Earlier this year I wondered, to some friends online via twitter, if Charlie Brooker had may be jumped the shark. It was during the time when he seemed to have just turned himself into a massive troll on twitter. At first it was pretty funny – and I had to admit I had a lot of sympathy with his choice of targets – petrol heads and Cameron. But as it went on and on and on and on and he starting retwittering his victims with names removed he seemed to drain all the humour out of it and frankly he just got boring. This gave me the sudden realisation that perhaps to sort of quote Trainspotting ‘he just didn’t have it any more’
I had been a fan of his for years. As you probably already know, back in the Jurassic age of the web he created the scabrous satire of television TV Go Home. He moved up proper tv reviewing in the Guardian, usually with a caustic edge but he wasn’t afraid to praise things he thought was worth it – such as the The Wire. Then he steeped up and into the google box itself with some great programs giving an insider view of television, in particular the excellent Screen Wipe. And finally he has made the step of making actual television comedy dramas. He partnered with Chris Morris to create Nathan Barley bringing one of his long-running creations from TV Go Home to life. At the time this didn’t go down to well, but I’ve re-watched a couple of episodes recently and it now seems horrifically prescient (as a friend commented ‘we are all Nathan Barleys now’). If it had come out a few years later I think it would have been hailed as a masterpiece. Dead Set was both a satire on Big Brother and its ilk and a proper zombie movie. That was very well received and I liked it – but it’s not something I’m really going to want to watch again.
Now we have Black Mirror – a short series of three one-off dramas on the theme of internet and modern technology and their influence on society. The first has just been shown – ‘The National Anthem’. A well-loved Princess has been kidnapped and the ransom is just a single demand. The Prime Minister has to, live, on national television have sex with a pig. So far, so shocking, so Brooker. Unfortunately, for me, the resulting drama just did not work. I thought the idea would have been much better as a high farce but ‘The National Anthem’ was plotted and directed like a twisted version of Spooks. Putting the idea in a neo-realist framework just did not work. There were a large number of plot holes that could have been skated over in something less realistic – could the eventually revealed kidnapper really have defeated the Princesses personal security so easily? Could a load of hospital workers really spend half a day in front of the telly – where were their bosses? What about the patients? What subplots there were kind of faded away in a very flat middle section, the final twist was both obvious and nonsensical and afterwards it just seem to splutter for a bit before finally ended on a total damp squid.
It was also strangely apolitical considering its subject matter – we had an off-hand reference to an empty college but that was about it. Back in the 80s – with a similar government and a similar economic climate we had Spitting Image and Whoops Apocalypse!. I think something similar would have worked much better for the subject matter. The Prime Minister is bulled by opinion polls and twitter and threatened by what the party and public might think of him if he lets the princess die. But I could not help thinking a real Prime Minister in this day and age would be more worried about how it would affect his future employment choices – all those chushy directorships he would have lined up.
It’s not to say it was a total disaster. Rory Kinnear did a pretty good job acting-wise especially towards the end as he went grimly to his fate, like a man to the gallows. Though his multitude of advisors seemed a bit indistinguiasble.
Brooker has co-written the second episode of Black Mirror with his wife, Konnie Huq and apparently the third is by Jesse Armstrong. Fingers crossed that those will be an improvement because so far I’m afraid Black Mirror has been a bit of, well let’s say pig’s ear rather than any other part of its anatomy.