Tuesday, 26 February 2013

BLACK MIRROR – 'The Waldo Moment'

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Interesting to note that series 2 of Black Mirror has reversed the style of series 1's episodes; beginning with the "emotive hard sci-fi" one, continuing with the "scary high-concept" one, and now ending with the "blackly satirical" one. "The Waldo Moment" was unfortunately the weakest of this year's triptych, and perhaps the worst episode of Black Mirror yet made, but that's not to say it wasn't enjoyable and though-provoking. I just think the concept wasn't presented in a manner that made it feel believable, and didn't soar high enough—ignoring the divisive end credits footage, which felt like a thin attempt to make the preceding hour feel more important in retrospect.

Jamie Salter (Daniel Rigby) is a failed comedian who finds unanticipated success playing a real-time animated blue bear called Waldo; a foulmouthed character who becomes incredibly popular with the public, particularly after a video goes viral where he savages pompous Tory politician Liam Monroe (Tobiaz Menzies). It's not long before Jamie's producer Jack Napier (Jason Flemyng) hits upon the idea of having the fictional character of Waldo speak for the nation's disaffected youth, and has him run for political office in a local by-election. But as Waldo's popularity skyrockets and the chance of a political win doesn't seem wholly unlikely, Jamie must deal with the way he's being used as a puppet by the media—which is also damaging a new relationship with Labour candidate Gwendolyn (Chloe Pirrie).

There were definitely fun and interesting ideas swirling around "The Waldo Moment", but I don't think it came together particularly well. Charlie Brooker showed commendable restraint with the story, but you felt like it should have pushed things much further. While it was a minor surprise that Waldo didn't win the by-election in the end, I think I'd have preferred it if he did. As if recognising the episode ends on a slump, Brooker then threw in an epilogue where Jamie's a vagrant living in a dystopian future where Waldo's since become a global form of mind-control. It just felt very weird to have that shoehorned into the story. If the whole episode was clearly leading to that being the penalty for Waldo's fame, I could have accepted it more easily. Perhaps this story should have been set in the near-future, to help us suspend our disbelief more?

As much as the episode wanted us to believe Waldo was a hugely popular figure, the story also didn't sell that very well. Waldo wasn't very funny (a let-down considering Brooker's such a funny writer), so it was tough to imagine this ranting turquoise bear becoming such a media phenomenon. This episode's concept was actually born years ago when Brooker was chatting to Chris Morris during production of short-lived sitcom Nathan Barley, and to some extent it felt outdated in 2013. It didn't help that the characters of Jamie, Gwendolyn and Monroe felt broad and existed alongside stereotypes.

Still, there's nothing else like Black Mirror on television just now and some of Brooker's points about the media and politics left their mark. This second series has been great fun and was written with more confidence and nuance, but I personally preferred the ideas presented to us in series 1. I'd also have liked some other writers to have been involved, just to give us some different flavours and viewpoints, but Brooker instead wrote all three of this year's stories... and perhaps paid the price because "The Waldo Moment" was noticeably weaker.

written by Charlie Brooker / directed by Bryn Higgins / 25 February 2013 / Channel 4