When it first crossed the Atlantic to pop up on Netflix, “Black Mirror” brought a dire look at the near future and filled a “Twilight Zone”-shaped hole in the lives of a lot of viewers. But fans who have already binged their way through “Black Mirror” Season 4 have a new series that’ll scratch a lot of the same itches.
“Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams” is an anthology series that adapts 10 of the prolific sci-fi writer’s short stories into short films. Originally airing last year in the UK, the series was released in its entirety on Amazon Prime this month. While not all of Dick’s ideas feel quite as close to our world as those of “Black Mirror” creator Charlie Brooker, a few of the adaptations get near to kick up a lot of the same existential thoughts as what “Black Mirror” is often trying to bring up to its audience.
One of the reasons “Black Mirror” captures so much attention among viewers is that it’s an imaginative but familiar look at the world around us. The show’s focus on technology is part of what often makes it feel real. It’s also an almost unyieldingly dark take on our world — almost every “Black Mirror” episode imagines a dystopia of technology run amok, and the humanity we unwittingly sacrifice as we let it too far into our lives.
“Electric Dreams” gets at some of those ideas too. There are a few episodes that imagine worlds where our technological grasp exceeds our reach, like “Autofac,” in which an automated factory continues to produce useless goods long after world war has rendered them useless. “K.A.O.” takes place in a world in which your identity is openly, constantly available both to advertisers and the government, causing privacy, and the ability to speak freely, to vanish. “Real Life” is about a woman who loses herself in a virtual reality world, struggling to remember which reality is the real one.
Probably the most “Black Mirror”-like of the episodes is “Safe & Sound,” which imagines a Big Brother-like relationship with a technology company that’s similar to Apple, or somewhat ironically, Amazon. It goes one essential step beyond the central idea of always being monitored, however, to discuss the ways that some people give up freedom in favor of security, and others take advantage of that fact.
Unlike “Black Mirror,” though, much of “Electric Dreams” is generally a more optimistic show, with less fatalist themes. Part of that is the result of the stories in “Electric Dreams” covering a wider gamut of science fiction — some stories take place in our world or very near future,s while others are set in distant locales and even far-flung solar systems. The episode “Impossible Planet,” for instance, is set so far in the future that humanity has become a spacefaring race with only a distant memory of Earth.
And while “Black Mirror” gets at the way an overabundance of technology can slowly (or quickly) reshape us, the stories in “Electric Dreams” tend to work at getting at a deeper of idea of what makes us human in the first place — or doesn’t. Sometimes that’s literal, in stories like “Human Is” and “The Father Thing” that tackle the idea of loved ones being replaced by impostors. In other cases, like “Impossible Planet” or “The Hood Maker,” it’s a bit more figurative as episodes get at how we treat each other, and why.
“Black Mirror” gets at those ideas sometimes, too, but usually in a more tragic and dystopian way. The essence of the series is the idea that we can cede too much to technology — that the technology we use to make life better can have the effect of a runaway train, carrying us to places, and disasters, we don’t see coming. “Electric Dreams” might be a somewhat rosier anthology than “Black Mirror,” but the thing that makes both shows worth watching are their ideas about what our world is, what it could be come, and what we might let become of us.
“Electric Dreams” isn’t an exact imitation of “Black Mirror” or other similar shows like “Twilight Zone” or “The Outer Limits” — nor is it antithetical to that series. In fact, they compliment one another with that question that makes science fiction and speculative fiction so compelling: “What if?”
The release of “Electric Dreams” might suggest that the surge of popularity surrounding “Black Mirror” is bringing more science fiction along with it. Shows like these offer a deeper and often weirder look at who we are and where we’re going than other TV. It’s great that it seems like more of those perspectives are being brought back into the mainstream.