TV Review: Black Mirror: San Junipero & Nosedive (TIFF 2016)
PLOT: In this sampling of episodes from the third season of ‘Black Mirror’, a young woman (Mackenzie Davis) makes an unexpected connection, while an insecure office worker (Bryce Dallas Howard) struggles with her place in a society that values social media likes above all else.
REVIEW: ‘Black Mirror’ is one of my favorite shows, so when I learned that two episodes from the upcoming third season (which premieres on Netflix October 21st) were going to play TIFF, I was extremely excited. While TV at film festivals has become increasingly commonplace (with TIFF dedicating a whole sidebar - “Primetime”- to it), ‘Black Mirror’ is an especially good fit, being that it’s an anthology series. Each episode feels like a mini-movie, and you can really watch one at random get just as much out of it had you watched the series in order.
One thing that’s clear from the two episodes shown here, ‘San Junipero’ and ‘Nosedive’, is that Netflix has likely bumped up the budget considerably, with each episode being pretty lavish, to the point that the first one was actually shot in “scope” (2:35:1). The two episodes were probably chosen for the programme here due to both being somewhat lighter in nature than average for the show, with the first actually being a fairly hopeful look at technology (very unusual for the show) while the second dials up the satire.
Happily, both episodes are up to the standards of the first two seasons, although bear in mind these are only two episodes out of six. The first, ‘San Junipero’ is a love story, following Mackenzie Davis’s shy girl as she navigates a party town that seems permanently stuck in the year 1987. In the press materials, writer Charlie Brooker said this was like a ‘Black Mirror’ take on an eighties coming-of-age movie, and that certainly proves to be apt.
Davis is a likably geeky heroine, while Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays the unattainable object of her affections. Somewhat reminiscent of aspects of ‘Ready Player One’, nostalgic eighties fans will get a big kick out of the deliberately phony eighties production design (which is like a big version of Café 80s from BACK TO THE FUTURE 2) and the non-stop song-score of hits. As usual for the show there’s a twist, but the whole episode paints technology in a somewhat benign way that is a real departure for the show.
By contrast, the second episode, ‘Nosedive’ put technology back into scarier territory. Written by Rashida Jones, this ranks as one of ‘Black Mirror’’s best-ever episodes, with it grounded by an amazing performance by Bryce Dallas Howard as the ambitious heroine. In this version of the future, social media has become all important, trumping wealth and everything else. If you don’t maintain a certain star rating on your social media, you can lose you job, be excluded from places and worse. Howard plays a 4.2/5 who, after receiving a wedding invite from her 4.8 childhood friend, sees a way of climbing the social ladder.
The satire here is delicious, with everyone having to affect a faux pleasant demeanor, where any encounter that’s laced with even the slightest edge can get you a down vote. Here we see just how bad a day can really go in a world like that as Howard tries to make her friend’s wedding. Alice Eve plays the picture perfect friend, who’s like that Instagram loving friend of yours maxed-out to nightmare levels. Eve is hilarious as she answers phone calls in perfect, sexy poses to max-out the chance of anyone ‘liking’ the exchange, and her wedding proves to be a masterfully funny sequence beautifully directed by Joe Wright (HANNA, ATONEMENT).
Of the two, ‘Nosedive’ is the best, but even still this double-header of episodes proved to be remarkably consistent. While it’s impossible to tell if the rest of the season will be up to its standard, I’d say it’s looking pretty good folks. October 21st can’t come soon enough.