Channel 4, Monday

TV review: Black Mirror - Tweet dreams are made of this?


Charlie Brooker's smart sci-fi drama wasn't quite the social-media satire it hoped to be

You are what you tweet. That was the unsettling contention up for debate in "Be Right Back", the first episode of Black Mirror, which returned for a second series last Monday.

It began with a succinct illustration of a ménage à trois that will be familiar to many: girl loves boy, boy loves smartphone. Or, to be precise, the boy in this case, Ash (Domhnall Gleeson), could not tear himself away from his phone's access to online social networks and what academics probably call the opportunity for self-mediation. The result was a distracted twitch of a man. Ash was not much cop as a boyfriend to Martha (Hayley Atwell) and even less cop behind the wheel: he soon updated his status to "dead" by wiping himself out in a hire van the day after the couple moved to the country.

At which point, you thought, Martha might well have shed a tear and picked up a good book. Instead, her slightly implausible grief drove her to accept a recommendation from a friend to sign up for a software service – stay with me, people – that creates a sort of cyber version of the deceased by scanning their social-media comments. Then all the private emails and then the photos, until Martha was standing before a walking, talking doll of her dead partner.

Black Mirror presents itself as a Tales of the Unexpected for the 21st century, and Charlie Brooker's script made light work of this techie upgrade of Frankenstein. In a neat reversal, Martha's first spoken contact with the disembodied entity purporting to be her late boyfriend was via her mobile phone. Also moving was the scene in which she coached this voice from beyond in her partner's quirks, gabbling fondly into her hands-free kit as she wandered across open countryside. The air of quiet uncanniness was served handsomely by the airy, faded photography and the production design, which presented us with a vision of a seductive technological near-future.

The drama's denouement was something of a puzzle, then. Martha accepts the offer to upgrade Ash to a lifelike robot, which turns out to be a polite, obedient partner who's never too tired for sex and who utterly spooks his "administrator" Martha – "Ash" doesn't breathe, eat or close his eyes. Martha, to her horror, wonders what resemblance, if any, this figure bears to her dead partner. The audience, meanwhile, might very well wonder why Ash has become just another sci-fi stock robot. Even he says to Martha at one point: "There's tons of invective in the archive. I could throw some of that at you." So why doesn't he? What began as a ghostly satire on social media seemed, by its close, to be spooked by its own sinister possibilities.

There were some rather less convincing puppets bumbling about in Penguins – Spy in the Huddle (BBC1, Monday **). That galumphing title referred to the conceit of this daft natural-history yarn: cameras inserted into some pretty ropey looking robot birds and then set down among flocks of bemused emperors, rockhoppers and Humboldts.

The penguin, of course, is challenged only by the meerkat as the most typecast animal on the small screen, and Spy in the Huddle did nothing to challenge that. Each shot – dodging sea lions, incubating eggs, floundering in the surf – screamed cute and plucky. And there's no doubting that the sight of half a dozen rockhoppers charging along a surf-lashed rock face raised a grin. But why did we need the "penguin-cams"? I can't recall more than about a dozen short sequences of their footage, and accompanying some of these were passages presumably shot at close range by the more traditional camera operator. The joke, such as it was, seemed to be at the expense of the uniform anonymity of the species. So it was pleasing to see one real live bird break rank and give a penguin-cam a good kicking.

By coincidence, I suppose, BBC4 broadcast a neat footnote to the current crisis in the meat industry. In Britain on Film (BBC4, Monday ***), it's been rerunning the Rank Organisation's Look at Life series from the Sixties. Last week's episode examined the industrialisation of agriculture, and in one sequence showed a line of beef cattle at the trough. "As precise and scientific as a production line at Coventry," honked the narration. "As standards of living go up around the world, there just isn't enough beef to go round …"

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Shenaz Treasurywala
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all