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'Black Mirror' creator on why the techno-dystopian show has gripped audiences


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Amna Nawaz: "Black Mirror," a streaming series phenomenon, has just started its sixth and possibly final season.

The sci-fi anthology is a social satire playing with society's deepest fears about our increasingly digital lives.

Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant caught up with the show's creator, Charlie Brooker, in London for our arts and culture series, Canvas.

Actress: What do you want to watch?

Actor: Can't really do another true crime.

Actress: What about?

Actor: Oh, my God.

Malcolm Brabant: From humble beginnings as a cult series in Britain, creator Charlie Brooker's unusual world view has become global must-watch TV.

A former television critic, Brooker identified a gap in the market for his blend of nightmarish drama and dark humor.

For those of us who haven't seen "Black Mirror," can you just give us an idea of the core principle?

Actor: You're crazy.

Actress: I'm a murderer.

Charlie Brooker, Creator, "Black Mirror": "Black Mirror" is an anthology show. So every single episode is stand-alone, completely different, short stories, basically.

And it was inspired by shows like "The Twilight Zone."

Actress: What's the hook?

Actor: The first step is to recognize that you're not in control of this.

Charlie Brooker: And the focus has tended to be in the show technology or modern society. There's a sort of strand of satire running through it, media satire.

It's not always about technology, but, predominantly, that's what it's become sort of known for.

Malcolm Brabant: And it's very dark.

Charlie Brooker: It's very dark. The show has a reputation for being extremely bleak and kind of like a warning.

Actor: Heads up.

Actress: The major breaking news now here on UKN. In the last few minutes, it's been confirmed that Susannah, duchess of Beaumont, has been kidnapped.

Malcolm Brabant: In this first ever episode aired in 2011, Brooker pushed viewers' tolerance to the limits with a ransom demand. The British prime minister had to perform a very public obscene act to secure the release of the princess.

Charlie Brooker: I don't go into these things often with a very, like, thinking, here's the one message I want people to take from this, because I kind of think what people take from it is up to them.

And there's something about that hunger or that desire to see people in lofty positions brought down and humiliated.

Malcolm Brabant: How important is comedy in sort of highlighting real truths?

Charlie Brooker: There's a lot of comedy people who also sort of work in the space of horror or, increasingly, drama as well. And I don't know why people are surprised.

Most satirists are sort of disappointed optimists who wish the world was better and are trying to point out flaws.


Actor: Oh, my God.

Malcolm Brabant: Artificial intelligence and deepfake rear their heads in the new season's opener.

The life of an ordinary woman called Joan is wrecked by surveillance technology that converts her existence into a soap opera.

Actress: What even is this show?

Actor: No clue, but, well, we're watching it.

Actress: No, we're not watching "Joan Is Awful."

Malcolm Brabant: How concerned are you about artificial intelligence and its potential power?

Charlie Brooker: I think, with things like A.I., I'm a worrier by trade. So, I do tend to catastrophize. So, I could quite easily picture a world in which we're essentially in the Matrix.

Malcolm Brabant: Do you fear that artificial intelligence could perhaps destroy us as a species?

Actress: If not now, when?

Charlie Brooker: Yes, it could. But all sorts of things could destroy — we — I mean, the thing that will destroy us as a species is us.

Like, we will destroy ourselves as a species with nuclear weapons or something like that, probably before — maybe artificial intelligence would talk us out of that.

Aaron Paul, Actor: The man is lost.

Charlie Brooker: Aaron Paul and Josh Hartnett play two astronauts. They are physically up in space, because human survival is a thing that's been tested in this mission.

Josh Hartnett, Actor: I think I would like that very much.

Charlie Brooker: To keep them sane, they can effectively project their consciousnesses — they spend most of their time on Earth in these sort of robotic avatars.

This was slightly pandemic-inspired, because it's partly the ultimate working from home. And it's about isolation and human connection and things like that. Terrible things happen in this story.

Josh Hartnett How is the new home?

Aaron Paul: Oh, still settling in, but it's good. We're out of the city, which I like.

Charlie Brooker: It's riffing on authentic human connection, loneliness. His wife complains at one point that she misses her husband, even though he's there on some level.

Actress: You scared me.

Charlie Brooker: And then there's a sort of threat of violence throughout it. It is, like, quite deliberate that you see men doing terrible acts of violence throughout it that are being handed on.

Malcolm Brabant: Many of your shows seem to be rather like individual morality plays.

Is it that, or is it just entertainment?

Charlie Brooker: The answer is, in a way, both, because I use — certainly, when trying to think up an episode, what constitutes an episode, I'm looking for a hook that's quite popcorn, which is often quite darkly comic in nature.

I'm a great consumer of true crime documentaries. But I'm aware that it's a bit grubby, that what I'm doing is rubbernecking.

Actor: This guy had been abducting people.

Actress: So that's what your documentary is about?

Actress: The details are so awful, it is irresistible. I love it.

Charlie Brooker: It's about two young filmmakers who make a film about an incident that happened in the past and get more than they bargained for.

And it ends on quite a sort of bitter and sour note. In my head, my concern was that people would see this as a — as a slightly dry and detached media satire. And, actually, it's been interesting that people — I thought I was writing a real dark comedy, and a lot of people have been — like, the reaction is, people are horrified by it, which is maybe something that I lose sight of.

Malcolm Brabant: Brooker explore explores the moral maze of celebrity culture in the story of a young actress pursued by paparazzi after she kills a man in a hidden room.

Actor: She got kicked off a movie set two weeks ago, flew home, and no one's seen her since, not home, nowhere.

Actress: So, everybody's just cool with leaving her alone, then?

Actor: Nick is offering 30K for the first photo of her.

Malcolm Brabant: This may seem like a strange question, but do you like society, or do you dislike it?


Charlie Brooker: Do I like society?

Malcolm Brabant: Because you're so critical of so many parts of it.

Charlie Brooker: Am I? I mean, I'm in society.

There's something to do with comedy that means you can — you always have the slight get-out-of-jail-free card. You can sort of stand back and go, I was only joking. I'm only trying to entertain.

Do I like society? That's an extremely black-and-white question, that. I mean, what choice is there? Like, we either — we either have society or we have absolute chaos, and which would probably terrify me more.

Malcolm Brabant: Society is rapidly catching up with Brooker's dystopian predictions, but he says he can raise his game if the series continues for a seventh season.

For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Malcolm Brabant in London.

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