You need to watch: Black Mirror
When is it on: All six of its episodes are streaming on Netflix. The Christmas special airs in the United Kingdom on Tuesday, December 16.
What is it: A kind of modern riff on The Twilight Zone, but focused tightly on the idea of our many screens — or "black mirrors" — this British series is six episodes, telling six different stories (with different casts), all with some sort of science fiction tinge. This can go from fully imagined future dystopias (as in the first season's second episode) to minor riffs on currently existing technology (as in the second season finale). The episodes are shepherded to the screen by writer and satirist Charlie Brooker, whose scripts are capable of hilariously dark humor, right alongside unexpectedly moving moments. It's one of the most inventive series being produced right now.
Why you should watch: You read the preceding, right? And that wasn't incentive enough?
Well, if it somehow wasn't, consider one of the chief advantages of the anthology drama — a series where every episode tells a new story with new characters — in the binge-watching era. If you're simply not feeling an episode 10 minutes in, you can skip to the next one. And because Black Mirror is so brilliantly diverse, you'll certainly find something that hooks you. Even those who, say, don't like Brooker's rather cynical view of humanity will probably love the deeply romantic second season premiere. And those who aren't into that will probably love the mind-bending sci-fi tale (with a twist!) that follows.
I always recommend watching Black Mirror in the intended order, because the structure of the two seasons roughly mirrors each other, beginning with political satire, moving to dystopic sci-fi, then concluding with a moving tale of human relationships affected by technology, before the second season revisits these themes in reverse. But if you don't have time, here is the definitive ranking of Black Mirror episodes.
"Be Right Back" (season two, episode one): A stunning achievement, Brooker's script follows a woman who loses her husband in a car crash, only to learn of a new service that will resurrect him based on what he posted on social media. This episode contains a cliffside confrontation that's one of the best scenes of television in recent memory.
"White Bear" (season two, episode two): This one isn't for everyone. But this tale of a woman who wakes up in a ruined future landscape where everybody on Earth has been driven mad by a mysterious signal unleashes some brilliantly conceived twists. In true Black Mirror fashion, it will leave you reeling when you realize the full depths of the protagonist's problem.
"The Entire History of You" (season one, episode three): An invention lets people record every moment of their lives, then relive those moments later, as a sort of DVR for happy memories. But this being Black Mirror, things don't go so well for all involved. Ingenious.
"Fifteen Million Merits" (season one, episode two): Really, any of these top four episodes could have been the number one choice, so don't consider this a knock on this episode. Its imagination of a future where people pedal exercise bikes all day to generate power is deeply eerie, and its conclusion feels inspired by the great film Network. It also features some haunting musical sequences.
"The National Anthem" (season one, episode one): This is a great "are you in or are you out" episode for lots of people, because many viewers find it too difficult to take, while still others find its scabrous humor completely engaging. The Prime Minister of the UK is asked to have sex with a pig on television, or a member of the Royal Family will be killed. It can be tough to take, but at its core is a wickedly funny satire of Britain's relationship with the royals.
"The Waldo Moment" (season two, episode three): Here's the only Black Mirror episode that falls considerably short of the mark. It focuses on a cartoon bear that runs for higher office, and the man who voices him and grows steadily more disillusioned with politics. There are some good moments, but the series made these points better in other episodes.
There. That ranking is definitive. Let none question or challenge it.
You'll know if you're in or out by... the point the Prime Minister really, seriously considers having sex with a pig. If that sort of thing makes you laugh in queasy discomfort, you might have found your new favorite show.