Come Back Brooker! All is Forbidden

Did I say forbidden? That must have been a Freudian slip. I said some harsh things about Black Mirror the other day and now I have to take them back a bit because, having watched Smithereen, the second episode in series 5, I have completely changed my mind. OH reckons I wasn’t the right demographic for episode one and maybe not, but I still think it was slow and unoriginal. But episode two! Oh my god. Utterly enthralling. I watched it over dinner and when I’d finished I didn’t know where I was. What is this house? What is that garden? Why is there a plate in front of me? Who brought me here when I was just in a car in a field and a mountain-top in Utah? I’m not going to tell you any more about it because you need to watch it for yourself, but Andrew Scott (Moriarty in Sherlock) is utterly terrific as he always is, and you simply could not guess the storyline. The third episode, Rachel Jack and Ashley Too, seems to be aimed at teenage girls which suggests that OH’s theory – each episode being aimed at a particular demographic – could be correct. It stars Miley Cyrus as a manipulated and disaffected teen star whose aunt goes beyond the bounds of controlling relationships to preserve her own personal gold-mine. So all in all I think it’s a good series but not a great one.

At the weekend I went to a meeting on One-Nation Conservatism, a beast which I’d previously thought extinct but which seems to be surviving, albeit mostly in caves under the ground, and OH and I went to see Late Night with Emma Thompson. I’ll say more about this another time but we enjoyed it a lot. Then what with Picnic in the Park being relocated to Fearon Hall and seeing a play at the Swan with friends, it’s been an eventful weekend. I’m still catching up with myself.

So there we have it. I’m sorry Charlie, your first episode did really suck. But boy, you made up for it since.

Kirk out

A Black Peter Badge?

Black Mirror - Fifteen Million Merits.jpg

(image removed on request)

As the whole world knows, there are two types of Blue Peter badge; an ordinary one which you get for sending something into the programme, and a gold one which is awarded rarely for something special – like saving a life.  Such is the Mary Poppins–like image of Blue Peter that it came as a great surprise to me to learn that not only is there a silver Blue Peter Badge but also that Connie Huq – the longest-running presenter of the programme – is the partner of Charlie Brooker, creator of Black Mirror and the sneering anchor of a series of news satire programmes collectively known as ‘Wipes’.  Not only that, but Huq co-authored one of the best Black Mirror episodes, ’15 Million Merits.’  This takes place in a future world where work and its rewards are virtual: those at the bottom of the heap ride exercise bikes which power the TV series that everyone else watches.  It’s the ambition of every biker to get on one of these programmes.  Sound familiar?

I can’t be bothered to review the programme here, especially as OH has done a much better write-up:

And whaddayaknow?  I thought I was just being cute combining Blue Peter with Black Mirror, but there actually is a Black Peter.  In the folklore of the Low Countries he is the companion of Santa Claus:

Knecht Ruprecht - Wikiwand

I had a picture prepared but I strongly suspect it’s a white woman blacked up, so I’m posting this one instead.  I will, however, post a link to today’s radio 4 ‘Point of View’ which is about ways in which we police ourselves:

Kirk out


Never Forget, Never Forgive

There’s plenty of stuff to criticise in our current culture; and the latest series of ‘Black Mirror’, broadcast on Netflix, doesn’t shrink from the task.  Previous series have generally taken place in worlds similar to our own but different; worlds where certain tendencies, in the manner of ‘1984’, have taken on their own momentum.  But in this series the worlds are closer to our own: and in episode three, ‘Shut up and Dance’, the nastiness you often find on social media is writ large.

**************************SPOILER ALERT********************************

The main character finds that his sister has accidentally downloaded some malware onto his laptop.  He tries to get rid of it but only succeeds in allowing it to film him as he masturbates.  He then gets a text threatening to broadcast the video all over social media; as a punishment the modern version of witch-burning.  With the tendency of society to judge and to mock, you will never get over it.

This episode is peopled by frantic men and women who want to help each other but can’t because they are terrified of their own secret being revealed.  They are all victims, slaves to messages coming from an unknown source on their phone.  The pleasant, inoffensive young man from the first scene is told first to deliver a cake to a man then joins forces with him to rob a bank.  In the final scene the young man and another guy fight ‘to the death’ to win the money, filmed by a drone they have been instructed to set loose.

It’s all horribly plausible, and of course the only answer to the blackmailers is to say ‘publish and be damned’.  But the stakes are too high for these guys in a world where images can be shared globally in seconds and may never disappear.  It’s our world writ large and in it there is neither compassion nor understanding, much less forgiveness.

Black Mirror may not show us where we are now -but it sure as hell shows us where we’re heading – if we don’t watch out.

