5 out of 5
Created by: B.J. Novak
covers season 1
I enjoyed Black Mirror, and have enjoyed the variations on the ‘edgy Twilight Zone’ format it, and the shows in its wake, have employed. But two things have held mostly true for those followers, and especially for Black Mirror: 1. That near every episode is pretty danged obvious (i.e. just calculate the comeuppance whichever character must face, and 2. that there really aren’t any “perfect” episodes. Entertaining, yes, but missing the mark on anything that lingers.
B.J. Novak’s The Premise – if that intro ain’t a clue – can be said to be somewhat of the Black Mirror followers: take a timely topic, tweak it in some extraordinary fashion, and release it back into the wild. The core difference, though, is in attitude: The Premise makes no attempts at boiling down its thought experiments into final takeaways, or clever one liners. While these ideas do tap into social zeitgeists that are worth exploring – representation; social media – Novak (joined by a couple of cowriters) tends to err toward comedy over cleverness, and character over situation; in both cases, these softball-ier ways of approach matters actually helps to make them more worthy of discussion and thought afterwards. They do linger. Novak also introduces each episode with some Alfred Hitchock Presents-type self-aware whimsy, and even this tactic, which would seem to squash immersion by clearly setting us not in reality, lightens the mood, and removes any “this is deep” expectations; I’d read a review that suggested the half-hour runtime and lighter tone may’ve hindered the show’s complexities, but I found it to be wholly opposite: because the episodes were so damn accessible, and found a tight-rope balance between working with its audience while also having us point a finger at ourselves and laugh (or cringe), I craved new episodes, and was thus incredibly saddened by the mini length of the season at only five entries.
Ah – so is that the key to higher quality? Less episodes, and more focus on each? Well, sure, but Black Mirror has done 3 episode seasons, and doesn’t touch any of these with a stick. And would Black Mirror dedicate a nigh-wholly serious episode to butt plugs? (I mean, maybe, but it’d do it without the sincerity Daniel Dae Kim and Eric Lange bring to it.
No, The Premise doesn’t “answer” anything, but it does something more powerful: it pushes some recognizable situations into weird territory, but then populates those territories with actual human beings. We recognize the absurdity immediately, but can also recognize ourselves, and get caught up in a wonderful whirlwind of being entertained and fascinated and wondering at our entertainment and fascination, all at the same time.