With a new season of Black Mirror hitting Netflix on December 29, Dan Stubbs talked technology, Tinder and turds with co-showrunner Charlie Brooker
You won an Emmy for the ‘San Junipero’ episode of Black Mirror. Where do you keep the statue?
“I traded it for heroin. No, actually, it’s in a box but it’s coming out for Christmas.”
Did you see the story that did the rounds about Ross from Friends coming up with the premise for ‘San Junipero’ in an old episode of the show?
“I don’t think the notion of consciousnesses being uploaded to a computer came from Ross from Friends – I’d certainly heard that concept before. We must have stolen it from elsewhere. He’s not even real!”
Apparently Black Mirror is one of the most binge-raced series on Netflix, which means people bash through it really quickly. Do you think that’s strictly healthy?
“They must just want to get it over with quickly. It surprises me because we have a definite ending to each episode. You feel as though you’ve had a full meal. You know what I mean? You’ve eaten your dessert and everything, and now here comes the starter again.
I mean, these people are psychotic.”
Black Mirror has become an adjective in a sense: people say, “That’s very Black Mirror”. Is it nice have created something that’s become a part of the cultural conversation?
“People say it to me, but it’s hard to know how widespread that is as a ‘thing’. Growing up I watched The Twilight Zone, and people would say, ‘Oh, that’s a bit Twilight Zone’. So, if you come up with something that has that kind of resonance with people, that’s a good thing.”
A new version of The Twilight Zone is in production – do you think that’s inspired by Black Mirror’s success?
“Well, there’s a lot of anthology shows coming up at the moment and I think that’s partly a cyclical thing because anthology shows are the oldest format of television show there is – apart from a test card – and partly because of online and on-demand platforms. On a traditional network, it’s harder to get people to come back week after week because there are no cliffhangers. Whereas now, everything comes up to you in your magic online cupboard, so that doesn’t matter.”
Jodie Foster directed an episode in the new season. How did that come about?
“Well, she’s done shows for Netflix before – Orange Is The New Black, House Of Cards, things like that. So, Netflix passed her the script, which she liked, and then we had a Skype chat, which is quite a moment, isn’t it? A Skype chat with Jodie Foster. She is super-smart and extremely grounded, you would say extremely grounded for anyone – let alone someone who’s been in the public eye since they were about four years old.”
That episode is about technology that protects kids from nastiness in a way that’s very Black Mirror. Is that a pressing concern for you, as a father?
“Yeah, I mean, I don’t know if you’ve got kids at all – you might as well, it’s worth doing – but it absolutely destroys your life in a good way. You immediately drop down in your list of priorities and you have this primal urge to protect them.”
So the episode is more of a personal fantasy?
“Definitely, if the technology existed, it would be very hard – almost impossible – to say no to. I mean, you can get GPS trackers now and I can absolutely see the value of that. If you had a GPS tracker on your child’s shoe and they go missing on holiday, you’re going to be completely and utterly relieved and delighted that you’ve bought that device. The gizmos in our show aren’t necessarily bad; it’s the ramifications of people finding it hard to resist using them in certain ways.”
So it’s not the tech, it’s the humans?
“Yeah, we’re the problem.”
Have we unlocked the message of the show there?
“We welcome our robot overlords! No, I’m wary of the show having a message at all.”
Do new gizmos often inspire stories?
“Sometimes it’ll literally come from saying, ‘We haven’t done an episode set in space, how would that work?’ What we don’t do is go, ‘Oh, I see Apple have invented this new device, I wonder what story we could get out of that’. We don’t go through the technology pages and look for stories.”
One of the new episodes is about online dating. As a married man, do you sympathise with modern singles?
“Well, yeah, it does look like a nightmare. Although the episode is not quite about that in a way. I know there’s people using Tinder and stuff like that, but I’m so old now I don’t really know what it is. As far as I can see, is it gamifying relationships and things like that?”
Sort of, yeah. You match with people based on what they look like.
“Right, so it’s just codifying something people do in real life. I mean, who f**king cares what people do. I tend to sit indoors all the time.”
You’ve spoken before about how you don’t like being thought of as a Luddite, but is there a recent technological development that you’ve kind of despaired of?
“Is there for you?”
Yeah, probably that spray you spritz into the toilet when you’re on a date so they can’t tell you’ve had a poo at their house.
“VIPoo? No, that’s brilliant. The only thing that would make that better is if there was a thing you could stick on your bumhole that actually laminated the poo as it came out. Why is that a bad invention?! I mean, the name of that product leaves something to be desired, but what else are they going to call it? Slid Vicious?”
Black Mirror season four is on Netflix on December 29