kottke.org posts about Emily Nussbaum

Black Mirror sweeps nationDec 29 2014

If you weren't watching the new HD remaster of The Wire over the holidays, you may have been tuning in to Black Mirror on Netflix. Charlie Brooker's dystopian sci-fi series was broadcast in Britain beginning in 2011 but only recently became available in the US on Netflix. Emily Nussbaum reviews the show for the New Yorker's latest issue.

Still, for all the show's inventive storytelling, its true provocation is its righteous outrage, which shares something with Mike White's whistle-blower series "Enlightened," although it's overlaid with a dark filter. Like "Enlightened," "Black Mirror" is about love in the time of global corporate hegemony. It's a bleak fairy tale that doubles as an exposé. An anthology series, it consists of six one-hour episodes spanning two seasons (plus a Christmas special), each with a new story and a different cast. In various future settings, Brooker's characters gaze into handhelds or at TV-walled cells, using torqued versions of modern devices. In one episode, a couple has sex while stupefied by virtual visions of earlier, better sex. In another, a woman builds a replica of her husband from his photos and posts on social media. In a third, workers watch streaming schlock and are docked points if they shut their eyes. Some plots deal with political terrorism (or performance art-on this show, there's little difference) and the criminal-justice system; there are warped versions of reality TV. Though the episodes vary in tone, several have a Brechtian aggression: the viral video "Too Many Cooks" would fit right in. But, in even the most perverse installments, there's a delicacy, a humane concern at how easily our private desires can be mined in the pursuit of profit. The worlds can be cartoonish, but the characters are not.

Like Nussbaum, I also watched the show "through occult means"1 and it's fun hearing from friends who are catching up on it. Too bad the show couldn't have found a way over here earlier.

Update: From Josh Dzieza at The Verge, I can't stop comparing everything to Black Mirror:

A friend recently told me that his favorite thing about the show Black Mirror is that he finally has a term for a certain type of technological anxiety. It's a type of anxiety that seemed everywhere this year. The Sony hack could have been an episode of Black Mirror, as could Gamergate. In the same way that we refer to Blade Runner as shorthand for gritty dystopian cityscapes, Gattaca for worries about corporate use of genetic information, and Terminator for ominously powerful AI, Black Mirror has become shorthand for a certain type of contemporary internet-age creepiness.

  1. It's interesting to hear the TV critic for the New Yorker all but admit to pirating shows off the internet.

True Detective: it was okApr 02 2014

Now that I've caught up on True Detective, I have to agree with Emily Nussbaum's take on the show and finale: a stylish well-acted show with a "hollow center".

To state the obvious: while the male detectives of "True Detective" are avenging women and children, and bro-bonding over "crazy pussy," every live woman they meet is paper-thin. Wives and sluts and daughters -- none with any interior life. Instead of an ensemble, "True Detective" has just two characters, the family-man adulterer Marty, who seems like a real and flawed person (and a reasonably interesting asshole, in Harrelson's strong performance), and Rust, who is a macho fantasy straight out of Carlos Castaneda. A sinewy weirdo with a tragic past, Rust delivers arias of philosophy, a mash-up of Nietzsche, Lovecraft, and the nihilist horror writer Thomas Ligotti. At first, this buddy pairing seems like a funky dialectic: when Rust rants, Marty rolls his eyes. But, six episodes in, I've come to suspect that the show is dead serious about this dude. Rust is a heretic with a heart of gold. He's our fetish object -- the cop who keeps digging when everyone ignores the truth, the action hero who rescues children in the midst of violent chaos, the outsider with painful secrets and harsh truths and nice arms. McConaughey gives an exciting performance (in Grantland, Andy Greenwald aptly called him "a rubber band wrapped tight around a razor blade"), but his rap is premium baloney. And everyone around these cops, male or female, is a dark-drama cliche, from the coked-up dealers and the sinister preachers to that curvy corpse in her antlers. "True Detective" has some tangy dialogue ("You are the Michael Jordan of being a son of a bitch") and it can whip up an ominous atmosphere, rippling with hints of psychedelia, but these strengths finally dissipate, because it's so solipsistically focussed on the phony duet.

I enjoyed the show and am seated in the McConaissance cheering section, but True Detective is far from TV's best thing evar. And Nussbaum hits the nail right on the head: the lack of good women characters is to blame.

Something I've noticed about my favorite TV shows: they are mostly testosterone fests where the women are more interesting than the men. Mad Men is the perfect example. Game of Thrones is another. And Six Feet Under. Even in Deadwood, which I am rewatching now and is loads better than True Detective, women more than hold their own against the men. It's fun to watch the men on these series generate bullshit, but it's much more interesting to watch the great actresses who play these women navigate and elevate through the predictable male privilege.

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