Here’s another review.  Can’t link to the series as you have to be on Netflix:

Kirk out


I’m Dreaming of a Black Christmas

Lately I’ve been watching once more the excellent Channel 4 drama series Black Mirror.  Conceived by Charlie Brooker (he of the Weekly Wipe) it’s a series of dramas set in an unspecified future and dealing with the effects of imagined technological advances on society.  (Warning: spoiler alert coming.)  In one, a woman wakes up to find people outside her house all filming her on their phones.  Someone tries to run her over, then a woman comes along and pretends to be helping her.  It’s not clear why they’re being pursued but the places they go to seem to resonate with her in some way although she can’t recall them.  In the final scene she is tied to a chair and forced to watch a film of herself and her partner killing a child: turns out the scenario she has just been through is her daily punishment.  Every night her memory is wiped and every morning it starts again.

Crime and retributive justice are also the theme of the best episode ever, White Christmas.  I’ve already blogged about this one here and if you haven’t seen it it’s well worth watching.

A third episode is somewhat prescient, telling the story of an abducted princess and a demand for the Prime Minister to have sex with a pig live on youtube before the kidnappers will release her.  In the end they release her early and no-one notices as everyone’s indoors watching the event on youtube.  It turns out to be an ‘art event’: in the end the PM’s popularity (unlike the current one’s) rises to an all-time high but his wife will no longer have sex with him (I’m not sure about Samantha on this one.)

There’s a sort of black theme to things at the moment.  I’m already heartily sick of Black Friday and it’s only been going a couple of years: as if there wasn’t enough rampant consumerism around at Christmas, they have to bring in another grab-fest.  Advent traditionally is supposed to be a period of fasting to prepare for the feast of Christmas but by the time you’ve done the round of office parties, children’s parties and parties for just about every group or society you’re involved in, you can barely face the prospect of Christmas Day itself.

Well, at least I’m managing to stay off Facebook!

Kirk out


Always Winter and Always Christmas

I’ve been trawling the back catalogues of Channel 4 recently, and in amongst a lot of dross there are some real gems.  One of the best drama series ever is Charlie Brooker’s ‘Black Mirror’.  In three very short series, these self-contained dramas explore scenarios from a near-future society.  And possibly the best of the bunch is ‘White Christmas’.

In this society technology has advanced to the point where someone who annoys you can be ‘blocked’ so that you can’t hear them or see them apart from a fuzzy white outline; they also can’t hear or see you or contact you in any way.  Human beings can also extract a part of themselves (an egg-shaped ‘cookie’) which can perform tasks for them.   One woman has a cookie extracted to be her personal organiser.  The problem is that the cookie has a separate consciousness and believes itself to be the original person.  It reminded me in a way of Voldemort splitting his soul.  A further twist is given to the punishment by the altering of time: while the controller sits and eats a piece of toast the cookie’s clock is set to six months; at the end of which she is begging to be given something to do, and so undertakes the work she was created for.

In the other story two men are stuck in a kitchen: outside it’s always winter and inside it’s always Christmas.  Gradually we learn their stories which brought them here; gradually one attains ascendance over the other.  Just like in ‘1984’, one is there to extract a confession from the other and hence obtain remission for his own crimes.

At the end the first man is set free, but at a price: while the staff go on holiday the other man’s cookie is set to a thousand years a second.  This reminded me of James Joyce’s hell (see recent post:

Go watch.  It’s on 4 OD

Kirk out

Gothic, Anglo-Saxon and Black Mirrors

This morning, a propos of nothing, Mark turned to me and said: ‘I’m quite often distracted by the Lord’s Prayer because I’m trying to remember it in Anglo-Saxon.’

‘Anglo-Saxon?’ I echoed, in disbelief.

‘Or Gothic,’ he added thoughtfully.

So – moving on… last night Holly was around and we watched Charlie Brooker’s ‘Black Mirror’.  If you haven’t seen any of these I highly recommend them: somewhere between thriller, sci-fi and crime drama, these off-centre futuristic TV plays are totally gripping; thought-provoking and disturbing.  They engage the viewer emotionally while delivering a mental punch.  This seasonal special, ‘White Christmas’ featured cloning, imprisoning people within snow-globes and forcing them to listen to Slade’s ‘Merry Christmas’ over and over, time-turning and savage retributary justice.  I won’t spoil it by giving away the crucial plot-point but just watch it.  OK?  Watch it now!

In fact the whole series is on 4 OD, including one I’ve blogged about before:

so go watch them.  Well, when you’ve finished reading this post anyway.

