Charlie Brooker says creepy 'Black Mirror' lightens up for new Netflix episodes
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TORONTO — It should come as no surprise that the man known for envisioning a world in which technology has surreptitiously taken over our lives is a worrier.
"Black Mirror" creator Charlie Brooker says he can't help but imagine all the horrific ways our digital obsessions and constant connectivity can spell disaster for humanity.
"Everything scares me," the British writer admits during a recent stop at the Toronto International Film Festival to preview the anthology's third season.
"And so I like to think about the worst-case scenarios.... It's an amazing, amazing communication tool. But there's also these unforeseen ramifications of it that we're, as a species, getting used to as we're sort of smacking it around. It's like a new limb that we've grown, that we're accidentally knocking over furniture with."
The eerily prescient TV series has garnered a cult following among technophobes and technophiles alike for its ability to chronicle an array of modern anxieties reflected in all those screens around us — whether they be smartphones, televisions or computers.
Who hasn't worried about the repercussions of reusing their ubiquitous password for several accounts, or accessing an unprotected public Wi-Fi connection? But "Black Mirror" ramps those fears up into a frenzy of dread — with a good dose of the weird and hilarious.
Not to mention a very British sensibility.
Brooker notes the Channel 4 series debuted with an especially dark tale about a British prime minister forced to have sex with a pig on live television.
"The 'National Anthem' episode tends to appall people more often on this side of the Atlantic, whereas I guess maybe in the U.K. we laugh in a guttural way," admits Brooker, an occasional newspaper columnist, humorist, broadcaster and former video games reviewer who meets questions with a rapid-fire delivery, and the occasional expletive.
He says there's a more international feel to this new batch of six episodes for Netflix. Two of them are set in the United States and Brooker says he's musing on a Canadian-set story to be included in the next set of six shows, also destined for the streaming service.
There's also a lighter touch in some of them, most notably the candy-coloured coming-of-age tale "San Junipero," set in 1987 and starring Vancouver native Mackenzie Davis and Brit actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw.
"Most of our episodes so far have been extremely bleak and horrible," notes Brooker.
"This time we wanted more of a variety of tone. So we do have other incredibly bleak, jet-dark stories coming up, but we've also got more playful ones."
Then there's the social satire "Nosedive" co-written by "The Office" writer Michael Schur and comic actress Rashida Jones. That one stars Bryce Dallas Howard as an insecure office worker who is driven to extremes to maintain her social-media standing in a status-obsessed world.
Jones jokes about getting the gig by being "a crazed fan" who managed to secure Brooker's email address from a friend at Channel 4.
"I emailed him kind of blindly ... and then when he said he was doing an American version I offered us up for the job," she says sheepishly. "Nobody asked. No one asked. I just got in there."
Meanwhile, Howard admits to being a social-media novice before taking on her role as a digital-obsessed woman. So much so that she had to rely on detailed direction to know where her character was supposed to point and swipe while manipulating a smartphone.
"I'm like: 'Just tell me. Do I swipe right or left? Up? Down? Just tell me where to tap. I can't even process it,'" says Howard.
Brooker says his nightmarish visions actually start with a chuckle.
"Often it's a 'What if?' idea," he says.
"'What if this happened and what if that happened?' And that will make me laugh. And then in building the world of the story you'll sometimes draw on things in the real world. But what we don't tend to do for instance, is sit down and go: 'Edward Snowden. What's the "Black Mirror" take on Edward Snowden?'"
Brooker says he's actually "pro-technology," which might surprise some fans of the series, "but what I am is a sort of neurotic worrier."
Not that "Black Mirror" should be viewed as a cautionary tale, he adds.
"Because I don't know any solution to anything," he laughs.
"I wouldn't be presumptuous enough to put this show up and say: 'Pay attention everyone! Eat you greens or this will happen!' You know, I find that moralizing. When I come across that in things, I'm like, 'Ah (screw) off!'"
The third season of "Black Mirror" hits Netflix on Friday.
In Focus: Richard Crouse