Monday, April 2, 2012

Crazy Brits Make for Interesting TV: Sherlock and Black Mirror

Sherlock & Black Mirror
I don't know exactly what's in those pints but whatever it is, keep it coming!

I already spilled my guts about my total infatuation with The BBC ONE Sherlock revival. Smart, charming, quick witted, cute like a slightly deranged poodle and- in the first season at least- openly gay, he was one hell of a success on my screen time list. Watching the show set up Sherlock and Watson explosive chemistry was akin to an intoxicating head rush. Like it's main protagonist, the show's writers trusted the viewers to jump and follow the stories without missing a beat and asking pointless question - and of course, they did. Those who knew the Conan Doyle canon by heart were treated to little inside jokes, while the others were just so grateful to be totally in the thrall of such masterfully controlled script writing and engaging acting that they just savored the experience and tagged along, smiling just like Holmes (sometimes more) all the way.

So Season 2 was a bit of a disappointment when a Sherlock in love started to save devilish dominatrix in distress in film noir settings and when everybody and his senile mom could easily suspect what was wrong with the savaged darkened marshlands of the Hound of Baskervilles.The wit had dulled, the scripts were of the written on a corner of a pub napkin variety, the famous Holmes/Watson banter, that magical tit for tat chemistry, falling flat most of the time... One  could appreciate Russell Tovey's cameo that brought  Georges from Being Human to fight his inner demons and some potentially ironic werewolves as a moment deserving a chuckle or two no more. But where the two first installments of this season stand lacking in finesse and human connections, the last episode made up for it in suspense. Though a bit teary and obvious in its emotional contrivance, it all came down to a duel of Masters, with a hair-raisingly creepy Moriarty exceeding our expectation as super villain to the point where we as viewers cannot tell illusion from reality and neither can Watson. In another word, the head rush was back and we could see that, for the creators of Sherlock, the best was undeniably still yet to come.
(Source: machomachi)

Daniel Kaluuya gave the same maladapted warmth that made him such a joy to watch in The Fades to his prisoner in Black Mirror. Describe as an "hybrid of The Twilight Zone and Tales of the Unexpected ", but focused on how new technologies affects aspects of our humanity. Writer Charlie Brook's Black Mirror travels the usual road of sci-fi dystopian  fantasies: uncomfortable arrangements are made with the truth and the devil inside our institutions and individual souls. The opening episode was a playing for shock affair with a pig, the prime minister and a lot of youtube. If it sounds like a schoolboy ideas of a dirty joke it's because it basically is. But what saved the whole enterprise and made it worthwhile despite the usual rehash about our voyeuristic instinct was the often straight to the heart criticism of  the actual state of our 5th estate. Little shards of truth rarely make a complete picture, scraps of details on camera with a voice over is not news. But that is what we get stuck with while trying to reconstruct the world around us, politically or otherwise.  And nothing, not even art, can really help us make sense of it but immediacy, Charlie Brooke seem to tell us. We see, we feel, we forget and grow older, colder, faster.

But in the 15 million Merits episode, the metaphors grow smaller and more focused. If you've seen THX 1138 or read Margaret Atwood's The Year of the Flood or H.G. Wells' The Sleeper Awakes, the elements here are nothing new. Daniel Kaluuya's gentle geek persona and the frail, touching voice of Jessica Brown-Findley from Downtown Abbey are reality TV fodder and passive prisoners to a rat wheel of a place that feel horrifyingly familiar. All we can hope is that no marketing exec will ever tie our eyesight to  search engine optimization and pay per click porn - ever.  The episode is a slick stylish affair, all in drab modernist grey blueish tone and glacial steel. Rupert Everett, playing the X-Factor "bitchy" judge with evident delectation,  makes the girl's Juliette innocence a rating gimmick and the guy's Romeo angry resentment a ticket to a bigger, emptier cell. Nothing new here then, but a sick feeling that the walls are coming closer and the screens bigger.

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