Is there anything more terrifying than technology itself? From killer robots to living forever, the world of sci-fi horror is packed with shows like The Twilight Zone, The X-Files, and Stranger Things to keep you up at night. However, when it comes to anthology series about dystopian futures ruled by technology, Black Mirror and Philip K Dick's Electric Dreams are going head-to-head (appropriately, both on streaming services).
With Black Mirror having just wrapped season 4 on Netflix, Channel 4 and Amazon are pushing ahead with the premiere season of Electric Dreams. Boasting an all-star cast and some talented directors, it should be a winning formula ready to overtake Black Mirror in the popularity stakes, but something seems to be missing. S
Anthology shows couldn't be bigger right now, with Ryan Murphy becoming the master of this thanks to American Horror Story, Feud, and American Crime Story. However, when Black Mirror aired on the UK's Channel 4 in 2011, it landed with a more modern take on the idea that had already been around for decades. Over the years, Black Mirror has grown its own loyal base of fans, earned a slew of awards, and was eventually bought out by Netflix. You only have to look at the buzz surrounding season 4 about a possible 'USS Callister' spinoff to see that all is going well in the Mirrorverse.
When the first trailer landed for Electric Dreams, it looked like it could 1-up Black Mirror with even more disturbing tales of the macabre. Set to The Mamas & The Papas 'Dream A Little Dream of Me,' it was a chilling tease of what was to come. But perhaps that is the biggest problem. With Channel 4 being the first network to bring Black Mirror to our screens, Electric Dreams was always going to live in the shadow of its predecessor. Bearing in mind that Netflix only got the rights to Black Mirror in 2016, perhaps Channel 4 should've waited a little longer before tackling such a similar show.
While Black Mirror these days may have features the likes of Bryce Dallas Howard and Jon Hamm, its earlier days contained many lesser-known actors who were just starting out. In fact, you could argue that Black Mirror helped actors like Toby Kebbell and Daniel Kaluuya on their way to becoming the Hollywood stars they are today. Looking at Electric Dreams, not a single chapter comes without a big name carrying the episode. Who doesn't want to see Benedict Wong, Steve Buscemi, or Anna Paquin in a sci-fi wonderland? Sadly, Electric Dreams seems to rely heavily on big names to pull in viewers, rather than making its stories as interesting and gripping as possible.
No one will ever agree on if there is a "bad" episode of Black Mirror show, but there are certainly some that are less memorable than others. Beyond Electric Dreams' first episode, 'The Hood Maker,' the rest of the season meanders through some equally forgettable entries. 'The Hood Maker' focuses on Game of Thrones alum Richard Madden as the surly cop partnered with a telepathic newby (Holliday Grainger). Cue tired stereotypes about dysfunctional police pairings and an unscary romance plot. Unfortunately, it seems that Electric Dreams' impressive cast is in danger of outshining the storylines they are given. That being said, with stars such as Vera Farmiga and Juno Temple still set to appear in the second half of season 1, Electric Dreams will still find audiences who are tuning in to see their favorite famous face play a part.
The Comedy Aspect
So what makes Black Mirror the runaway success that it is, and where is Electric Dreams lacking? It may seem like an odd thing to say, but Black Mirror can be incredibly funny. You only have to look at season 4's 'USS Callister' to see how well Brooker and his team can balance a very dark humor with an even darker tale of morality. Seeing a VR crew trapped forever in the nightmare of Plemon's Robert Daly is something truly terrifying, but it works marvelously with well-timed jokes about genitalia and nostalgic Star Trek homages.
Speaking of which, you would imagine that 'USS Callister' would be compared to Electric Dreams' 'Human Is' - basically the one where Bryan Cranston is a Kirk-esque captain - but 'Callister' is a much impressive affair. Unfortunately for Channel 4, Electric Dreams continues to live in the shadow of its predecessor. Perhaps the show's biggest flaw is that it fails to capture that balance between horror and hopelessness that Black Mirror has in abundance. To this day, Black Mirror's premiere episode ('The National Anthem') is one of the most disturbing pieces of TV to come from the 21st Century, and that's the skill of Brooker - each episode manages to get under the audience's skin and stay there. Electric Dreams may be imaginative in its settings and characters, but there are so few moments of humor. Obviously, Black Mirror isn't built on a bed of chuckles, but the odd glimmer of comedy breaks up even the grimmest episodes.