Black Mirror: Bandersnatch truly is the future of TV
28 December 2018. Remember this day. The day that TV changed forever.
There is an episode from Futurama, a show aired in 2000 about living in the world 3000, where our hero Fry goes to the cinema to see the latest action movie.
On screen, just as lead character Calculon is about to make an important decision, the screen pauses and viewers in the cinema are asked to choose what happens next in the movie:
Clip via Doug Craco
While it is obviously played for comedic effect, this was seen as being the future of entertainment, and now Netflix and Charlie Brooker have made it a reality with the latest Black Mirror episode, Bandersnatch.
This isn't the first time that interactivity has been tried - John Hurt starred in the sort-of-movie, sort-of-video-game Tender Loving Care back in 1998, and Netflix have tried it themselves recently with an episode of Puss In Boots - but this is the first time it has been pushed to the forefront of popular culture.
Here we watch, and at some points control, Stefan (played by Dunkirk's Fionn Whitehead), a jittery guy as he starts his first day working for an up-and-coming video games company. The company's owner Mohan (People Just Do Nothing's Asim Chaudhry) wants the game done soon rather than done well, while the game designer superstar Colin (Will Poulter - The Revenant, Glassland) recommends slow and steady.
That is essentially the set-up for the plot, which by itself doesn't sound too interesting, but the devil is in the details. Stefan wants to base the game (which actually existed in real life) on a choose-your-own-adventure book, one that may have driven the author insane, as he is rumoured to cut his wife's head off.
Plus, the further we get into the story, the more Stefan becomes convinced that he is being controlled by external forces. As the show asks you to choose what Stefan eats for breakfast, listens to on the commute to work, and eventually much darker decisions, Stefan himself seems to become aware that you - yes, YOU! - are controlling him...
To go too much further into the surprises that Bandersnatch has in store would steal them of their shock value, but even we haven't seen everything the episode has to offer. There are apparently five different potential outcomes for the episode, reportedly ranging from hilarious to terrifying, depending on how you decided to play out the episode yourself.
Black Mirror has always been a master of warping its sci-fi around everything from romance (San Junipero) to heartbreaking drama (Be Right Back) to out-and-out horror (White Bear), and with Bandersnatch you can almost decide yourself what kind of genre you want it to be, based on what decisions you make.
Expertly directed by David Slade (30 Days Of Night, Black Mirror: Metal Head), with some great performances, and an incredible amount of amazing references - the games company building is straight out of J.G. Ballard, the talking TVs will remind viewers of David Fincher's underrated The Game, and some of the directions the story can go in feature some spoiler-y comparisons - the biggest compliment that you can give this episode is that it can't be passively watched.
Sitting there with your mouse or PS4 controller or smart TV remote in hand, there is no openings to absent-mindedly check your phone, no room for distractions. You're an active element of this story, the audience and the puppeteer. For 90 minutes or so, you're essential to the telling of the story of one man's life.
Netflix changed how we watch TV once before, and it looks like they've just begun to do it again.
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is available to watch right now.
Clip via Netflix