As season three of his never less than terrifying — and often very funny — technology dystopia series Black Mirror moves from Channel 4 to Netflix and doubles to a six-episode run, Charlie Brooker reflects on life as the screenwriter of our digital nightmares.
Some of the new Black Mirror episodes have quite an optimistic tone. Are you coming round to the idea that technology isn't that bad after all?
I've never thought that really! I'm sure I come across like some kind of Unabomber, sat in a cave somewhere still angry about typewriters. But I'm actually fascinated by technology. I think it's an amazing set of tools we've invented. What I am is a neurotic worrier, so I project all sorts of anxieties onto those tools.
One of the episodes, 'Nosedive', is about a spectacular social media-induced meltdown. Take it you're not
a fan, then?
I think, as a species, we're still figuring out how to use social media. We have to, because it's not going to go away but it is weird how it has all evolved. I really miss "meh". Remember, pre-Twitter, when everything was, like, "meh"? Nobody says that any more! Everything's either "shit" or "brilliant", it's either a disaster or it's won the internet.
Why do you think that is?
I guess because now these platforms reward you for being entertaining as an individual, so everyone exaggerates and tries to outdo each other to be more outraged, more pissed off. It doesn't feel real, a lot of that. Politically, it feels like we're all retreating into tribes. Either we'll figure it out eventually, or we'll end up just hacking at each other in a big field somewhere. Hopefully not the latter.
Give us the lowdown on the new episodes. No spoilers, mind.
Of course not. OK, so "San Junipero" is like a coming-of-age story set in the Eighties that almost plays out like a homage to a John Hughes movie; "Shut Up and Dance" is a grimy, sort of kitchen-sink thriller with no sci-fi element at all; "Nosedive" is a weird, Truman Show-esque social satire; "Men Against Fire" is a sort of metaphorical war movie; "Playtest" is like a video game-related Evil Dead II and "Hated in the Nation" is a Scandi-noir, near-future London detective story.
What's changed by moving over to Netflix?
Well, we're working on a slightly bigger canvas this time. One of the episodes, "Hating the Nation", is feature length. And half of them are set in America, so that's different. But don't worry, there are some grimy bits set in London, too. We've not gone completely saccharine.
Do American audiences "get it"? Black Mirror is pretty British…
It's travelled better than we thought. They just have a different take on it. Something like "Shut Up and Dance", which was shot in Hounslow and Twickenham and very recognisably grungy bits of London — to them, must be exotic. Like when we watch The Wire.
In 2011, you wrote an episode ["The National Anthem"] in which a prime minister was embroiled in a pig sex scandal. Last year, it happened for real. What's going on there?
I have no idea. I remember my phone thrumming with a thousand texts saying: "Have you seen this?!"
A lot of people said I must have known something because it was too weird to be a coincidence. I thought it was too weird to be a coincidence too, so therefore maybe reality is some kind of dream I'm having — which isn't a healthy thought to have, really.
So what are you trying to do with Black Mirror? Just entertain us, or offer telling parables about modern life?
The show rarely presents any solutions, it just sort of revels in a problem. I don't have any answers, just worries. Who couldn't be worried about the world right now? I've had sleepless nights thinking about Donald Trump because my brain immediately leaps forward to a mushroom cloud going off. It's like: "Trump'll win, mushroom cloud, what order do I have to smother my own children in?" Anyway, I'm sure it'll be all right.
Black Mirror is released on Netflix on