In football (soccer if you’re reading in the US), there’s a seeming anomaly that occurs when a manager will be in charge of a club. This won’t be a large club, they won’t have masses of money, but this manager will perform wonders.
The manager might win a couple of trophies, finish high in the season, maybe take a few scalps along the way. He’ll be hailed a hero and, somewhat inevitably, the larger clubs will come-a-knockin’.
He’ll take the bait, he’ll jump ship and move to this larger club, with much more money a bigger fan base and more eyes on him. You’d think, as the powers at the club have thought, this guy does amazing with no money, so he’d do brilliantly with lots of money.
However, invariably this doesn’t occur. For some reason, there are managers who are great at managing clubs with little resources, “smaller” clubs, but give them money and resources and they struggle.
This brings me to Black Mirror and creator Charlie Brooker. In 2011 to 2014, Black Mirror was on in the UK on Channel 4, one of the larger channels but not one with masses of cash to splash about on series that are dark.
What Brooker and co-produced was brilliant. Those early Black Mirror episodes are chilling, a frightening look at possible futures where technology runs parts of our lives even more than it already does.
It was good because in his writing, Brooker would look at the near future. He wasn’t looking 20-years into the future, flying cars and all that, he’d take something we already do and peer slightly into the future, think what the worst-case would be, and it would usually be chilling.
A two-year hiatus eventually brought Black Mirror onto Netflix, the house of allowing people to do what they want and throwing cash at things. With season three and season four we got six episodes each, with some excellent episodes such as USS Callister, Arkangel, Black Museum, Nosedive to name four.
With the latest season, number five if you’re keeping track, we get just three episodes: Striking Vipers, Smithereens and Rachel, Jack And Ashley Too.
Striking Vipers sees Anthony Mackie (“The Adjustment Bureau“, “Avengers: Endgame“) and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (“Aquaman“, “Us“) as two old friends who lose touch, as friends do, as Mackie gets married, has children, settles. His friend meanwhile is still in the game, dating, playing around, having fun.
At Mackie’s birthday one year, Yahya turns up and presents him with the latest game in a franchise they always used to play, Striking Vipers X. The X is important as this is the immersion version. Pop a little pill on the side of your head and you are whisked into the game, you become the avatars.
The two-friends always pick the same players, Yahya a sexy, oriental woman in a skimpy outfit (Roxette), Mackie a martial arts guy with no top on (Lance). That’s how they see each other when they’re in the game, and it stirs things in the pair, things they didn’t no existed, awkward things, which they act on.
Striking Vipers feels like a departure from the usual Black Mirror stories. Sure, it has the technology aspect, people being immersed in games in a way that’s some way off at the moment, but Black Mirror have tackled this already, a couple of times I think, but certainly in the aforementioned USS Callister.
The acting is decent, both Mackie and Yahya perform well and Pom Klementieff (“Avengers: Endgame“, “Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2“) as Roxette and Ludi Lin (“Aquaman“, “Power Rangers”) as Lance, also do well.
But the episode feels lacking, it’s not very dark, it doesn’t feel that innovative, it lacks the cutting, poking fun feel we’ve had from previous episodes.
Chris is a taxi driver for an Uber-type company, yet he seems to always be waiting outside the same building, the UK HQ of Smithereens, a social network app. He picks up various people coming out of the building, always asking if that’s where they work.
When the unlucky Jaden gets in Chris’s cab to go to the airport, Chris doesn’t take him to the airport, instead he kidnaps him. But it’s not Jaden he’s after, it’s the big boss of Smithereen, Billy Bauer, Topher Grace (“BlacKkKlansman“, “War Machine“).
A police chase sees Chris, and the now zip-tied Jaden, broken down in a field, surrounded by police who are afraid to approach as Chris is threatening to shoot Jaden unless he gets to speak to Bauer on the phone.
The company gives him the run-around, keeping him online whilst they talk to the British police and the FBI whilst Bauer, who for a long time doesn’t know this event is going on, wants to talk directly to Chris, though everyone is against this.
The stand-off continues as a couple of kids who witnessed the whole thing begin posting it on social media, live commenting the whole event to the masses.
This is Black Mirror and Brooker at his best, helped massively by the stunning performance from Scott who is mesmerising throughout. The episode is dark, it shows our obsession with social media, how we follow events as they happen but when the outcome takes place, no matter good or bad, we just switch off and get on with our lives like nothing happened.
Finally, we get to Rachel, Jack And Ashley Too which you will probably know as it stars popstar Miley Cyrus, the Ashley Too in the title. Angourie Rice (“Ladies In Black“, “Spider-Man: Homecoming“) is the Rachel and Madison Davenport (“Noah”, “The Possession”) is the Jack.
The latter pair are sisters, very different sisters. Jack’s into rock music, bands her now deceased mother used to like whilst Rachel is every bit the fan girl for pop-supremo Ashely Too (Cyrus).
But Ashley Too isn’t happy, she’s being controlled by her auntie, and manager, Catherine, Susan Pourfar (“Ray Donovan (TV)”, “House Of Cards (TV)”), who controls everything she does from how she looks to the type of music she can sing. But Ashley wants out, meaning Catherine will lose everything she’s put into her.
The technology aspect of the series comes in the form of an AI-powered doll that Rachel receives for her birthday. This is an Ashley Too doll, full of her personality, more than we know, who learns about what has happened to the real Ashley, who is now in a coma from an “allergic reaction to fish”, and recruits the sisters to help save her.
As an episode, this isn’t bad, but as Black Mirror, it’s questionable. The “sci-fi” part feels shoe-horned into what is otherwise a sister-bonding episode. As mentioned earlier, Black Mirror used to feel relatable, you could really see this happening. But not with this. Perhaps there are popstars out there who are being controlled and really just want to make heavy metal, who knows, but that’s a niche market for a TV show, even by Black Mirror’s standards.
5th June 2019
THE QUICK SELL
As Black Mirror returns to Netflix for series 5, we give episodes: Striking Vipers, Smithereens and Rachel, Jack And Ashley Too a once over.
CAST & CREW
Andrew Scott, Angourie Rice, Anne Sewitsky, Anthony Mackie, Charlie Brooker, Damson Idris, James Hawes, Madison Davenport, Miley Cyrus, Nicole Beharie, Owen Harris, Topher Grace, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II
TV / STREAMING PLATFORM