‘So many choices and you don’t know what you want…’
Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror has always strove to be innovative and groundbreaking and on latest episode Bandersnatch, Brooker has taken this concept to the nth degree.
The problem with gimmicks is that they need to enhance something that is already good. We have seen what happens if you hang your hat exclusively on something like 3D. You end up with Avatar. Sure, it’s the most highest grossing film ever made but also, well, it’s a bit shit isn’t it. People will never host Avatar watching parties. Nobody is clicking on articles entitled 10 Things You Never Knew About Avatar. Because ultimately the 3D technology that defines that film is also the only thing it has going for it.
And so… to Bandersnatch.
Stefan Butler (Fionn Whitehead) is a damaged and reclusive video game developer who tumbles down a mind bending rabbit hole while trying to finish his game Bandersnatch. The gimmick here is that, just like the video game that Stefan is producing, this episode of Black Mirror is a choose your own adventure story. The issue with that is that choose your own adventure stories are ultimately pretty frustrating and boring. While Bandersnatch mostly avoids those pitfalls, once you have advanced to the first proper ending, it becomes a bit of a chore to keep going back to various points in the story to unlock the other conclusions.
A talented cast helps of course with Will Poulter particularly impressing and while the interactive element undoubtedly enhances the story, it also renders Bandersnatch a one time viewing experience. Nobody will ever go back and watch this again because the initial novelty value will have worn off. Just as the recent live episode of Inside No 9 only worked as a one off experience, this too becomes out of date the second that the credits roll. On top of that, no matter how effective the cast are, it is difficult to care too much about any character when there are multiple outcomes to the story. Renders the whole thing a little inconsequential.
The concept behind Bandersnatch is an ingenious one and the execution is classy and compelling but ultimately it still feels like a gimmick. This could well usher in a new dawn of interactive television but it is just as likely that a slew of poor imitations conclude with this technology being resigned to the scrapheap along with 3D and dodgy CGI.
Bandersnatch is innovative and exciting but true value in television or film comes in the ability to be able to watch something numerous times while still finding something new to enjoy on repeated viewings. Black Mirror’s latest experiment has spectacularly failed on that remit.