In 1959, the America television audience fell into “Twilight Zone,” billed as the fifth dimension, a dimension beyond that which is known to man, a dimension as vast as space and timeless as infinity, the middle ground between light and shadow, science and superstition, lying between the pits of man’s fears and summit of his knowledge, the dimension of the imagination.
However it seems that while television shows often go off the air, as the Twilight Zone eventually did in 1964, dimensions do not disappear. Perhaps it is that same fifth dimension from which came the “Black Mirror.” Perhaps the dimension has just been sitting there dormant for the last fifty to sixty years just waiting for someone else to write a show about it.
If so, that it seems that might be exactly what film writer Charlie Brooker did. Black Mirror is a British science fiction anthology that also takes place in a dystopian society and it seems it’s not the only one of its ilk. Lately, the theme of dystopia is running wild on television and cable shows, and if you want more of it, you’re not the only one.
Today it seems like the programs we love best are the ones that amplify our worst behaviors, and if you’re jonesing for a few more, we can point you in the right direction. Here are some shows to watch if you want more from where the “Black Mirror” came from, wherever that may be.
If “Black Mirror” piqued your curiosity, you might just be ready to move on to some “Stranger Things.” Set in the fictional, and oh so Stephen King-esque setting of “Hawkins, Indiana, in the early aughts, “Stranger Things” revolves around strange happenings over at the Hawkins National Laboratory. While it seems to function as a research center for the United States Department of Energy, closer investigation reveals the building to be a place in which paranormal and supernatural experiments are performed – some involving human subjects (Gasp!)
It gets personal when In 1983, young Will Byers is abducted by creatures from the Upside Down (an alternate dimension that exists within the Hawkins Laboratory). His mom Joyce (Winona Ryder) heads up the search for her some along with the town’s police chief while a psychokinetic girl named Eleven sets out to find Will on her own separate adventure with Will’s buddies Mike, Dustin, and Lucas.
“Limitless” shows how the word limitless may not be the most positive adjective when it comes to the unintended consequences of new technologies on modern society. Brian Finch (is it a coincidence that the letters of the name Brian spell brain?) is the 28-year-old burnout and struggling musician that has been recently given NZT-48, a nootropic “miracle” drug that gives him access to every neuron in his brain. Within twelve hours of taking the drug, Finch finds the full potential of his brain unlocked; he is able to recall every detail and finds himself able to perform highly advanced cognitive skills.
However, smart as Finch becomes, things manage to get confused when US Senator Eddie Mora (Bradley Cooper) gives him a shot to counteract the deadly side effects NZT. As Finch becomes involved with FBI agent Rebecca Harris, it becomes a case of “who’s zoomin’ who” as he tried to keep his two separate worlds from colliding.
What can go wrong when thousands of special operatives in a post-apocalyptic future are trying to avoid a collapse of society? You would think the answer might be not much more than has gone wrong already, but in that case, you probably have never have had the pleasure of watching “Travelers.”
“Travelers” tells the story of thousands of special operatives who have had their consciousnesses sent back in time to inhabit the host bodies of individuals who, in modern day circumstances would be dead by now. Now, under the watchful eye of the Director, the operatives carry out their heroic missions in teams of five, as long, that is, as they can manage to adhere to a few not so heroic rules:
1. Their mission comes first. 2. They can never jeopardize their covers. 3. They may never take a life, or save one unless otherwise directed. 4. They may not reproduce. 4. They must always maintain their host’s lives. 5. They may not communicate with other known travelers outside their team.
Can they do it? Is it possible to perform such heroic tasks without taking heroic actions? Tune in to find out just how much can go wrong even after the apocalypse, it
American Horror Story
Another story, or set of stories, shall we say, with a not so happy ending is the “American Horror Story” series. Like Black Mirror, it too follows the anthology format, however, in this case, each season is conceived as a self-contained miniseries following a different set of characters in a variety of settings.
Although the stories told in “American Horror Story are not so happy in and of themselves, they have been seeming to make a lot of viewers happy. That means there’s a pretty big audience for things like haunted houses, institutions for the criminally insane, witches, freak shows, apocalyptic cults, and supernatural hotels. Then again, if you watch ‘Black Mirror” you’re probably part of that audience already.
According to co-creator Brad Falchuk, “You want to keep people off balance afterward.” If that’s the case, “American Horror Story is doing a wonderful job. Keep watching for more dystopian offsetting delight in the near future.
The Handmaid’s Tale
Another American horror story, albeit with a bit of feminism thrown in, “The Handmaid’s Tale” centers around the life of a handmaid set some time in the near future in a New England state where the United States Government has been overthrown by a totalitarian state. If that is bad enough, the Handmaid is unfortunate enough to have been assigned the monicker “Offred,” as in “Of – Fred,” not to be confused with off-red like the color. In this setting, women are forbidden to abandon their birth names in favor of those of the master whom they serve.
