The British sci-fi anthology series Black Mirror has always been a satirical look at technology folding in on itself, so it makes all the sense in the world that it would eventually become a Netflix show. The streaming network, after all, has a hint of dystopia about it, given the way it curates its original programing based on reams of viewer data. Netflix announced Monday that it will produce “multiple episodes” of Charlie Brooker’s drama, which has only aired seven episodes since it debuted on the U.K.’s Channel 4 in 2011, but which quickly became a cult sensation in the States when it started streaming online (on Netflix, naturally).
Each Black Mirror episode offers a twisted tale of technology gone wrong, with some set in a radical future, and others in the screen-addicted present (the “black mirror” of the title refers to the blank screen of a smartphone or tablet). While the premise is satirical, the tone veers wildly, from the bleak political commentary of “The National Anthem” (where social-media pressure forces the Prime Minister to commit a live-streamed act of bestiality) to the melancholy “Be Right Back,” which sees a woman try to replace her deceased boyfriend with a virtual avatar constructed from his Internet history. Brooker hasn’t produced a full episode since February 2013, but did write a Christmas special last year containing three small stories starring Jon Hamm. That was, perhaps, an acknowledgement of the show’s popularity in America, which has surely brought about its return.
Black Mirror did air on American TV—on the obscure Audience Network, available only to DirecTV subscribers, but once it hit Netflix, it became a sensation, largely through word of mouth. It’s likely the episodes will still air in the U.K. on Channel 4, but this is the latest example of Netflix’s self-aware approach to its own power. Shows that couldn’t find a huge viewership in the more traditional network TV system, like Arrested Development, work perfectly on Netflix, and can find a large enough audience to be resurrected within its binge-friendly walls. AMC’s crime drama The Killing never got big ratings on TV, but Netflix identified it as a favorite of its subscribers, eventually hosting its final season after AMC cancelled it.
Unlike Arrested Development or The Killing, Black Mirror isn’t a serialized show, so its success online is perhaps more surprising. At the end of one of its emotionally grueling tales, it’s hard to imagine having much of an appetite to auto-play the next installment. But each Black Mirror episode has its own finely crafted world, and most feature a shocking Twilight Zone-esque twist, making them perfect to pass around among friends, like urban legends or scary stories traded over a campfire. No doubt Brooker’s already working on an episode about the mysterious appeal of the dark Internet parable, and the streaming giant that knows far too much about the habits of its customers.
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