I have been listening to the Night Call podcast since its inception more than a year ago. (There is one podcast per week, and the most recent one was podcast number 70.) Those of you familiar with the podcast will find it strange that I listen to it. To be honest, I succumbed to the advertising hype surrounding the launch of the podcast. I thought, given the name and some of the pre-launch advertising, that it would be in the same vein as the late Art Bell’s radio show Coast to Coast AM. I was wrong. This is how the website describes the show: “Every Monday, hosts Molly Lambert, Tess Lynch and Emily Yoshida, gather in dark rooms for a free jazz blend of pop culture theory, internet fascinations, and venture down a plethora of half-baked conspiracy theory rabbit holes. Drop us a line with your night call at 240-46-NIGHT or email@example.com, and we'll offer our best advice on life, love, and the coming apocalypse.”
The three hostesses are, I believe, writers for web-based publications. At least one of the three is a movie reviewer. I listen to the podcast for a variety of reasons: I hear about movies or television shows that I would never discover from my friends that are my age; I get information on topics that engage the interest of that generation known as “millennial”; it kills time during my Monday morning commute to work. As to point two, I find myself looking up phrases and abbreviations they use on the air. It seems that “casting shade” has nothing to do with relief from sunshine. I had to look up an abbreviation when a female guest pronounced herself “DTF” with respect to some good looking male movie star. The baby boomers and the millennials are two generations separated by a common language.
But it is thanks to the Night Call podcast that I learned about the television series Black Mirror, a Twilight Zone-style creation of the screenwriter and producer Charlie Brooker. While The Twilight Zone dealt with a variety of sensitive topics, such as racism and nuclear annihilation, in the guise of futuristic or otherwise fictionalized settings, Brooker has focused Black Mirror on the relationship between man and technology.
Season five was just released on Netflix. The first two seasons, plus a Christmas special, were produced for Channel 4 in the United Kingdom. Each of these seasons contained three episodes. Seasons three through five, plus an interactive movie (Bandersnatch), were produced for Netflix. Seasons three and four had six episodes each. For the recently released Season five, Brooker returned to the three-episode season.
My opinion is free, and you will certainly get your money’s worth with my opinion. Given that caveat, I believe that the first two seasons, and the recently released fifth season, represent some of the best television that I have seen.
The very first episode of season one, The National Anthem, was disturbing, but not out of the realm of the possible. Its focus is the public’s appetite for humiliation. While it was undoubtedly critically acclaimed (“serves as a cautionary tale about the power of the collective 'hive mind' that is social media”), if the remaining episodes had been that intense, I would never have finished the series. Fortunately, the second episode returned to a more Twilight Zone-like pattern. Episode three (The Entire History of You), the second best of the first season, introduced me to Jodie Whittaker, who is the current incarnation of The Doctor in the long-running series Doctor Who.
I enjoyed the second season, although I did not think it lived up to the standards set by the first season. But in comparison with seasons three and four, and the ridiculous movie Bandersnatch, season two was high art. It seems that the move to Netflix and the extension to six episodes per season had compromised the originality of the show. I barely made it through Bandersnatch, and was not sure that I should commit the time to see season five. Now that I have seen the series, I’m very glad I did.
All three episodes of season five are good, but if you have time for only one episode, see the second one, Smithereens. It is a commentary on our social media addiction, and its consequences.
I am not a movie reviewer, and my tastes in plot twists may not be yours. Give the series a try. See season one, and if you like it, go straight to season five. You can pop back and try season two after that. As to seasons three and four, that’s up to you. If you are in doubt, try Nosedive, the first episode of season three.
After that, throw away your cell phones.