That makes me wonder: what are you doing while you read lizardyoga’s weblog?  Are you drinking a beverage?  Listening to music?  Flipping back and forth to Facebook?  Waiting for the insurance company to answer your call?  I’d really like to know – so drop me a comment.  And if you follow me I will always come over and take a look at your blog too.

It’s such a joy to have Holly home for Xmas.  Well, actually she’s popped off to Doncaster for the weekend, but she’ll be back on Monday, and finally we’ll have someone Normal in the house.  Someone I can chat with about everyday stuff without it turning into a conversation on the Lord’s Prayer in Gothic…

Kirk out


Having an Egg in Your Beard

Well, my dears – this week I have been watching some new stuff and some old stuff – and the first thing I want to recommend is ‘Fightback Britain’.  It’s rather annoyingly presented by a pair who alternate like stage comics and finish each other’s sentences as though afraid we might get bored if we had to look at one of them for more than ten seconds!! – but nevertheless it’s a heartening antidote to the otherwise endless litany of unpleasant crime stories we get on the news.  This programme does what it says on the tin – it’s about people fighting back against crime.  Grannies belt thieves with their shopping and overturn their motorbikes; young women slay burglars with a nicely-aimed set of car-keys; vicars pounce on would-be lead thieves and stop them escaping – this is a story of success; and whilst the mainstream news can make you feel powerless and sick to your boots, this makes you feel strong and powerful.

So much for the new stuff.  The older programmes I watched have been on 4OD where I have revisited the excellent drama series ‘Black Mirror’.  Done by the brilliant Charlie Brooker, this series takes a cultural tendency of ours and projects it into the future.  My favourite, ’15 Million Merits’, posits a society where the only escape from a virtual, drone-like existence is to enter a talent show.

Other episodes include a scenario where the Prime Minister is forced to save a Princess’s life by having sex with a pig live on TV, and a ‘better than life’ scenario where a woman’s dead partner is uploaded in digital format.  Perhaps the most disturbing story, though, was the one about retributive justice, where a woman who tortured and killed a child is subjected to daily scenes of horror, acted out and filmed in front of a paying audience:

After all that, I needed some comedy – and where better to turn than some of my favourite episodes of ‘Black Books’?  I know ‘Moo-Ma and Moo-Pa’ too well to enjoy it as I used to, but the one where a friend of Manny’s kills the Pope, the one where Bernard gets locked out and ends up working in a burger bar (‘there was a little man in his hair!’) and the one with the travel writer are all just as good.

And that was my week…

Kirk out

Holy Flying Circus, Batman! You MUST Watch This!!!!

Yes, today’s theme is religion and philosophy and instead of just sitting here and giving you the benefit of my thought (LOL) I’m going to recommend a programme.  Nay, ‘recommend’ is too weak a word: I absolutely INSIST that you watch this on iplayer the very second that you finish reading this post.  For here, most unexpectedly, is the most eerily and brilliantly accurate comedy biopic I have ever seen.  Directed by Owen Harris (‘Misfits’, ‘Black Mirror’, ‘Skins’) and written by Tony (‘The Thick of it’) Roche, it is in the same mould as the Kenny Everett biopic I blogged about earlier, but even better.

‘Holy Flying Circus’ tells the story of the furore following the release of ‘Life of Brian’.  Starring Darren Boyd as Cleese (he’s Dirk Gently’s sidekick in the recent series) and Charles Edwards as Palin (and Palin’s mother) and including Steve Punt as Eric Idle, this film features a style of acting which is uncannily like the real thing: something half-way between interpreting a role and doing an impression.  The two stars in particular are so good you’d swear you were watching Palin and Cleese, while Graham Chapman sits and puffs his pipe in the background and makes us all feel nostalgic for when he was alive.

The climax of the film is the famous chat-show, Friday Night and Saturday Morning where Cleese and Palin debate with Malcolm Muggeridge and a Bishop on the morality of the film, chaired by a terminally gentle Tim Rice (Tim Rice?).  Here’s a bit of the original:

There is a brilliant, multi-layered script featuring God at the end played with consummate brilliance by Stephen Fry; and lots of subtitles pointing out ‘satire’ and other such Python-nesses.

So I insist that you watch this NOW, before it disappears from the iplayer:

The Bishop looks thoroughly dated and extremely patronising, unlike the other Bishop I encountered unexpectedly yesterday going into the Turkish restaurant on Narborough Rd.  Yes, Rob Freeman (for it was he) and Chris were just going in as I was passing, so I nipped in and surprised them at their table.  They are dropping in on the Martyrs later so I will catch up with them then.  Rob is utterly sensible, very humorous and just about the most down-to-earth bloke you will ever meet.  And he’s Bishop of Penrith:

Happy Sunday – enjoy the sunshine.  And come on, Andy!

Kirk out