Charlie Brooker’s message for “Black Mirror” fans is: There isn’t one. “I’m suspicious of shows that have a message,” he said, but he does acknowledge that the “Black Mirror” team has had to up the ante in Season 4 to stay ahead of world events. “Quite often things we’re doing in stories have ended up coming true,” he told Variety. “How do we deal with reality starting to outflank us? I think we have gone a bit more crazy this season.”
Brooker’s House of Tomorrow, which is part of the Endemol Shine Group, makes “Black Mirror,” and there have been rumors this would be the last season, although Brooker is clearly not short of ideas. “It’s not like we’ve run out of black paint,” he said, but it’s now mixed with some lighter shades. The classic Emmy-winning “San Junipero” episode from Season 3 flipped the script with its life- (and death-) affirming story, and the team has deliberately sought out new ground again in Season 4. Still, the show’s dystopian roots hold firm, and Brooker promises some of the darkest moments yet in the new run.
The new episodes about to land on Netflix globally see Brooker and producing partner Annabel Jones take the series into space, as well as giving a nod to some previous episodes for fans. Star directors this season include Jodie Foster and David Slade (“Hannibal”). Brooker said the new installments, although binge-able on Netflix, are designed to run in an order that accentuates their differences.
“This year we have almost deliberately exaggerated the differences between the episodes,” he said, running through the new lineup. “‘U.S.S. Callister‘ is a space romp. ‘Arkagel’ is an indie mother-daughter relationship drama. ‘Crocodile’ is a bleak, dark, paranoid, techno-noir thriller. ‘Hang the DJ’ is a rom-com…ish – it’s playful. ‘Metalhead’ is really nasty, brutal, survival-horror. And then you have ‘Black Museum,’ which is Stephen King-esque campfire horror tale telling.”
“Crocodile” stars Andrea Riseborough (“Battle of the Sexes,” “Birdman”), and “Metalhead” stars Maxine Peake. Easter egg-filled “Black Museum” runs three stories in a similar fashion to the earlier “White Christmas” episode that starred Jon Hamm, and features artifacts from numerous previous installments of the show in the titular museum. It is directed by Colm McCarthy (“Peaky Blinders”).
In feature-length space epic “U.S.S. Callister,” Jesse Plemons plays Robert Daly, a Captain Kirk-like character, and Cristin Milioti (“The Wolf of Wall Street”), Jimmi Simpson (“Westworld”) and Michaela Coel (“Chewing Gum”) are among his crew. William Shatner’s agent “is also Jesse’s agent, and we think he’s going to be flattered,” said Jones. Brooker’s take on how the original Captain Kirk will react? “With unalloyed delight!”
He said that the space episode fills a blank in the “Black Mirror” series. “Sometimes ideas come about where we say, ‘What haven’t we done yet,’ and we said, ‘We haven’t done space, and what’s a “Black Mirror” version of a space epic?’” said Brooker, who co-wrote the episode with William Bridges.
“Arkangel,” directed by Foster, follows a mother, played by Rosemarie Dewitt (“La La Land”), who would do anything to keep her daughter, Brenna Harding (“A Place to Call Home”), safe, including using a sophisticated surveillance tool. With an indie movie aesthetic, the story also features Owen Teague (“Bloodline”) and plays out over the course of several years.
Foster was sent the script by Netflix, after having directed episodes of “House of Cards” and “Orange Is the New Black.” “She had lots of ideas about the script and lots of things she wanted to bring to it,” Jones said.
With different run-times, Season 4 has both the longest and shortest episodes in “Black Mirror” history, but Brooker and Jones have no plans take the show to the big screen. “We would have to have a really good reason, an idea we thought would only be done best in IMAX and cost $300 million, because otherwise, we’re in a very good position and we don’t have the years of development hell,” Brooker said.
“The nice thing about doing a story that’s about an hour long is it’s like doing a film without the s— bit in it, because you know all films have a s— bit.”
The anthology model is an antidote to the heavily serialized drama series that dominate the cable and streaming TV landscape, Brooker added. “I think technology is good for anthology shows because they’re hard to build an audience for on broadcast networks, because you don’t have cliff-hangers and returning characters, whereas when you have streaming platforms it’s just there like a short-story collection,” he said.