“Fucking minced meat is going to become sentient and start crawling out of packaging and strolling away”: an interview with Charlie Brooker

There's a weighty biography of the show, 'Inside Black Mirror', ready for your eyeballs

Two things you should know about Charlie Brooker: he fucking loves the Bristol band Idles, who’ve brought the positivity to punk, and is one the foremost chroniclers of our troubling relationship with technology. The other foremost chronicler is fellow showrunner Annabel Jones, with whom he’s produced four seasons of the anthology series Black Mirror since 2011. The Prime Minister shagging a pig? Sure! Apps to rate your personality? Well, why not? A terrifying series of events triggered by a pizza truck, which culminates in a bloody rampage of murder and despair? I mean, sounds awful, but okay.

With season five coming soon to a laptop screen near you, there’s also a new book, Inside Black Mirror, arriving just in time to spook Santa (it’s released November 1). Throughout, Brooker, Jones and their cast and crew break down every episode, revealing their inspiration and reflections on the show. So, NME called up Charlie for a quick chat about the book, Timmy Mallett drinking kanagroo’s cock and why the idea of positive punk is just inherently funny (and, no, he wouldn’t tell us if there’s going to be an episode of Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe this year).

So, why do a book about Black Mirror?

“It’s something do, innit, before the world explodes? Actually, it’s because people were asking for it. We’ve been slightly taken aback by the show’s popularity. Not taken aback like, ‘Why the fuck do people like this?’, but it’s the most popular thing I’ve done, so there’s a sort of an appetite for it. We’ve done, like, 19 films (I’m going to pretentiously call them ‘films’) and because each one is different, there’s a lot to say about all of them. I think that’s borne out by the size and weight of this book, which I think you could use… if you hit… what’s the largest animal you could kill with one blow from this book? Possibly a dog? Not a horse; maybe a small foul.”

What a horrifying image

“No, sorry. I don’t know why I’m going there.”

Black Mirror got really, properly big when it moved to Netflix for its third series in 2016. Do you reckon the show was ahead of its time?

“I wouldn’t be able to claim, ‘Oh, it’s ahead of its time’, which often feels like a thing people say when something wasn’t very popular. I think it was possibly that when it started, there weren’t many shows that were examining our relationship with technology. It was around the time of the Arab Spring; people were going, ‘Wow! Twitter is liberating the Middle East! Everything’s great! Isn’t everything rosy and brilliant?’ It was like: ‘These magic rectangles we’re holding in our hands fun, aren’t they fun?’ And now we’re just depressed and we’re worried that they’re like cigarettes, and they’re constantly spitting fascist memes into our faces.”

It’s such an imaginative show, but one of the surprising things you learn in Inside Black Mirror is that the sources of inspiration are often quite mundane – like the fact that you were inspired to write [the pig-fucking episode] ‘The National Anthem’ after watching the Bushtucker trials on I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here!

“What that is is occasionally stepping back and going, “Fuck. This is weird, innit?”, so with something like I’m a Celebrity…, it’s a process. You say it’s mundane, but it’s, like, Timmy Mallett drinking liquidized kangaroo’s penis – that’s not actually mundane, that’s fucking strange! I was just watching that and thought, ‘Christ! This is as hardcore as something like Cannibal Holocaust. But it’s going out on ITV at prime time – how have we got here?’. So you end up doing a sarcastic version of that. So sometimes it’s just looking at things with a wonky eye.”

In the book, Annabel says: “We’re taking on new genres again. With season four, we deliberately avoided doing anything too contemporary or politicised.” Is that a hint that season five might go in the opposite direction?

“I would take any hints with a pinch of salt. I can never confirm nor deny anything about season five. Season four was literally written around the time of the American election and the Brexit vote and that sort of stuff. I think there was a deliberate, ‘Okay, I don’t see how all of those things will pan out.’ Actually, though, I think you end up commenting on those sorts of things anyway, bleakly. It felt like what we shouldn’t do was go, ‘And here’s the Brexit episode!’, as we would probably get it wrong in the thick of it. Also, like anyone else at that time, I was like, ‘Fucking hell! I’m going to keep my head down and fucking write because the world’s about to explode! Let me see if I can type this before a fucking meteoroid crashes. What’s going to happen next? An asteroid? I don’t know. Fucking minced meat is going to become sentient and start crawling out of packaging and strolling away – I wouldn’t be surprised.”

It feels like a lot of the appeal of ‘Black Mirror’ season four was its diversity, in terms of the characters’ gender, sexuality and race. Was that deliberate, or do you look back and go, ‘Oh, right, yeah – that happened’?

“It, sort of, is and it isn’t, I suppose. If you look at the first season, all the protagonists are blokes, so I thought, ‘Oh okay. I’ll change that up for the second season.’ So in the second season, the first two stories were female-lead and that was deliberate, because the show has to keep reinventing itself. Apart from anything, it’s borne out of necessity to keep it different. I think when it came to doing something like [season four episode] ‘San Junipero’, I was very nervous at the time because I thought, ‘This was a love story between two women, I hope I’m getting this right,’ and luckily I got away with it.

“So going along, I’ve noticed that I’ve become more aware. A tip I now say to writers in script is, when you’re naming characters – a) try and name your characters whenever you can. If they’ve got lines, it’s better for the actors. It looks better on their CV rather than ‘Waiter’; you know they’ve got a name. And the other thing is: don’t just pick the first boring white person name, because I would probably gravitate to calling everyone ‘Bob’ and ‘Mary’ and ‘Jim’ because of my background and upbringing. Whereas as soon as you write in, like, ‘Najma’ or something, you are forcing yourself to think more about who that character is. You are giving them a story. The less generic you are, the more defined everyone is, and hopefully it’s better.”

READ MORE: Idles: “Music and unity, community, love and mindfulness will help you get over anything”

Finally, we’ve noticed on Twitter that you’re a big fan of Idles. We’re also big fans of Idles here at NME. What is it that you like so much about them?

“Apart from anything else, they’re funny. There is something about positive punk that I thought, ‘Why hasn’t…? Hold on, that’s a new thing, isn’t it? How comes no one’s done that?’ If you listen to a song like ‘Danny Nedelko’ or ‘Television’, he’s [singer Joe Talbot] so fucking angry about being positive. He’s so furiously happy – like, so furiously positive in the way he shouts “Unity!”. He shouts “Unity!” through gritted teeth, and there’s something very life affirming about that.”

– Inside Black Mirror is published by Ebury Press and available to buy on November 1