Charlie Brooker, creator of anthology drama Black Mirror, has been travelling down a dystopian wormhole since 2011. However, Brooker, who spent years as a Guardian newspaper columnist, calling out the likes of former British Prime Minister David Cameron as a “pitiless blank-eyed hell-wraith,” has found a somewhat lighter tone in Season 4 of the tech-driven Netflix drama.
Hang The DJ, which stars Georgina Campbell (Broadchurch), Joe Cole (Peaky Blinders) and George Blagden (Vikings) and was directed by The Sopranos’ Tim Van Patten, takes a look at the contemporary dating scene and features a lot of comedic moments as well as quite a lot of sex. “Hang The DJ is the closest thing we’ll get to a rom-com, there’s lot of wry observations about dating,” Brooker tells Deadline.
It follows Season 3’s colorful and Emmy-winning San Junipero, a 1980s-inspired episode that on the face of it tells the love story between two young women, albeit one set in a simulated reality town full of the elderly and deceased.
Brooker’s comic chops shouldn’t be a complete surprise; he regularly appeared on a tranche of British comedy series including Newswipe and The 10 O’Clock Show and wrote on critically acclaimed series including Brass Eye and Nathan Barley. He and his producing partner Annabel Jones, who run Endemol Shine Group-backed firm House of Tomorrow, have also been developing more traditional small-screen comedies. The pair had received a script commission from E4 for Minging Lizzie, an adaptation of Sophie Wu’s autobiographical play Sophie Wu Is Minging And She Looks Like She’s Dead, although Deadline understands that it is no longer going forward.
This is not to take away from the bleakness of Black Mirror, although it does highlight a shift in tone across the series. Jones says: “In Series 4, there’s a huge variety of stories, and tone and genre and aesthetic, they all look very different. This season is very ambitious and broader. Series 3 gave us the confidence to take on new things and show Black Mirror could mean other things, meant that we didn’t just have to be nihilistic and bleak. It can be thought-compelling in different genres and moods, more surprising even though the DNA is the same.”
Black Mirror is still based around technology and how it interacts with regular life and how it might interact in the future. Arkangel, for instance, is about how parents deal with technology and their children, albeit through a device that looks like a basic iPad. Brooker says: “A lot of the job is product design so we get very involved in the look of the devices and interfaces. Even if it is an absurd or far-fetched device, you want to find its inner logic. You couldn’t do this job if you didn’t like technology because we spend a lot of time looking at interfaces and changing the typeface.”
Arkangel, which stars La La Land’s Rosemarie DeWitt and Bloodline’s Owen Teague, is directed by Jodie Foster, who has previously directed episodes of Netflix dramas including House of Cards and Orange Is The New Black. Jones says: “She has two young boys and in a world where you can have a lot of power, how you use that responsibly is a very contemporary theme.” Brooker adds: “She was a child actor so who better to work with child actors. We were all discussing how our own complicated relationships with technology… we wanted it to feel irresistible. She’s very grounded as a person, let alone as someone who has been in the public eye since the age of 3.”
There’s also Callister, a Jesse Plemons-fronted episode set in outer space that looks like a Star Trek spinoff; Nordic noir-esque Crocodile, shot in Iceland and starring National Treasure’s Andrea Riseborough; and Black Museum, directed by Doctor Who and Peaky Blinders director Colm McCarthy, which is described as like a Treehouse of Horrors episode of The Simpsons.
Elsewhere, Metalhead, which at 38 minutes is the shortest episode of all four seasons, stars Maxine Peake (Shameless) and is a technological nightmare with a terrifying robot dog. The “kinetic” and “brutal” episode, which is directed by Hannibal’s David Slade, is also shot in black and white. Brooker says it touches on military automation, an issue that echoes with Brooker’s boss, Endemol Shine Group Chief Creative Officer Peter Salmon, who recently said he was looking to invest in artificial intelligence and “intuitive” data-led digital businesses.
Brooker and Jones ruled out spinning off any particular episodes into full series. However, he says: “You could do an animated series or a comic book that was based on Black Mirror but wasn’t. It’s not something we’re allergic to but we’re normally so panicked as to what the next story is.”
There’s been a number of rumors that Season 4 of Black Mirror will be the last with House of Tomorrow wanting to focus on other ideas. However, when asked what he would do after Season 4, Brooker says: “The world certainly throws up no shortage of ideas, you’re always trying to stay one step ahead of the technological advances in the world.”