Black Mirror is not, according to its creator Charlie Brooker, anti-technology. It’s concerned, rather, with technology’s potential to worsen human weaknesses. “I think that’s what Black Mirror is saying,” Brooker said in an interview to promote series two of the show. “What if the pace of change [of technology] is out of control, and we haven’t evolved to deal with it yet in the same way that we as basic apes haven’t really evolved to take responsibility for nuclear weapons?”
In White Christmas, a feature long episode that follows the previous two series, that theme is certainly visible. Utilising a format that seems particularly Christmassy, the film began with Matt Trent (Jon Hamm) and Joe Potter (Rafe Spall) – workers, seemingly, in an isolated location – sitting down to tell each other stories in a cold cabin.
Like most of Black Mirror, Matt’s story dealt with a society more connected than ever thanks to technology, and yet one in which isolation and loneliness remains, and if anything is made worse by that technology. In this world, everyone has gadgets implanted into their eyes, presumably at birth, that opens up a world of possibilities and problems.
Episode two took us back to the present day with a sort of ‘where are they now?’ catch-up with all the characters. It was a table-setting episode more than anything, and a little slow as a result, but there were a few outstanding moments and, if nothing else, the aesthetic on Utopia is so unique and beautiful to look at that even a quiet episode is seared in yellow onto your eyeballs afterwards.
In the episode’s first third, most of the characters had retreated to the humdrum lives of people not caught-up in a massive conspiracy. Ian was back at his IT job, a disconcertingly older looking Grant was confined to a flat – unable to leave because he’s supposed to be dead – and Becky, suffering from Deels Syndrome, has been forced to join up with Donaldson, the self-interested scientist with a stock of the drug that helps manage the disease (Donaldson is played by a new actor, which is a shame, because Simon McBurney was great last series).
Utopia returns at a time most appropriate. Suspicion of the establishment is at an all time high. Parliament, it seems, is an unregulated hotbed of paedophilia, fraud and cover-ups. Newspaper editors are hacking your phone, BBC children’s entertainers are touching up your kids and the government is giving them all knighthoods. The world of the conspiracy theorist has come crashing into the world of the sceptic.
Episode one of this second series played up to this conspiratorial climate, mixing real-life events with the show’s confusing world of rabbit-holes and rabbits. It began at the beginning, as Jessica’s father, brilliant but slightly nihilistic scientist Philip Carvel, was recruited by the nascent organisation that controlled the world of series one.
Babylon had noble enough intentions and I’m glad they made it but it didn’t quite work as a form of entertainment. It was too slow, too large in scope, and not funny enough. Creators Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong have writing credits on some great British satire, including The Thick of It, In the Loop and Four Lions, but Babylon fell short of those standards.
The show followed various sections of the Metropolitan Police as they dealt with a shooting spree. A new head of communications, freshly hired from Instagram, marshalled the PR side of things, an armed response officer struggled with his mental health and a police unit dealt with the day-to-day ground work while being filmed by an in-house videographer.
I’m not sure how legitimate these end-of-year lists are. As The New Yorker‘s TV critic said: ‘The best TV shows of the year can’t be boiled down to numbers…Plus, like many TV critics, I haven’t seen every show.’
I like these lists, but when I read them, I’m looking for an informed and discriminating opinion from someone striving to remain free from the influence of hype and pack journalism. So that’s what I’ve tried to provide below, with the best shows of the year, arranged roughly in descending order.
It takes quite a bit of arrogance to create a character based on your own childhood and then make that character very smart, funny and precocious. Raised by Wolves has done this twice, with sisters Caitlin and Caz Moran basing their show around idealised versions of their teenage selves. Caitlin has the excuse of having her ego stroked three times a week as a Times columnist but you’d think her sister might have the self-awareness to take a step back and realise that such self-flattery is neither appealing nor a recipe for good TV.
Raised by Wolves, a pilot testing interest for a full series, follows a working class family in Wolverhampton, focussing on the two aforementioned main characters as they stumble through adolescence.
The show has one major strength and that’s the actresses playing the leads, both of whom are fantastic. Helen Monks seemed to be enjoying herself a great deal as the lead, Germaine, and her enthusiasm was infectious as she screwed her face up and delivered her lines with a breathless zeal. Alexa Davies played her intellectual sister Aretha and matched Monks performance with a balancing cynicism.
Homeland lost its reason for existence at the end of season one as the Nicholas Brody, terrorist-or-not story was concluded. The show has become more and more ludicrous ever since; like 24 but with intellectual pretensions. It’s certainly enjoyable and exciting – for the most part – but it is nothing more than often repetitive entertainment.
The show’s most worrying flaw though, one evident since its first episode, is that it presents a version of the CIA and US foreign policy that is false and which reinforces a manipulative narrative disseminated by the American state.
It’s a narrative the US government wants you to believe; that the CIA is an ultimately moral organisation that kills terrorists only with a heavy heart, that the US kills children only as a result of horrible accidents, and that American foreign policy is motivated by a desire for peace rather than self-interest.