'Black Mirror' Is Back, Reflecting Our Technological Fears The Peabody Award-winning series returns for a third season, with six new episodes picking apart our fear of — and dependence on — technology. And it's more consistently compelling than ever.
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'Black Mirror' Is Back, Reflecting Our Technological Fears

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'Black Mirror' Is Back, Reflecting Our Technological Fears

'Black Mirror' Is Back, Reflecting Our Technological Fears

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

"Black Mirror" returns today on Netflix. The dark anthology show has six new episodes. This third season explores ways that technology and social media could transform and even threaten humanity. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans has been watching.

(SOUNDBITE OF SMARTPHONE PERCOLATING)

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: That's the sound of success for bright-eyed social striver Lacie Pound. Lacie, played by Bryce Dallas Howard, is the main character in a "Black Mirror" episode called Nosedive. In her world set in a future just a little ahead of our own, everyone uses a smartphone to rate everyone else they encounter using a scale of one to five stars.

It's like getting an Uber review for every social interaction in your life. Good ratings produce that percolating sound we just heard, like nailing the high score on a "Super Mario Bros." game. And people who have high personal scores get perks, as Lacie learns from a realtor at a high-end condo complex.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BLACK MIRROR")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As realtor) You know our prime influencers program?

BRYCE DALLAS HOWARD: (As Lacie) Do I qualify for that?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As realtor) No. No, you don't. We'd need you around a 4.5.

HOWARD: (As Lacie) 4.5.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As realtor) Hit 4.5, and there's a 20 percent discount.

DEGGANS: But Lacie's at a 4.2. And the absurd plan she hatches to get to 4.5 highlights the crushing pressure she's under. To look happy and be relentlessly polite comes at a cost. This is where "Black Mirror" excels like a "Twilight Zone" for the modern media age.

It's an anthology show, which means each episode stands alone, every one a new story with new characters. All six episodes center on technology like virtual reality, video games and online surveillance. And they all end with a plot twist.

One episode, Shut Up And Dance, shows various people blackmailed by hackers who hold devastating information gathered online. The victims get text messages pushing them to commit increasingly desperate acts, including a young man who was captured on video committing a sensitive act alone.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BLACK MIRROR")

ALEX LAWTHER: (As Kenny) They filmed me through my computer camera...

JEROME FLYNN: (As Hector) Like, filmed you?

LAWTHER: (As Kenny) ...Like, you know, doing it.

FLYNN: (As Hector) Like, sex?

LAWTHER: (As Kenny) No, like - you know.

FLYNN: (As Hector) Well, everyone does that.

LAWTHER: (As Kenny) They're going to print it everywhere. They're going to send it to everyone.

DEGGANS: You might think that's bad but not the worst thing to have on video. But the episode's final twist puts it all in a new, more sinister light. "Black Mirror" was created by British satirist Charlie Brooker, who wrote or co-wrote every episode in the new season.

Brooker's been credited for predicting Donald Trump's presidential campaign in a 2013 "Black Mirror" episode called The Waldo Moment, in which an insulting yet popular TV cartoon bear nearly wins an election with populist rhetoric that skewers traditional politicians.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BLACK MIRROR")

DANIEL RIGBY: (As Jamie Salter) You think you deserve respect...

TOBIAS MENZIES: (As Liam Monroe) Well, it's just common courtesy.

RIGBY: (As Jamie Salter) ...Because you went to public school and grew up believing you're entitled to everything?

(APPLAUSE)

MENZIES: (As Liam Monroe) Perhaps ad hominem nonsense.

JACK MONAGHAN: (As show host) Gwendolyn Harris...

RIGBY: (As Jamie Salter) Something's got to change. No one trusts you lot.

DEGGANS: Anthology series are difficult beasts. There's no continuing cast for viewers to bond with. Every episode has to earn your attention with new characters and a new story. This season's batch of "Black Mirror" episodes are more consistently compelling than ever.

It's tough to say exactly why here because so much of the shocking energy in each episode comes from game-changing plot twists. It would be criminal to reveal those in advance.

But Brooker and his collaborators have raised their game this season, delivering a half-dozen episodes that poke at our dependence on and fascination with technology in bold, new ways.

I'm Eric Deggans.

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