I love The Twilight Zone. So you know I must love Black Mirror, too. It’s pretty much the spiritual successor to The Twilight Zone, making for a modern approach to the Sci-fi anthology genre. And everybody knows that The Twilight Zone is the king of that medium. Nobody’s denying it. The Twilight Zone is classic, vintage television.
That said—and I know this is blasphemy—but in some ways, Black Mirror is actually better than The Twilight Zone. Now, I know Black Mirror doesn’t have the legacy that The Twilight Zone has (Black Mirror debuted in 2011), or even classic episodes like “To Serve Man” or “Time Enough at Last” (Black Mirror only has 22 episodes to The Twilight Zone’s 156). But it still does have a few one-ups over the classic show, which I’m about to detail now. Minor spoilers below for The Twilight Zone.
Black Mirror is More Consistent With its Tone and Messages
Like I said up top, I love The Twilight Zone, but in its 156 episode, five season run, it was super inconsistent with its tone and messages. For every great, thought-provoking The Twilight Zone episode like “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” or “He’s Alive,” you’d get about five or six other silly episodes like “Mr. Dingle, the Strong,” where Burgess Meredith gets super powers from some funny-looking aliens, and “Black Leather Jackets,” where three aliens disguising themselves as greasers try to take over a small town. Granted, I love even the stupid episodes of The Twilight Zone, but it’s undeniable that there’s a lot of Sci-fi garbage mixed in with all the great stuff.
Inversely, Black Mirror, while not slamming home runs with every episode, still at least stays consistent with its cynical messages about technology and the future we’re heading toward. Its tone is also pretty pitch-black for almost all of its episodes, with just a little levity sprinkled in here or there. From “The National Anthem” to “Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too” with Miley Cyrus, you know what you’re getting into when you watch a Black Mirror episode, and it usually isn’t pretty.
Black Mirror Has No --Or at Least, Very Little-- Reliance on Twists
Be honest. Many of the best episodes of The Twilight Zone rely on an M. Night Shyamalan-esque twist to make them special. For example, would “To Serve Man” be the beloved classic that it is if not for that twist at the end? Would “Time Enough at Last” really work if Burgess Meredith didn’t break his glasses? Even fantastic episodes like “The Midnight Sun” are spoiled by the need to have a twist ending, robbing some otherwise great episodes of their potency.
Black Mirror, on the other hand, doesn’t really rely on twists. Sure, you could argue that “Playtest” and “Men Against Fire” have twists at the end, but they don’t really need them to work as episodes. And the two major episodes that do have twists—“Shut up and Dance” and “White Christmas”—are actually made more effective by them since the twists deal with subverting viewer expectations in regards to characters. Some episodes of The Twilight Zone actually need twists just to work, but not so with Black Mirror. When Black Mirror uses twists, it uses them to make you feel even worse about what you just watched. Not to tickle you.
Longer Episodes Means More Content
Did you know that The Twilight Zone actually has a few hour-long episodes? It’s true. In season 4, the series toyed with making longer episodes, and I can tell you since I’ve seen every episode, that most of the hour-long episodes are not very good. “Mute,” “Miniature” “The New Exhibit” and “He’s Alive” are the only real stand-out episodes in the 18-episode season. And one gets a sense that the writers overwrote the episodes and didn’t know what to do with all that extra time they had after writing half-hour long scripts for the three prior seasons.
Black Mirror, on the other hand, always had longer episodes (“The National Anthem” is 44 minutes long, while “Fifteen Million Merits” starring Daniel Kaluuya is 62), so content was never really an issue. And the pacing is so much better because of it. What’s interesting about The Twilight Zone is that some of the half-hour episodes seem super rushed, while the hour-long episodes feel way too long, so there was rarely ever a happy medium. But Black Mirror never had that problem. All of the episodes feel just right.
More Near Future Episodes Means More Effective Episodes
The Twilight Zone is in many ways a commentary on the Atomic Age. That’s all fine and good, and it represents a great time capsule of feelings that existed back then. But some of the concepts that evolved from these ideas seem kind of silly today. I always like to think of the wackier sci-fi episodes like “The Invaders”, where a woman gets a visit from these little men that look like toys, when I start saying things like, “The Twilight Zone is the best show of all time.” Because it’s not true. The Twilight Zone was great, sure, but it’s not the best show ever. That episode has literally nothing to say about anything (it even has a lame twist at the end), and it’s just a result of the kind of stories that you would find in sci-fi magazines at the time. And there are a lot of Twilight Zone episodes like “The Invaders”. Way too many, actually.
But Black Mirror feels a lot more relevant and even prescient at times. While The Twilight Zone dealt with topics like nuclear war in somewhat vague terms, Black Mirror takes technology we currently have (like social media and web cameras) and envisions a future that seems like it could happen in a span of years or even a few months. That makes the episodes much more potent and alive than a great majority of episodes on The Twilight Zone.
This one’s unfair since The Twilight Zone didn’t have the capabilities back then to do interactive movies, but how great would it have been to actually “control” William Shatner in “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”? Or to tell that little, telepathic boy in “It’s a Good Life” to go straight and directly to hell, and then watch the consequences of your actions?
The truth is, it seems like only a scattershot show like Black Mirror, (a three-episode season? Go ahead! A Choose-Your-Own Adventure episode? Why not?), has the capability to be truly surprising since it ostensibly has no boundaries, which is something that The Twilight Zone could never do with its strict, network TV limitations.
In the end, The Twilight Zone will most likely always be the more revered show. But Black Mirror, while relatively “new”, still has a few one ups over the classic series. But what are your thoughts? Do you also think that Black Mirror is somewhat superior to The Twilight Zone? Sound off in the comments.