – like every drama series in history – and it suffered from several irritating, ongoing problems, like interchangeable, 2-dimensional female characters and bad sound quality. But overall, it was a very high value production, with lavish sets and costumes, decent acting (rising to great in places) and frankly rather brilliant storylines, smuggling in a lot of unexpected historical facts. The general idea: 1890s London was when the modern world began. All our current problems could be traced to that time and place: drugs, feminism, racial and religious tensions, immigration, gay rights, and so on.

The worst thing about the cancellation is that series 2 was so much better than series 1. The depth of the three main characters was developed in the last few episodes far beyond what is usual in the period drama. The episode ideas grew more interesting. The writing improved. In proper hands, with proper budget, this could have been a jewel. The hit of the autumn.

Ripper StreetBut it fell in ratings, because most Brits preferred to watch “I’m a Celebrity…” on ITV, running at the same time. And that was its only fault: not enough viewers. Quality be damned.

I hold little hope for the reversal of this decision. BBC is not known to un-cancel its shows, Doctor Who’s exceptional comeback notwithstanding; and in recent years, they were known to cancel even the popular shows, like Ideal or Mongrels, for no real reason. I’m guessing they just like to rile their viewers once in a while. Or maybe they’re running out of money for new Strictly or Top Gear series.

If you want to help – there are a few petitions around, twitter and facebook pages dedicated to saving the series – you might try these, if you’re so inclined. The best you could do – if you’re in the UK – would be to WATCH the last episode, and tell as many people as you can to do the same: it’s being shown next Monday, December 16th, 9pm on BBC1. You may want to catch the first 7 episodes on iPlayer first, though, or else you’re likely to be rather confused.

New BBC2 trailer

For Christmas, BBC2 unveiled their new trailer. It’s got Peter Capaldi on voiceover. They’re really exploiting the guy this year 🙂

Celebrating BBC2

Much have I travelled in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen,
But still I long to learn tales, marvellous tales,
Of ships and stars and isles where good men rest,
How others fought to forge my world.
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape? What wild ecstasy?
How far the unknown transcends the what we know.
We are the music-makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Step forward,
To feel the blood run through the veins and tingle
Where busy thought and blind sensation mingle.
Come, my friends, ‘tis not too late,
For we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems;
To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield.

My 2011 Comedy Awards

The British Comedy Awards 2011 have been given out. We have seen what the jurors and the public deemed the funniest in the first year of the new decade (summary of the previous decade in comedy can be seen here)
In honour of that, here are my personal top five new comedy shows. Miranda already won the real best new comedy, very deservedly, so she’s out of the list here.

5. Burnistoun

1-word summary: SCOTTISH.
A bit of a hit and miss in the second series, this is Glasgow’s answer to Little Britain. The accent is funny enough, and a few of the characters are masterful – the two police men are my favourite. I hear they got signed for the third series recently.

4. Monty Python’s Holy Flying Circus

1-word summary: RESPECTFUL.
A one-off drama about the commotion around Life of Brian. Script had weak moments, but casting was inspired: Darren Boyd, Charles Edwards and Rufus Jones were the Pythons reincarnated. If the originals were dead, that is.

3. The Trip

1-word summary: CRINGEWORTHY.
Steve Coogan is back on top form. A bit after its time – the cringe-worthy mockumentaries are sooo 2005 – it still nevertheless hit that crucial spot between ROTFLOL and OHGODMAKEITSTOP. And the Michael Caine impersonation duel is comedy history – probably the most memorable scene of 2011 tv.

2. Black Mirror

1-word summary: DARK.
This one’s only just started, but is already a strong favourite. It’s very, very dark – even darker than Psychoville, maybe – and at the face of it, the only thing that puts it near comedy is that it’s written by Charlie Brooker. Brooker himself makes a comparison to Twilight Zone, but it’s a very British Twilight Zone – one that goes deep into social satire instead of just boggling the mind with Weird.

1. The Mongrels

1-word summary: HILARIOUS.
This is the only new British show that I would bet on making an impact abroad. In a few years time, they will make a US remake set somewhere in Bronx, with jackals instead of foxes and a latino pigeon. Definitely the best new comedy of the just started decade.

Honourable mention:

Life’s Too Short.

1-word summary: AIDS
It’s trendy to pile heaps of dung on this show. All the hipsters hate on Ricky Gervais for becoming too mainstream, all the uneducated publicistas claim it’s a mockery of a minority. But I can’t help it – the show makes me laugh. It’s not the best out there, but there certainly have been a lot worse offerings in tv comedy this year, which have not been so thoroughly panned by the critics – Fresh Meat, I’m looking at you – and all the celebrity bits are Gervais and Merchant at their best. If you don’t laugh at the Liam Neeson scene, you are simply braindead.