Charlie Brooker does angry; Charlie Brooker does gruff; Charlie Brooker gives good analogy (‘getting off with Victoria Beckham would be like having sex with a deck chair’). Charlie Brooker can sneer (the great and often overlooked “Nathan Barley” rarely breaks from a scowl). Charlie Brooker, all grown up now and a dad, a hubby, script writer and everything, does zombies on the set of Big Brother, Prime Minister’s fucking pigs and existential mind f*cks. He apparently seeks from his audience neither approval nor sentiment just a knowing nod and guilty laugh.
Charlie Brooker does success now as well. “Black Mirror”, his sequence of Twilight Zone reflections on modern things and modern lives, ‘a Black Mirror’ if you will on the 21st century condition, is co-produced and sometimes written by Brooker – the man who without knowing it, accidentally stole the career I was meant to have. There are no hard feelings though – especially as “Black Mirror” is officially the best standalone sequence of dramas British TV has produced since, maybe, Paul Abbot’s initial “Clocking Off”.
Admittedly this qualification is drawn from a field of two over the last 20 years (maybe even one and a half as “Clocking Off” had a connecting thread in the cast). We, the British public, apparently prefer cops, docs and arcs of mavericks jostling for the runny mascara and late night single malts above one-off in yer face weirdness.
If TV commissioners in the UK are oblivious to the unique achievement that Brooker is pulling off with “Black Mirror”, others are not so blasé. Robert Downey Jnr, fresh from franchising himself out an awkward career corner with a goatee beard and a trip to the gym, has bought the rights to one of the episodes from Black Mirror series 1. Brooker is now even more widely recognised as a bright young thing with a unique talent: an ability to assume odd angles without being oblique and pretentious. A Cloud Atlas David Mitchell for the gogglebox but probably funnier and certainly not quite as clever.
However, for all the gruff and sneer and the endless stream of creative invective, there is something else that has emerged from Brooker’s writing which was probably quite unexpected considering his trademark tirades. Warmth.
The natural tenderness on display in ‘Be Right Back’, the first in the second series of Black Mirror short stories, is a perfect case in point. Do watch and do not read on if you intend to (the episode is still available on 4OD and soon to be up on Netflix no doubt).
The set up between the episode’s young couple, Ash (Dominic Gleeson) & Martha (Hayley Atwell), was perfectly delivered in two or three understated scenes in less than 10 minutes. Gentle irritation had a play fight but lost out to their massive and evident affection. Shoddy and head down I-phone-distracted-communication surfaced but was soon subsumed by an obvious and almost complete mutual understanding. It was touching and inevitably singed with the word ‘pending’ but it contained no more drama than a petrol station coffee, a tease about the Bee-Gees, and some reheated soup.
It was the foundation upon which the unfolding weirdness of grief and social media was able to contort into a guardian reading, irony heavy Frankenstein, flourishing and disturbing as intended. Every false note that tumbled from Ash 2.0 was grounded in the pitch perfect middle C that Brooker had established before ad break 1. Hence, there was no need for hysteria or reveals, just enough wrong, just enough times, to underline how completely wrong the premise was and what disturbing, uncomfortable territory we were witnessing.
It was effective, moving, delicate and very skilful storytelling.
Brooker is now in that brave position of commentator and contributor. And currently, there a few better at either. “Screenwipe” has quietly assumed the role of UK’s “Daily Show”, albeit on a humbler scale, clawing at the vanity and hypocrisy of the media. Whilst “Black Mirror” has beautifully and powerfully presented the poor fuckers at the other end of this media and technological shitstorm. The Prime Ministers and well-matched young couples who are all attempting to negotiate this flabby, confusing, difficult and exhilarating mess we are currently happy to call the 21st century.