Did that make you want to lighten the mood? Or really delve deeper into the darkness?
I started in a way thinking, “Well, I don’t want to write another episode about what I’ve already written lots of episodes about.” One way to stop yourself from doing that is to almost delete from your head the idea of what a Black Mirror episode is and think “fuck it” and start writing something else.
That explains why a few of the stories in the new season barely touch on technology or other traditional Black Mirror topics at all.
We’ve got a mix of what you might call very Black Mirror episodes and ones that are less so, but certainly shaking things up a bit and getting out of the rut. It was easy for me to sit there and think, “I’ve got to do an episode about polarization on social media; I’ve got to do an episode about NFTs.” That was never what the show was intended to do at the start. We weren’t meant to be “this is what’s going on in technology this week.” It was always designed to be a more paranoid and weird and hopefully unique show.
A few episodes in this season seem to turn the show’s lens back on itself. “Joan Is Awful,” in particular, has a lot to say about turning your life into content. Was that inspired by something happening in your own life?
This is not something I consciously sit down and think about; it’s just that the stories that appeal to me seem to often be about … inauthenticity of experience would be one way of describing it.
For writers there’s always this question of to what extent you should turn your life into content. If something really horrible happens to you and you’re in a creative field, there’s this temptation to write about it or make a show about it. There’s a trade-off there, but once it’s done, it’s done, and you can’t really put that genie back in the bottle.
You can’t. It’s celebrity, right? It’s grappling with things that were traditionally the preserve of celebrities: Living a very public life and putting yourself up for judgment is what everyone is potentially wrestling with. There is clearly a human need to be seen and to be recognized. One of my kids is 9 years old, and he asked if he could start a YouTube channel. I didn’t really know what to say to that.
You’re a renowned worrier—are you worried about the existential threat of?
I mean, yes, in as much as I’m worried about everything else.
But are there AI-specific things on your mind?
I’m annoyed: I wanted to do an episode about an AI standup comedian and I didn’t quite get the story this time and now I sort of feel, “Ah, does that look a bit reactive now rather than pre-emptive?” There’s been stories that we’ve been doing about AI for a long time, I think the first one was probably “Be Right Back,” with Domhnall Gleeson and Hayley Atwell, and he dies and she uses a sort of AI ChatGPT for grieving people to talk to him. In a way that sums it up for me, because he becomes a sort of bland emulation, something that isn’t actually as messy and surprising and strange and crap as the original him. It becomes this weird, watered-down echo.