Since its 2011 UK debut on Channel 4 (it migrated to Netflix in 2016 to benefit from the streaming service’s deeper pockets for series 3 onwards) Charlie Brooker’s extraordinary and visionary Black Mirror (exploring the strange convergence between technology and humanity and how the two might not always sit well together) has reinvented and redefined the anthology series for the 21st century. Inevitably the first book chronicling the provenance and development of the series similarly tells its story in ways we might not expect. Inside Black Mirror is no dry, detached ‘making of’ volume - a predictable format consisting of chapters devoted to each episode full of pretty-pictures-as-padding with bland, easily-digestible sound bites from the show’s movers and shakers inserted into the text; this is a behind-the-scenes warts-‘n-all book (there aren’t that many warts) presented very much in a director’s commentary format. Co-author Jason Arnopp has clearly spent quality time with Brooker and Jones, the show’s apparently-tireless driving force, and allowed them to tell the story of Black Mirror as it happened, from its commissioning by Channel 4’s comedy department, its bizarre reluctance to commit to a proper third series despite the acclaim accorded to the first two (and 2014’s Christmas special) and its spectacular and triumphant relaunch and rebirth on Netflix.
But Inside Black Mirror goes much further than just presenting transcribed interviews with Brooker and Jones. Working its way through the series episodically – with sections devoted to ‘what happened between series’ – the book also allows directors, actors, visual effects designers, production designers, costume designers, and composers to explain their own contributions to the series and the problems they faced in bringing Brooker’s often mind-blowing stories to the screen. It’s a wonderfully-comprehensive format which allows everyone involved to be brutally honest about the trials and tribulations involved in making a modern high-concept TV series (especially an anthology show where there are no weekly constants). Arnopp has deftly structured the text, so it genuinely feels as if we’re listening to running commentary tracks or, better still, are sitting in on fascinating conversations between creative professionals working at the top of their game.
What’s abundantly clear from Inside Black Mirror is not only the fact that Brooker is an extraordinary intellect, as shot through with self-doubt as any great writer (and, as we know, a devastating and coruscating wit) but that he’s gathered about him some of the finest talents currently working in the genre in any medium. Everyone here adores Brooker’s writing, everyone cherishes the Black Mirror concept, and everyone is clearly willing to go beyond the extra mile to make the show as good as it always is. This might risk coming across as cloying and tedious, but the book’s not afraid to tell tales now and then; the relationship between actors Douglas Hodge and Letitia Wright in season four finale ‘Black Museum’ was clearly a little fractious (method acting taken to an extreme), Season Three’s ‘Nosedive’ gave star Bryce Dallas Howard’s Dad Ron a panic attack and Brooker tells repeatedly of abandoned ideas, shelved scripts, reworked storylines and, occasionally, compromised visions.
Inside Black Mirror is the best and most honest book about the creation of a TV series since Russell T Davies’ unputdownable Writers’ Tale which laid bare the blood, sweat and tears shed in the creation of hours and hours of energy-draining and idea-sapping genre television. Blunt, brittle, often killingly funny and lavishly-illustrated with production design and costume images and loads of colour photos (some of which are a little murky but that’s Black Mirror for you) this is a book which needs to be on the shelf of anyone interested in how brilliant people make brilliant television. Now go away.
REVIEW: INSIDE BLACK MIRROR / PUBLISHER: EBURY PRESS / AUTHOR: CHARLIE BROOKER, ANNABEL JONES, JASON ARNOPP / RELEASE DATE: NOVEMBER 1ST