Review: Black Mirror, Bandersnatch, Netflix

While I was writing this review this morning a friend whatsapped me to ask if I'd already seen the new Black Mirror, entitled Bandersnatch. There was only one reply: "I'm not sure". Having sat through around 90 minutes of Charlie Brooker's latest dystopian drama I can't say for certain if what I've seen matches up to what others might have seen.

On the surface the plot is fiendishly simple. The year is 1984, and Fionn Whitehead (Dunkirk) is an aspiring computer games whizzkid who is snapped up to build a new game by a company run by Mohan (Asim Chaudhry) which already has one whizzkid Colin (Will Poulter) on board. But the game Stefan is developing is based on a book by an obsessive author who, as someone ominously says: "didn't he go bonkers and cut his wife's head off?". Is Stefan about to go similarly bonkers?

So far so Tales of the Unexpected. Or even Inside No 9. But this is different. At the very start viewers are told that they can choose their own narrative when different options appear on the screen. I thought this was an in-joke so ignored the prompts at the bottom of the screen which ranged from the innocuous (which cereal should Stefan eat?) to the downright horrific (no spoilers here), which meant that I saw the default version which I presume they wanted people to see – Stefan's life spinning slowly but surely out of control.

Except that at one point, out of curiosity, I clicked on a logo on the screen and everything changed. It was as if I had landed in a different drama altogether. I was, in the words of one of the characters, down a hole. But by sticking to this storyline things gradually got back on track - albeit not before an extremely unexpected bit of meta, self-referential TV.

So this is why I might be reviewing something different to what you might have watched. Apparently there are five different endings ranging from the pitch black to the bloody hilarious. I've got a feeling I saw one of the darker ones. 

This piece of groundbreaking TV (yes, I know there have been interactive shows before, I've been on Google too) raises all sorts of issues. I watched it on my own, but how do people make the choose-your-own-adventure decisions if they are in a group - do they elect someone to do it? And as I suggested at the start, how do you review something that you have not actually seen? It is not like walking out of a film halfway through and filing a critique. It feels like something very different. I guess, rather appropriately, it's more like reviewing a computer game you've been unable to complete but have done enough to get the gist of. And on the plus side as I haven't seen some bits I can't give away any spoilers.

Needless to say, this is a wholehearted recommendation without having seen the whole piece. The period detail is good (although the ceiling of the old red bus isn't nicotine-stained enough) and it made me want to listen to the Thompson Twins and eat a Lion bar. There are lots of lovely lines in it as we dive head first into Charlie Brooker's rabbit hole. Oh, and Alice Lowe pops up in a neat cameo as Stefan's therapist. At least she did in the version I saw...

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