In a time of increasing infertility caused by pollution and radiation, Offred has the rare fortune of having a healthy reproductive system. As a result, she is forcibly assigned to produce children for the ruling class of men, called Commanders, qualifying her as a “handmaid” When she finds herself in a relationship with a Commander that results in her complete loss of autonomy, she makes plans to escape, uncertain if her leaving will result in her eventual freedom or capture.
What gets leftover after a global event called the Sudden Departure occurs? In “The Leftovers,” 2% of the world’s population and an increasing number religious cults, most notably, the Guilty Remnant – a group of chain-smoking white clothed nihilists led by Holy Wayne who just happens to see himself as the Second Coming of Christ.
The first season revolves around the Garvey family in the fictional town of Mapleton, New York, where Kevin Garvey is the chief of police and the father of a rapidly shrinking family. His wife Lorna has joined the Guilty Remnant, his son has left home to declare his allegiance to Holy Wayne, and his daughter Jill is simply acting out. Meanwhile, widow Nora Durst deals with her own grief adjusting to the post Departure with help from her brother Reverend Matthew Jamison.
The second season takes us to a Jarden, Texas where, while there may have been no casualties of the Sudden Departure, there is still a fair amount of recovery needed in the Murphy family. When the Garvey’s, along with Nora and Matt, move to Jarden at the time that coincides with the disappearance of three girls, the two families are forced to come together and confront their own inner demons.
If you haven’t seen the Leftovers yet, unfortunately, there is no new season scheduled for this show. Apparently, even though it had its dedicated fans, the “Leftovers” never quite targeted its desired audience and was discontinued. Luckily, however, we still have the leftovers. Since the show is rewatchable, there are still thirty episodes that will require a few tissue boxes.
Speaking of confronting inner demons, the folks on the Westworld don’t need to worry about doing much of that when they have android hosts running the show. Westworld takes place in a technologically advanced Wild West-themed amusement park where the android hosts are programmed to fulfill their guests’ every desire. Think of it as a modern-day “Fantasy Island” where Tattoo and the Boss have gone rogue. The catch is that the androids are prevented from physically harming human guests, which allows guests to fulfill some less desirable desires, including immoral activities such as rape, murder, and mutilation.
Westworld does have a bit of the utopianism of Fantasy Island. Rich clients can visit the park to relive all those glory days from years past, but with the added penchant for criminal activity, Westworld goes far beyond the limits of what would be considered family programming. Things go wrong when one of the hosts becomes aware of his identity and spearheads a revolution against the humans provoking a whole new level of questions about the depravity of human nature.
Looking for a little of the dystopianism of “Black Mirror” with a bit of “hacktivism” thrown in? Look no further than Mr. Robot.
Enter Elliot Alderson Allsafe cyber skills security engineer and hacker extraordinaire. Aside from the fact that he talks a bit too much, sees people who aren’t there, and has the tendency to forget who he is, he seems like the perfect catch.
Things get interesting when Alderson is asked by an insurrectionary anarchist who goes by the name of “Mr. Robot” to join a group of hacktivists known as “fsociety.” It’s fsociety’s goal to cancel records of all customer debt by destroying the financial data of one of the largest corporations in the world, E Corp ( Evil Corp according to Alderson’s sometimes shockingly clear perceptions). If it sounds like a strange job for someone who struggles with a social anxiety disorder and clinical depression, it is, not to mention the fact that ECorp is Allsafe’s biggest client.
Mr. Robot is the story of a man who knows everything about beating the world’s greatest firewalls and nothing about beating his inner demons. Delightfully punctuated by Alderson’s own running commentaries, Mr. Robot is the story of every man who feels overwhelmed by his own potential.
The Walking Dead
If you had heard ten years ago there was a premise for an adult tv show about survivors of a zombie apocalypse trying to stay alive in a world under constant threat of zombie, you’d probably say it would never work. Of course, that was before the phenomenal success of the “Walking Dead.”
As alluded to before, the “Walking Dead” takes place after a worldwide zombie apocalypse has struck. The zombies affectionately referred to as walkers. shamble on two legs toward their living victims, eager to consume them, attracted by their basest carnal instincts. Although at first, it seemed that humans could only turn into walkers when they were bitten by other walkers, it now appears all living beings carry the pathogen responsible for the mutation. The only way to permanently destroy these walkers is to damage is brain and destroy its body.
Sheriff Deputy Rick Grimes is the man who wakes from a coma to find himself the leader of this group of survivors as they do their best to fend off this group of mindless attackers, using any means necessary to stay alive. The “Walking Dead” follows Grimes and his community in this fictional setting that embodies so many concerns about the reality of the human condition.