"It’s a series that is known for twistiness: Black Mirror’s anthology episodes often set up a premise and then reveal additional, surprising elements of the story as they go, with each new layer complicating or subverting the initial story," says Kathryn VanArendonk. "In its three-episode fifth season ... all of Black Mirror’s central impulses are still there. It is telling stories about the possibilities of technology and the unexpected ways tech and humanity intersect. It sets up ideas and then further complicates them as each episode rolls along. But unlike the heights of Black Mirror — like 'San Junipero” or “USS Callister”'— where stories twist into unexpectedly brutal or tender results and technology’s potential is explored in wrenching ways, the three new episodes of Black Mirror are almost universally dumb...This is not to say they’re not well-crafted episodes of television, beautifully made and filled with impressive acting.... The problem with these episodes is not in their production or their performances. In each episode, but especially 'Smithereens' and 'Rachel, Jack, and Ashley Too,' the problem is that instead of an underlying point powering the story’s core, there is almost nothing."
Black Mirror isn't surprising anymore -- we're screwed: "Black Mirror has one of the highest degrees of difficult on television," says Peter Rubin. "A speculative dark-satire anthology is hard enough, let alone making each episode a bracing extrapolation of one of the many ways people have mortgaged their humanity for convenience and narcissism. A stumble was inevitable. But it's hard to shake the feeling that in Season 5, the trouble isn't artistic choices—it's that, wherever we're headed in this current platform-enabled tailspin, we're clearly going to get there before Black Mirror does."
Since two Season 5 episodes are exceptional, Black Mirror should be judged by the entire season: "Since Black Mirror is an anthology series, it's often unjustly judged on its episodes rather than its whole season — something that probably started because the first two seasons were merely three episodes each," says Tim Goodman. "But that meant that seasons three and four, with their double episode count, were routinely judged on any standout weakness. (Creator Charlie) Brooker and co-executive producer Annabel Jones, who has been there from the beginning, have crafted such an urgently inventive series that they have spawned a number of like-minded competitors through the years. But none lasting long enough to be a real threat — that's exclusively a challenge that seems to come from within, as fans (and critics) can sometimes obsess over the misses and, one could argue, are unduly jaded after four seasons, a Christmas special and an interactive movie, about the constraints of the form, with a lingering 'oh, more of that' kind of weariness sinking in."
Black Mirror has transformed from a terrifying vision of the future to something silly: "Thanks in part to such baffling choices, Black Mirror doesn’t feel more realistic just because the times have caught up with it," says Judy Berman. "Instead of manipulating our anxiety about technology—something Brooker often accomplished simply by activating viewers’ visceral disgust—the new episodes revel in the ridiculousness of our predicament, achieving a level of detachment that makes the show campy in the same way so many out-of-touch spectacles are campy. At least there’s some fun in that."
Season 5 stretches thin ideas to their breaking point: "Call it the Bandersnatch effect," says Ben Travers. "After toiling away on a groundbreaking idea they actually had to bring to life, Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones’ new episodes of Black Mirror feel like a half-hearted effort — not only in comparison to the extremely ambitious interactive 'film,' but to past hourlong entries, as well."
Season 5 is sweet, sadistic and hugely impressive: "The three instalments vary in mood, genre and just about everything else (as anthologies are designed to do) but they share a new air of calm authority," says Lucy Mangan. "There’s an unhurriedness to each, a greater willingness to linger and develop moments that might have passed as a single beat in other seasons that perhaps bespeaks an increasing confidence of Black Mirror’s creators in their product. If so, it’s been well-earned."
Black Mirror is more hopeful on Netflix -- but at least the three new episodes are better than Bandersnatch: "The anthology trends glossier in its Netflix phase," says Darren Franich. "The three episodes launching Wednesday juggle tones and genres. They’re all better than Bandersnatch. They’re experimental, and long. And they’re also a bit sentimental. Even the bleakest feels programmed with hopeful pathos. I worry that’s a collective failing, evidence that big budgets and a prime streaming venue are nudging Brooker towards an optimism few viewers are feeling. Then again, he was pessimistic before it was cool. Maybe he’s onto something?"
Charlie Brooker on the inspiration for Miley Cyrus' episode: "We were discussing the rise of holographic versions of artists — Prince and Whitney Houston and Amy Winehouse. It’s notable these people often pass away in extremely tragic circumstances. They’ve been chewed up by the fame industry and now they’re being resurrected. It’s extremely ghoulish. And we were thinking of A.I. too — what if you could program something that could write like John Lennon? And Alexa, all those virtual assistants, and how they provide companionship of a kind. That led to a conversation of, what if you had a virtual assistant based on a celebrity’s personality, and then I started jumping up and down, and thought, 'Oh that connects to the hologram performer idea!' and it sort of spun out from there."
Executive producer Annabel Jones is a Miley Cyrus fan, but knew casting her would be tough: “When you’re casting an international pop star, that’s a huge ask for any actor to try and embody a pop star from the first scene — especially since we’re a one-off film, so it has to be immediate,” Jones says. “The viewer has to totally understand that that person is a pop star and feel for them in that world. So while we’re agonizing over this, Charlie said, ‘Why don’t we ask Miley?’ And we were like, “Really do you think she would ever?’ Because you know that’s the stuff of dreams.”
Trent Reznor was totally into Miley Cyrus singing Nine Each Nails songs: “He got it straight away,” says Brooker. “It was via email and he was really happy. He wanted to see the script and I got to rewrite his lyrics in a chirpy way. I’m not the best lyricist in the world, and there’s one point where she’s singing ‘I’m stoked on ambition and verve’ instead of ‘You’re gonna get what you deserve.’”