Season 5 of Black Mirror is here (now streaming on Netflix), but are the three new episodes worth a binge? According to the first reviews, it depends.
Like last season, which boasted six episodes, the stories here vary in terms of quality. With each over an hour long, some critics are wondering if Season 5 would have benefitted from trimming off some of proverbial narrative fat. After all, that's the same problem dogging the 2019 reboot of The Twilight Zone over on CBS All Access.
Luckily, "Striking Vipers," "Smithereens," and "Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too" benefit from all-star acting in the forms of Anthony Mackie, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Nicole Beharie, Pom Klementieff, Andrew Scott, and Miley Cyrus. In particular, Cyrus is getting much of the praise from critics, who can't deny the quality of the performances, even if the content itself leaves something to be desired.
Reviews are also bringing up Bandersnatch, the Choose Your Own Adventure experimental episode/movie, which exists as a Black Mirror standalone. After such a groundbreaking offering from the mind of the show's creator, Charlie Brooker, Season 5, it seems, can't stack up.
Here's what the critics are saying...
"One offering is clearly lesser than the other two and one of the rare broad misses that the series sometimes delivers. Ah, but the other two episodes this season are exceptional, a timely reminder that Brooker remains restlessly creative and still enormously interested in the genre, having moved it beyond 'tech paranoia' to the aforementioned more nuanced exploration of how technology changes our emotional and intimate connections with loved ones, family and friends." -Tim Goodman, The Hollywood Reporter
"It’s possible that Brooker — who has scripted almost every episode of the show, occasionally with a co-writer — is running out of 'what if' potent enough to strike fear into the heart of the typical Twitter junkie. While previous Netflix seasons have spanned six episodes, the new one runs only three. And instead of keeping viewers up at night with political hellscapes and other horror-movie scenarios, season 5 rarely departs in a meaningful way from what’s possible now." -Judy Berman, TIME
"Black Mirror's fifth and latest season is out on Netflix on Wednesday, and with it comes something special. Like the outstanding 'USS Callister' from Season 4, new episode 'Striking Vipers' is another stroke of brilliance from writer Charlie Brooker, who continues to deliver groundbreaking stuff despite the anthology's increasingly familiar tech-gone-wrong formula. With a reduced number of episodes compared to previous seasons, not one story drops in quality. You may have heard that one of those episodes stars Miley Cyrus, who brings star power like never before to classically twisted Black Mirror fare." -Jennifer Bisset, CNET
"This fifth series, it justifies its continuation with one astounding episode — even at a mere three episodes long, its variable quality is more starkly evident than ever. What’s more, when you consider that this latest season is shorter than usual because of the time Brooker and Jones had to spend on last year’s throwaway Choose Your Own Adventure experiment Bandersnatch, then it can’t be said to be having a good run of form at the moment." -Hugh Montgomery, BBC
"Something about 'Smithereens,' which debuts on Netflix today as part of Season 5, feels unusual for Black Mirror. Yes, the installment is about a fictional social-media app and a nightmarish scenario that unfolds, but it seems like it could’ve been pulled from today’s headlines There’s only the barest hint of surrealism to 'Smithereens,' a grim tale that suffers from many of the flaws that plagued Black Mirror’s very mixed previous season." -David Sims, The Atlantic
"So much of this success comes on the backs of the performers bringing the stories to life. Mackie and Mateen have an utterly incredible chemistry that should absolutely be used more often. Miley Cyrus is a force to be reckoned with and should appear on screen a lot more often. However, it's Andrew Scott that walks away as the MVP of this season." -Charlie Ridgley, ComicBook.com
So what’s the problem? Pacing – and length. All three episodes run well over an hour, and the storylines suffer as a result... And through it all, even as the episodes entertain, and thrill, and illicit deep emotion, there’s a prevailing sense that there’s just nothing left to say. That the future has already been written, and the outlook isn’t good." -Chris Evangelista, /FILM
"With this new season, the pattern is not so clear cut. The twists are not so big, and this is perhaps because these stories do not rely on clever-cut twists, but are a little more nuanced. This fifth season focuses more on how its characters relate to one another on an emotional level, and how technology either enhances it or hinders it." -Sheena Scott, Forbes
"Call it the Bandersnatch effect. After toiling away on a groundbreaking idea they actually had to bring to life, Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones’ new episodes of Black Mirror feel like a half-hearted effort — not only in comparison to the extremely ambitious interactive “film,” but to past hourlong entries, as well." -Ben Travers, IndieWire
'Striking Vipers,' 'Rachel,' and especially 'Smithereens' are quaint compared to what Brooker has delivered on Netflix’s dime so far; the latter’s success is indicative of the season’s success overall. None are blockbusters, but they ultimately feel richer than a lot of the unmemorable fare padded around say, 'USS Callister,' innovative on story if not scope. In a year where he could’ve been overshadowed by the return of his spiritual forebear, Brooker rose to the challenge by going small, re-earning the title as Rod Serling’s true successor in the process." -Frazier Tharpe, Complex
"The three installments vary in mood, genre and just about everything else (as anthologies are designed to do) but they share a new air of calm authority. There’s an unhurriedness to each, a greater willingness to linger and develop moments that might have passed as a single beat in other seasons that perhaps bespeaks an increasing confidence of Black Mirror’s creators in their product. If so, it’s been well-earned." -Lucy Mangan, The Guardian