Black Mirror, One of the Smartest Show on TV, Got Dragged Down by Monster Cliches

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To call Black Mirror a modern-day Twilight Zone is a failure to comprehend the metaphor of the series title.

A black mirror is the reflective black screen you stare into whenever your TV, phone, or laptop is turned off. It's whatever is left of the dream, the fantasy, that technology feeds you after you turn the mechanism off.

In other words, nothing.

Black Mirror: Season 6

The show's creator, Charlie Brooker, seems fascinated by the nightmare of our technologically driven society.

Since the show debuted in 2011, when AI was merely a speck on the horizon, we have transcended Brooker's nightmares of what we might become.

Black Mirror: Season 6 "Beyond the Sea"

We have embraced AI to the point that we find human interaction boring, stressful, and anti-climactic compared to hyperbolic simulations of the human experience.

To watch Black Mirror's earlier seasons and to enter its universe is to see the worst aspects of ourselves reflected -- to experience the dark side of our progress and to see the absence of rationality in our greatest triumphs.

Black Mirror is the devolution of a great free society, the point where leisure technology has overpowered the practicality of our government.

If Rod Serling's Twilight Zone represented humankind's fear of technology, Black Mirror represents us as a society embracing the poison that kills us.

Letitia Wright - Black Mirror

With its early seasons, Black Mirror introduced us to elementary sci-fi concepts that had never made their way onto television.

The TV horror genre was still developing as a continuing, intellectually driven genre. Brilliant writing, for sure. But the show was merely picking at the surface of our greatest fears, which were still far into the future.

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch hit the showrunner's creative peak.

It is not just a show analyzing our fears and mass hallucinations but a trippy adventure into multiple universes and the non-linear nature of consciousness. How could you tell this story within a story without making it a Choose Your Own Adventure sitcom?

The lack of a better medium to share this mushroom-induced existential panic attack turned some of the show's biggest fans off.

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch

Black Mirror was supposed to be about us, where we were going, where we are, and what we are leaving behind.

In contrast, Bandersnatch was punching low, as if to shame us because of our nostalgia and remind us that life is only a dream -- nothing is comprehensible when you think about it.

The creative high of Black Mirror was surpassed, and the shark officially "jumped" within the same special.

How much higher-minded could Black Mirror go before it became a meta parody of itself?

Salma Hayek on Black Mirror

Black Mirror Season 6

Now, in 2024, at the point of surfeit when it comes to accessible TV horror, the Black Mirror episodes for Season 6 feel totally out of sync with the rest of the series.

"Joan is Awful" was another foray into self-parody, with a woman discovering that a streaming platform has stolen her ordinary life and used it as dramatic fodder for an AI-produced TV show.

The second episode, "Loch Henry," was a Memento-esque mind screw, rethinking the true crime genre into a found-footage horror stunt.

"Beyond the Sea" almost reached the same level as previous episodes, with a glimpse into cloud consciousness.

Josh Hartnett on Black Mirror

Then we had "Mazey Day," a lazy Hollywood gripe lamenting the bullying behavior of paparazzi with werewolf cliches, and "Demon 79," which featured literal demons overseeing the end of the world.

The whole season felt like a kick in the shin as if the writers were beating our collective minds down with social media posturing.

"This is all you are worth, you terrible humans, werewolves, and demons! This is where our society is right now and for shame!"

Black Mirror Suffers The Twilight Zone's Fate

Perhaps all of this is prophetic, though, in some odd way.

Many people remember the peak years of The Twilight Zone but need to remember its final days, which were less than glorious.

Eye of the Beholder

Showrunner Serling said he felt exhausted creatively and had "begun to lose perspective on what was good and bad."

Behind-the-scenes drama and creative clashes only contributed to the show's loss of momentum.

Then, by 1964, CBS had grown tired of the show and threatened it with cancellation, stating in no uncertain terms that it was over budget and not earning the ratings necessary to justify the expense.

Serling said he decided to "cancel the network" and wanted to go to ABC to write a new and more explicit horror series.

However, when the network pitched to him "Witches, Warlocks, and Werewolves," Serling backtracked.

Rod Serling introduces Night Gallery

Serling was never in the business of writing monster fiction. While he said he didn't mind occasionally visiting paranormal storylines, he didn't want "to be booked into a graveyard every week."

Indeed, sadly, the network confused The Twilight Zone's psychological horror for monster-of-the-week shlock.

By 1969, Sterling would be working with NBC on Night Gallery, another "ghoul show" that stressed traditional horror over the science fiction creepiness that gave Twilight Show its fame.

Perhaps Rod Serling just ran out of tech prophecies to give us, which parallels the current Black Mirror conundrum very well. When we reach the pinnacle of self-awareness and descend to a self-parody of kitsch culture, where do we go from here?

Only garishness, the most tawdry of fears, is left to explore. Nothing scares us about technology anymore since we're already living the nightmare and are ironically labeling it as a dream.

Night Gallery (1969)

Black Mirror became in Season 6 what happened to The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery: a passe vision of the future that's no longer relevant to our escalating neuroses.

It's rather disappointing that Black Mirror, an incredibly "British" anthology series, is making the same mistake that American shows tend to make. It's going on too long, stretching out characters that don't need it, and trying too hard to "brand" itself at the expense of new stories.

What I've always admired about British TV is that showrunners know when to exit early. Black Mirror has been Americanized and become the "Night Gallery" of the modern age.

Maybe we just stared into that black mirror so long, waiting for new seasons and uncomfortably realizing the emptiness of our unbridled tech ambitions, that we finally scared ourselves straight.

Bryce Dallas Howard in Nosedive

Can Black Mirror Season 7 Return the Show to Its Former Glory?

However, it's good to know that Black Mirror is attempting to come back and reclaim some of that earlier glory.

Season 7 is in development and is scheduled to be released in 2025.

The show's creative team is working hard to bring back fans. What better way to reach out than to focus on creating an interconnected "universe" of characters?

Black Mirror, U.S.S. Callister

They will revisit the famous "USS Callister" episode in future seasons. At the same time, Robert Downey Jr., of all people, optioned the episode "The Entire History of You" as a movie pitch to Warner Bros.

Brooker also expressed interest in revisiting characters from "White Bear," "Be Right Back," and even (shudder) "Demon 79."

Sure. What better way to stall writing more brilliant episodes of an ahead-of-its-time series than to revisit various stock characters that no one thought about beyond the plot?

Don't get me wrong; Black Mirror has already earned its place as one of the most remarkable series ever on modern television, and everything past Season 5 is a nice collection of bonus clips.

However, the only way the show can reclaim its peak creativity is to avoid the same mistakes made by Rod Serling and ditch the monster of the week story arcs.

Black Mirror

Return to concepts that predict the future, even if our future seems "predictable" as of late. Maybe everything else on television has predicted a coming apocalypse, but what happens before we reach the Fallout stage?

Be generous with satire, showing what we are, what we're becoming, and where our neurotic species is going.

A few more original episodes like "San Junipero," "Hang the DJ," and "The Entire History of You" would put the show back on track.

Don't revisit old ideas -- tell new anthology stories and occasionally scrape the humanity of our technology as something more than just a disastrous affair.

Imagine that. What if Black Mirror manages to excavate something beautiful rather than shining more light on the darkest reflections?

Michael Arangua is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. You can follow him on X.

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