Joan is an atypical lady with atypical complaints. She needs the espresso at her workplace tasted higher. She thinks her new coiffure is likely to be a bit a lot. She loves her fiancé, however worries their intercourse life isn’t as thrilling accurately. “I really feel like I’m not the principle character in my very own life story,” she explains at a remedy session. When her therapist asks her if she would really like that to alter, she nods.
As a result of Joan (performed by Annie Murphy) is a protagonist on the most recent season of Black Mirror, the Netflix anthology sequence concerning the tenuous relationship between people and expertise, she will get her want—after which some. She turns into the unwitting lead character of Joan Is Terrible, a TV sequence on a Netflix-like streaming platform known as Streamberry, during which the actress Salma Hayek (taking part in herself) performs Joan. However whereas this premise could sound like the kind of meta, kooky idea that Black Mirror as soon as had scrumptious enjoyable with, the ensuing story is inert. “Joan Is Terrible”—the Black Mirror episode, not the Streamberry present—is a multitude of thinly drawn characters, with a plot that finally quantities to a lazy parody of Netflix. The story rapidly spirals right into a litany of exposition dumps about how Streamberry can exploit Joan so simply, culminating with a bunch of drained jokes about how folks ought to learn their terms-and-conditions paperwork extra fastidiously.
Season 6, the primary since 2019, is characterised by this unfulfilled potential. Different episodes are equally formidable—and equally disappointing, regardless of how considerably totally different the season feels from earlier ones. The brand new assortment of tales consists of a number of set prior to now versus the close to future, and dabbles in farcical comedy and supernatural horror. This season can also be preoccupied with content material—our overconsumption of it, our incapacity to disregard it, and our obsession with making extra of it. However very like “Joan Is Terrible,” these recent setups solely produce stale storytelling.
Time and again, Black Mirror appears poised to ship a pointy message solely to go for superficial conclusions. In “Loch Henry,” a filmmaking couple engaged on a true-crime documentary a few native assassin turn out to be personally concerned with the case. However the central thriller is so predictable and tedious—much less The Jinx, and extra a forgettable TLC particular—that the episode morphs right into a boring thriller, providing trite commentary concerning the public’s insatiable want for true-crime tales. “Mazey Day,” the shortest installment, follows Bo (Zazie Beetz), a paparazzo who goes to excessive lengths to seize a shot of a film star in rehab throughout the early 2000s. After Bo’s dogged work results in tragedy within the opening minutes, the story seems prepared to offer important observations about public figures and their proper to privateness—however even with a shocking, un–Black Mirror–esque twist, the episode shifts tonal gears so rapidly, it turns a starlet’s plight right into a punny, episode-ending punch line. Each episodes are missed alternatives: They frustrate not just for their failure to pinpoint trendy anxieties—one thing Black Mirror has finished so effectively prior to now—but additionally for dealing with their potent topics so lazily.
“Past the Sea,” the season’s feature-length third episode, would be the most undercooked. On paper, the story is a giant swing: Set in an alternate 1969, it tells the story of two astronauts, David (Josh Hartnett) and Cliff (Aaron Paul), who can switch their minds into robotic replicas of themselves on Earth, permitting them to spend time with their family members. When David’s household is killed by a cult and his reproduction destroyed, Cliff lets David borrow his reproduction, which signifies that David’s consciousness will get to enter Cliff’s machine physique. However the tantalizing framework yields a surprisingly torpid story. The cult, which was concentrating on “unnatural” households, is rarely talked about once more. The psychological results of spending time in one other particular person’s physique go unexplored. “Past the Sea” as an alternative spends an inordinate period of time on David’s affection for Cliff’s spouse, which results in an unearned love triangle. The present has tackled infidelity and unconventional attraction earlier than—within the first season’s “The Whole Historical past of You” and the fifth’s “Hanging Vipers”—however in way more shrewd and considerate methods. These earlier episodes explored how expertise typically encourages sturdy feelings within the type of lust and jealousy; this one merely appears like a by-product drama with a bloated finances.
At its finest, Black Mirror used unfamiliar worlds and excessive hypotheticals to reframe acquainted issues about society’s ills. A deceased particular person’s social-media accounts grew to become an artificial-intelligence-assisted service within the touching “Be Proper Again.” The darkish attract of reaching stardom via actuality TV was represented by a dystopia of stationary bikes and countless expertise reveals within the dazzling “Fifteen Million Deserves.” The brutality of the justice system—and our compulsion to document footage—grew to become an amusement park constructed to torture a convict within the terrifying “White Bear.”
That ingenuity is essentially lacking from Season 6. There are glimmers of originality—the final episode offers its protagonist, a quiet salesgirl who pockets a harmful talisman, a really impressed scene companion—however the present is seemingly disinterested in what has been considered one of its important topics: how carelessly people deal with the improvements meant to higher their lives. In an interview, the sequence’s creator, Charlie Brooker, defined that he “approached this season pondering, ‘No matter my assumptions are about Black Mirror, I’m going to throw them out and do one thing totally different.’” Season 6 definitely succeeds in being distinct, however at a value. Black Mirror’s new tales are extra involved with altering the present’s repute as a speculative science-fiction sequence than with truly critiquing expertise. And as a lot because the season brings up related improvements, its mentions of synthetic intelligence and deepfakes are perfunctory at finest. Like Joan, the present wished to be the principle character—and, like Joan Is Terrible, ended up making nothing new.