Continuing his look at two incredibly popular anthology series, Christy Smyth explored Black Mirror’s Hang The DJ and Inside No. 9’s To Have And To Hold.

Black Mirror and Inside No. 9 are two of the best shows on TV right now. One is a dark anthology series, created by British writer Charlie Brooker. The other is a dark anthology series, created by British writers Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton. Though the two shows have very different tones and themes, they are still linked by a few core similarities.

I’ll be taking a look at the fourth series of the two shows, and pitting their six episodes against each other.

So far we’ve seen three from each. Inside No. 9 started strong with Zanzibar and Bernie Clifton’s Dressing Room, but took a dip in quality last week with the ambitious but ultimately disappointing Once Removed. Black Mirror, on the other hand, has been pretty consistent, though it still hasn’t managed to reach its usual heights.

Now, both shows are on even footing, having one win each, and one draw. This weeks (very loose) theme is ‘love’.

Spoilers ahead.

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Hang The DJ

‘The System’ is the Tinder of tomorrow. It takes you away to some walled off corner of the world and, by pairing you up with a series of potential romantic partners, promises to finally find your ‘ultimate compatible other’.

Hang The DJ sees Amy (Georgina Campbell) and Frank (Joe Cole) pair up, get separated, pair up again, get separated again, and eventually find one another once more in an attempt to rebel against this ‘system’. It’s an uplifting story about love in the digital age and one that displays Brooker’s sudden new interest in feel-good endings.

Arkangel and Crocodile, the last two Black Mirror episodes, slowed the overall pace right down. For better (the former) or worse (the latter). Hang The DJ, on the other hand, moves a lot quicker. It keeps you hooked enough to be invested in this couple, and Campbell and Cole are both well suited to their roles. When Frank, albeit briefly, betrays Amy’s trust we feel for them.

There are also enough small strange moments to remind you that it’s Black Mirror that you’re watching, and not everything is as it seems. However, the twist (if you want to call it that) isn’t much of a surprise by the time it comes. I mean, at this point in the show you’d be more surprised if they weren’t in a simulation.

Herein lies the problem. In spite of these positives, they are eventually meaningless in what ends up becoming a forgettable episode. The whole set up and pay off seems all too easy. We expect Black Mirror to do an episode about dating in the internet age, we expect these types of quirky/lovable/awkward characters, we expect it to all be a simulation that has no real consequence.

It’s all good enough, but not good enough for Black Mirror.

This is telling of a wider problem with the show in general right now. With the move to Netflix came a much larger audience, and a sudden success in the US. This has made Black Mirror a more ‘American’ show, and one that is trying to have a wider appeal. They’re giving more and more episodes simple, satisfying, happy endings. Episodes that don’t challenge the viewer in the way White Bear or White Christmas did. This problem was highlighted by the huge success of San Junipero, an overhyped and overrated turn for the show. San Junipero was, at the time, an experiment in giving Black Mirror a lighter side. Hang The DJ seems to be Brooker’s attempt at repeating the famous episode’s success.

The problem isn’t with happy endings or satisfying story lines (Inside No 9’s Zanzibar was an exceptional example of this done right). The problem is that when Brooker changes the overall dark tone of the show, the episodes seem to simply be there to ‘break it up’ a bit. They end up forgettable at best, saccharine at worst.

To Have And To Hold

This week’s Inside No. 9 focuses on the crumbling relationship of Adrian (Steve Pemberton) and Harriet (Nicola Walker) as they try to reignite the long-out spark in their marriage and love life. However, the story takes a dark turn as we discover the awful secrets that Adrian is keeping.

To Have And To Hold is a near perfect 30 minutes and one of the best episodes Pemberton and Shearsmith have produced. Everything is perfect. Walker’s devastating portrayal of an unsatisfied, unloved, unappreciated wife. Christian Henson’s score that moves unsettlingly between the light and dark moments. David Kerr’s direction that perfectly frames these two distinct stories, one about a dysfunctional marriage, the other about a sinister, abusive, monster.

The episode surprises us in every way, even to the point of putting Steve Pemberton in a role that we’d expect to see Shearsmith take (indeed, the twist would perhaps be more predictable had Shearsmith been in Pemberton’s place).

The writing is as excellent as we have come to expect, and the twist is one of the best, darkest, and least expected we’ve seen. This episode is brilliant, and one that will stick with me for a mighty long time.

I usually try to keep these reviews balanced, providing as many weaknesses as strengths, but anything negative I have to say about this would be too pedantic to bother. Let that be a testament to its quality.

Result

Do you even have to ask?

Next Week: Metalhead vs. And The Winner Is…