BLACK MIRROR Ends, Does Charlie Brooker Deserve A BAFTA?

Depending on how well Black Mirror travels across the Atlantic, why not an Emmy too?

Charlie Brooker's pack of 3 stand-alone shows has certainly raised eyebrows with its controversial content but has won plaudits both from critics and the viewing public. The final episode aired last night and the series has left many thinking he should be up for some awards come ceremony time. Does he deserve a BAFTA? Many think so, and if he does achieve that recognition it will have been quite a journey for a man who was once known merely as a venomous critic, spitting vitriol over prime time television. When the big HBO shows were first aired on this side of the pond I excitedly tuned in every Sunday evening to watch these soon-to-be classics. The Sopranos, Deadwood and 6 Feet Under were like nothing I'd seen before. At the same time I was a regular reader of The Guide, the Guardian's Saturday supplement, in which Charlie Brooker wrote his Screen Burn column. I started to notice how much my viewing choices matched those of this Brooker feller. When The Wire hit our screens, Brooker ran a lone crusade to persuade the British public to watch it at all costs, but I refused because I didn't want to watch 'yet another cop show'. But there was another reason for my stubbornness. I was already conscious that in watching everything Brooker recommended it might seem that I was his TV-viewing drone, so to watch The Wire would be a confirmation of that. I'm not sure what I was trying to prove, but it mattered enough to make me miss the first 2 seasons of this fine show and to have to hurriedly catch up in time for season 3. What originally brought us all to Brooker's now infamous Guardian columns was his deliciously acerbic rants about what we all saw as formulaic, patronising and all round rubbish mainstream TV. It was the rants that shaped his reputation, but there was a lot more to him than that. Yes, he slated the shite, but he also wasn't afraid to wax lyrical when it was due. His eulogy to Oliver Postgate was a watershed moment - this sweary, offensive journalist was suddenly celebrating the life and work of a maker of children's television, and doing it in a much more poetic and thought-provoking way than any of the sound-bite obituaries on Postgate's home channel, the BBC. I would like to think that Brooker's heartfelt tribute was well received by the loved ones of the great man. We live in an age where cynicism is a well used and often appropriate tool, but it's the ability to embrace the joy of something of value that sets Brooker apart from other so called 'motormouth' pundits. It's easy to sit on the sidelines and pour scorn, but Brooker put his money where his mouth is and started making TV shows. His first stint on the other side of the fence was with Nathan Barley. A cult smash, co-written with Chris Morris, which showed his worth as a satirist of the culture of idiocy. Perhaps the only drawback of the show was that it was so well observed and the characters so realistically irritating, that some found it painful to watch, but its fans lapped it up. If you take a walk down any high street today you'll find that Nathan Barley is alive and worryingly well. It wasn't long before his Guardian column was transferred to the screen as BBC4's Screenwipe. The show, like the columns, began as an entertaining but pretty straightforward affair but developed into something much more sophisticated as it changed tack and started deconstructing the nuts and bolts of television. The show was billed by some (mainly Brooker himself) as being comprised of a bloke sitting on a sofa, moaning and mock-masturbating, but it was a great deal more than that. Screenwipe, and the subsequent Newswipe, did a great job in exposing the techniques employed by programme makers. hese tricks are often benign - the symptom of having to convey something simply and inexpensively - but can also be much more alarming, especially when used in delivering television news. What the Wipe shows also did was promote the work of broadcasters and artists of whom we might not otherwise have heard. Brooker championed the work of Adam Curtis, the maker of The Power of Nightmares and other incisive and often downright frightening documentaries. Curtis was already established but was often buried in the schedules. We were also introduced to the understated poetic genius of Tim Key, as well as the fine animation of David Firth. His next drama creation took us all by surprise. Dead Set was a 5 part zombie thriller shown on consecutive nights and set in the Big Brother house. It famously featured a cameo by Davina McCall as an undead version of herself, and, despite having Brooker's now trademark satirical view of our modern culture, it also worked as a down and dirty gore-fest. I taped the episodes and watched them back to back, uninterrupted, it was a marvellous evening. The closing montage has stayed with me; poignant, gruesome and beautiful. If you don't mind, I'll skip the chat/panel show period, I can't watch celebrities sitting in groups of four or more and making witty observations so I have no right to comment. So let's jump to Black Mirror, the latest Brooker offering. Well, it's been more than an offering, it's been a gift. With The National Anthem, we saw a serving prime minister being forced to perform coitus on a pig to save the life of an adored princess. In 15 Million Merits we saw our technology dependent, anti-social network culture cranked up to the max. In The Entire History of You we saw the impact of the ultimate Sky+ machine, where memories are digitally filed to be paused, rewound and re-watched over and over. The shows have all been hailed as great works of satire, highlighting the pitfalls of our dependence on technology, the way we interact socially and all the rest of it. But I think what sets the Black Mirror trilogy apart is the stuff that you wouldn't expect from Brooker if you have him down merely as a sneering satirist. When some tabloid scandal breaks, we are fed the juicy titbits, the grubbiness, but we don't necessarily think of those involved as individuals with fears and families. The most striking thing about National Anthem is that it humanises the prime minister and shows us the impact on his wife, a person with feelings, not just another player in a tableaux. It also showed the distinction between our detached view of the world as 'the public' and that of us as separate beings. There is a bar scene where a crowd eagerly await the broadcast of the Prime Minister and the pig, their faces pictures of delightful anticipation. But once it actually starts, and the previously funny idea becomes a visceral reality splashed across the giant screens, every expression changes to one of shock and disappointment, mostly in themselves. The crowd have been transformed back into individuals. In 15 Million Merits, the overall point of the show is clear, but again, there is a lot more going on. Bing could easily have been cast as a saint, a repressed victim fighting the system. But really he's just as selfish as everybody else. He casts aside the advances of Swift, his admirer, and without a thought, moves onto Abi, casually stealing Swift's clumsy conversational gambit about the vending machine to make an impression. His callous disregard for her feelings mirrors those of the judges of Hot Shot, the X-Factor style show that is the main target of the piece. In The Entire History of You, the way we use technology is the driving force behind the story; just as the lion's share of the internet is used to display, store and peddle pornography, the 'grain' that stores memories is used here as a masturbation aid and the ultimate weapon in a jealous argument. Inside the overarching storyline, there are small hints of a bigger picture in which the 'grain' is clearly used as a governmental tool of control. Liam's memories are reviewed by airport security and when Jonas's conquest calls the police to report an assault she receives no help because she has no grain implanted. These small fragments cleverly reminds us that as we embrace technology without question because of its convenience and for the short term pleasure it brings us, we could also be ushering something unseen and far more sinister into existence. Brooker didn't write this episode, but it fits perfectly amongst the warped realities he's created, twisted but worryingly familiar. Charlie Brooker isn't merely a controversial satirist. He is fast becoming one of the UK's greatest hopes in redressing the deficit to the Americans in the production of meaningful, quality television. He should, without doubt, be recognised with an award the next time the British Academy dole them out, and, depending on how well Black Mirror travels across the Atlantic, why not an Emmy? Even if Brooker is overlooked by the television powers that be, I can't wait to see what he comes up with next. Our Black Mirror coverage; TV Review: Black Mirror 1.1, €œThe National Anthem€TV Review: BLACK MIRROR 1.2, €œ15 Million Merits€Black Mirror Interview: Charlie Brooker Talks Twitter
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