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5 new 'Black Mirror' episodes have dropped — and there's not a dud in the bunch

In episode "Demon 79" an employee at a department store (Anjana Vasan) is visited by an apprentice demon (Paapa Essiedu).
In episode "Demon 79" an employee at a department store (Anjana Vasan) is visited by an apprentice demon (Paapa Essiedu).

The Netflix anthology series Black Mirror hasn't presented any new episodes since 2019. But now it's back, with a new season of five fresh episodes from writer-producer Charlie Brooker and company. They all premiered Thursday on Netflix – and I've seen them all. Which was a treat, because there haven't been any new Black Mirror episodes since before the pandemic – and even then, season five presented only three new episodes.

But I don't mean to complain about either the infrequency or the relatively small portions dished out by this Netflix show – because Black Mirror continues to be among the best anthology TV series ever made. Futuristic technology figures into many of the storylines, so it's part science fiction. But it's also wide-ranging enough to tap into other genres and styles. It's part Outer Limits, part Alfred Hitchcock Presents, part Twilight Zone – the classic one from Rod Serling, not the disappointing recent remake – and completely, delightfully entertaining.

My challenge here is to convey how much I love this new sixth season of Black Mirror without revealing any spoilers about the five individual installments. The show's executive producers, Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones, have crafted an environment in which, as with the best anthologies, anything can happen at any time. Characters don't have to live, because they're not coming back for a second episode, so any suspense is real, and earned. And Brooker, who wrote four of this season's episodes and co-wrote the fifth, has doubled down on the unpredictability across the board. This year's shows can begin with a comic tone but end darkly – or start off as one genre, and lurch unexpectedly into another. And without fail, they're fun to watch, almost impossible to predict, and equally impossible to forget afterward.

The first episode on this season's Netflix list is titled "Joan Is Awful." It stars Annie Murphy from Schitt's Creek as a woman named Joan, who is, well, awful. We see her cold-bloodedly firing an employee at work, betraying her boyfriend by reconnecting with an old flame, then returning to her boyfriend for a quiet meal at home – which he's lovingly prepared – before settling down on the couch to watch some TV together. But because this is Black Mirror, the TV they're watching is a streaming service that looks almost exactly like Netflix. Except it's called "Streamberry," and the title of one new offering on the scroll-down menu catches his eye. Once they hit play, this episode of Black Mirror goes into unexpected territory – and a very wild, technologically topical ride.

Another episode, "Demon 79," is a weird episode that's all the more charming for being so offbeat. Anjana Vasan, from Peacock's We Are Lady Parts, plays a meek employee at a department store who's visited by an apprentice demon – sort of like the flip side of Clarence the angel in It's a Wonderful Life. Only this demon has to persuade her to kill three people in as many days, or the world will end. She tries to run from him, but he keeps popping in wherever she goes to continue the conversation. Paapa Essiedu plays the fast-moving, faster-talking demon.

From there, this episode, too, goes to places that are not at all easily predicted. Brooker co-wrote "Demon 79" with Bisha K. Ali, wrote all the others himself and each installment is gloriously different. "Mazey Day" is about paparazzi chasing an actress. "Loch Henry" – a title, if you look closely, actually included in the Streamberry program menu during "Joan Is Awful" – is about an old murder case in a small Scottish town. And "Beyond the Sea," the most haunting of them all, stars Aaron Paul and Josh Hartnett as astronauts on a long, remote space mission. There's not a dud in the bunch. "Joan Is Awful" and "Beyond the Sea" may be my favorites from this cycle – but I scarfed up and loved all five, and predict you will, too. When it comes to the imagination behind Black Mirror, that's about the only type of prediction that's safe to make.

Copyright 2024 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

Corrected: June 20, 2023 at 12:00 AM EDT
In the audio of this story, as in a previous web version, we incorrectly said Himesh Patel plays Joan's boyfriend, Krish. It is Avi Nash in this role. Patel plays a TV version of Krish.
David Bianculli
David Bianculli is a guest host and TV critic on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. A contributor to the show since its inception, he has been a TV critic since 1975.