Few things guarantee to generate feverish discussion as much as Black Mirror. The show often drops a new series and then just walks away from the explosive chaos it causes. Black Mirror is one of the most controversial TV shows around (and by that we mean provocative, not code for bigoted) and yet, sometimes it really doesn’t feel like the show even cares what the audience thinks. That is entirely refreshing.
The latest episode of Black Mirror had lofty ambitions. It wanted to change TV as we know it. So, has it?
Black Mirror dropped an interactive episode. This is not the first interactive episode of TV ever. However, it is the biggest, most heavily backed and most watched. Since the release of Bandersnatch, there has inevitably been the same whipped-up style articles that the show always inspires. However, they’ve also answered the question about why we can’t have nice things – because even when we do get them, we don’t seem to enjoy them.
This is because articles have warned that Black Mirror will completely change TV as we know it and have stated that the audience doesn’t want every show to be interactive. It is a ludicrous line to take. It’s like arguing against having a Christmas every month. Absolutely nobody wants that. Black Mirror has changed the game – but not for every show. It’s just shown that a new format for TV can be possible. There are not going to be hundreds of episodes like this a year. There won’t even be a dozen. For one, it is far too expensive and almost impossible to work into any type of show that has a long running story with fixed characters, which is most TV series. It works for an anthology style show for a reason – it is short and not fixed. Additionally, those warning about more interactive TV episodes are being completely disrespectful to the gaming industry, which has been doing this a lot longer. RPGs were what inspired interactive TV. RPGs have existed fine in the gaming industry alongside other styles of games. They have not destroyed the market or limited the diversity of storytelling. They are just another option.
Black Mirror has however, shown that there is a new way for TV to explore stories, if they have the backing and desire to do so and that is radical. It is exceptionally rare for film and TV to give us a new delivery of stories. The format is usually very straight forward. We have now been given something this significant perhaps since when colour was introduced to film.
Yet, the story itself did not push any boundaries. It was a relatively safe choice by Black Mirror, to explore what they know and the concept that they are giving to the audience. Brooker could have given us a story completely unrelated to control and interactivity but instead twisted questions back to the audience. It was clever, but not groundbreaking for anyone who games. That sort of story is very traditional. Bandersnatch though did do it well, and offered compelling characters, if not entirely striking choices. After watching Bandersnatch it is clear that really this is probably just the start and shows – especially Black Mirror – are likely to be much more bold in the future now they know it can be done and audiences will engage.
Will interactive TV suit everyone? Inevitably, no. It was interesting to see audiences who primarily watch TV and film complain about having to watch the same scenes over again. It was nice that just this once, gamers are presented as having more patience than expected, but it also shows that there is a massive adjustment to be made for those used to just being given stories. Audiences who are not accustomed to having to dig around during the story experience, unlike with games (and potentially books), had a tougher time. But stories should never want to please all types of fans – the journalists making dire warnings are right about one thing and that is that we need variety. We need interactive TV and Black Mirror has shown it is possible. This might just be the start of something special.