Black Mirror has 'a weird track record for predicting things that then come true'
There's no denying global hit sci-fi series Black Mirror taps into the future – or at least what it could look like. But co-creators Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones tell Gemma Dunn their show is more about honing in on the world's collective unease
FANS of Black Mirror may well be convinced of the show's ability to predict the future. From the iPhone X's Animoji to eyeball video recording, they saw it on screen before it happened in real life. But as anticipation builds for its fourth season, its co-creators insist the reality – like it or not – is far simpler.
"It's an interesting one," begins Charlie Brooker, who serves as executive producer and showrunner alongside Annabel Jones. "What we don't tend to do is sit down and look at the newspaper and go, 'Right, what's the Black Mirror take on the refugee crisis or this new gizmo that has come out from Apple?'
"The ideas come out of unpleasant, but darkly amusing 'What if?' scenarios – and there's no shortage of those."
Annabel says they're not aiming to foretell events: "You don't try and predict what is going to be five years in the future," she says. "It's more 'How am I feeling about this?' and 'What am I worried about?' It's more innate, more organic."
"Having said all of that, we do seem to have a weird track record for predicting things that then come true," Brooker (46) says, laughing at his own admission. "Maybe that's why we don't bother looking at the news much."
"We better not say that because it will come true," Jones shoots back. "It's almost like someone is monitoring us and going, 'Oh, that's what they want? OK'."
If they are, the futurists' fascination is certainly working in their favour.
In seven short years – having transitioned from a Channel 4 three-parter to a global hit for Netflix – the dystopian anthology series has proved a prophetic insight into techno paranoia, tapping (rather accurately) into our unease with the modern world.
This year alone, the sci-fi epic scooped two Primetime Emmy awards: one for Outstanding Television Movie and another for Outstanding Writing for San Junipero, a tear-jerking romance and coming-of-age story.
"I have heard 2017 described as being trapped, like being trapped in one long unending Black Mirror episode," Brooker announced, as he took to the stage in September. "But I like to think if I had written it, it wouldn't be quite so on the nose with all the Nazis and hate.
"San Junipero was a story about love, and love will defeat hatred, love will win," he told the audience.
But with more disturbing sequences (think the controversy surrounding 'piggate' from the very first series) to date, do things sometimes land in ways the British duo hadn't anticipated?
"Well you can never predict what's culturally going to be going on in the world when you're writing," Brooker reasons. "I guess a lot of stuff that's in the ether probably seeps in anyway, so that almost certainly happens."
"I suppose a notable [one] would be the Waldo episode we did many years ago," Jones responds, referring to The Waldo Moment, a 2013 episode in which a blue cartoon bear runs for office and inevitably spirals out of control.
"It feels very prescient with Trump, but that was quite a few years before [he was sworn into The White House], so you're picking up on something before we've even digested it and processed it. It's sort of a feeling or a worry."
"There was also a story about bee drones and we didn't realise that that's a thing – it certainly is now," adds Brooker, whose previously worked with Jones on his Bafta-winning annual review show, Charlie Brooker's Wipe.
"And that thing about an AI-box that is based on your social media presence, that's a thing now too. So basically, if anything from season four comes true, we are all in trouble."
It's probably a good idea, then, that details surrounding the upcoming six, standalone parables have been spilled. If nothing else, we bingers can gauge what mind-bending ride to buckle up for next.
For one there's ArkAngel, the Jodie Foster-directed episode set in a near-future United States that tells the tale of a mother (played by the brilliant Rosemarie DeWitt) who will do anything – anything – to keep her daughter safe, resulting in the use of a sophisticated surveillance tool.
There's also USS Callister, which follows a captain and his loyal crew exploring the universe. And while the finer details are shrouded in secrecy, it's fair to say, in true Black Mirror style, there's more to it than meets the eye.
Others include Crocodile, a film starring Andrea Riseborough, that plays with the idea that memories are no longer private; Hang the DJ, a look at the contemporary dating scene featuring Georgina Campbell and Joe Cole; plus a black and white number by the name of Metal Head; and Black Museum, a chapter that promises to dizzy viewers with three stories in one.
"Many of our stories revolve around people with a weakness being given a great power by technology,' Brooker reflects. "That's always going to – presumably as the world gets worse and worse – give us material to work with in some way."
Then he adds a worrying extra thought: "That's assuming the world holds together."
Jones takes a more optimistic view: "I would say, in season four, there is a range of tones," she counters. "There are some that are quite upbeat, quite positive, and some which are fun.
"Whilst it has moments of that Black Mirror unsettling or brutality, there are some big romps in there," she says. "Which I think keeps you on your toes; you never quite know what you're going to get."
:: Black Mirror returns to Netflix on December 29