Black Mirror, Season 3 (2016)

(Netflix Streaming, November 2017) If this third season of Black Mirror has a subtitle, it would be something along the lines of “bigger budget, growing up, branching out.”  After two seasons of almost unrelenting bleakness, Black Mirror uses this third season not just to keep doing what it’s done so far (i.e.: bleak near-future scenarios with horrifying twists) with better production values, but also branches out in dark comedy (“Nosedive,” scathing in its extrapolation of social media culture) and even a honest-to-goodness uplifting romance (“San Junipero”). Once again, the premises may be familiar to seasoned SF fans, but their execution is usually competent, and the final twists usually go far beyond expectations. Once again, the anthology format works well—there are a few Easter eggs that reference other episodes, but nothing to link them in cumbersome ways. The bigger budgets of this third season mean bigger talent names (including Joe Wright and Dan Trachtenberg as directors, plus actors such as Dallas Bryce Howard, Michael Kelly and Gugu Mbatha-Raw), longer running times (“Hated in the Nation,” at 89 minutes, is easily feature-film length) and more ambitious production values. Not all of the episodes work (“Playtest” and “Men Against Fire” are fairly standard, although their closing moments are very effective), but the series does reach a few high notes with “Nosedive” and the exceptional “San Junipero.”  Once again, the strength of the series is in its pure science-fictional approach in exploring the human failings exposed by high technology. Some episodes are relatively mundane (“Shut up and Dance” is barely five minutes in the future), while others really dig into a futuristic but plausible premise. Considering that these six episodes are merely the first half of what Netflix commissioned from series creator Charlie Booker, let’s keep our hope up that the fourth season will be just as good. One recommendation: switch the episode order so that you end up with “Nosedive” and “San Junipero” as a way to keep your spirits up and gain a better appreciation of what Brooker is trying to do now that he’s established Black Mirror’s reputation as nightmarish SF.

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