From the episode’s IMDB.com page citation:
“An average woman is stunned to discover a global streaming platform has launched a prestige TV drama adaptation of her life – in which she is portrayed by Hollywood A-lister Salma Hayek.”
Whether you’ll admit it or not, I suspect that each of us holds some secret yet dire fear about the intrusion our present level of technology affords our cultural betters.
Now, mind you: this doesn’t necessarily mean that each of us has a deep, dark desire to run out and smash our cell phones, our WiFi devices, or any of our Smart TVs. All I’m trying to say in this humble prose is that we probably have some latent concern – some subconscious issue – about who could be listening in to our most private moments. This is likely fueled as much by the natural desire to avoid any lasting embarrassment as it is an anxiety tied to just how much Google or Siri might be listening in when they shouldn’t be, but it’s still the kind of thing we’re more likely to joke about amongst friends than we are to functionally do anything to avoid.
It's this clinical exposure to what irks us all so privately that has been the substance of so many great anthologies, the present Black Mirror now included. Years before it, Rod Serling mined such territory with both The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery, as did the writers and creators of The Outer Limits, Tales From The Darkside, Tales From The Crypt, Creepshow, and even Monsters. (Yes, yes, and yes: I realize some of these programs might not have had as relatable subject matter, but my observation still stands.) The very best installments of these (and other) shows have taunted and teased us in ways that made us laugh – comfortably or not so much so – at the predicaments their characters have found themselves in, and I suspect that “Joan Is Awful” might very well have viewers exercising extra care – in the days ahead – about what they so blindly simply click ‘accept & continue’ on their iPhone.
Joan (played – on one level – by Annie Murphy) – meant to be an ‘Everyman’ character but a bit too far removed in the role of a faceless executive to work fully as designed – isn’t exactly enjoying her best life but is – like so many – making the best of it. Trapped in a somewhat loveless relationship with her significant other, she wiles away her therapy sessions wining about what could’ve / should’ve / would’ve been, never mustering the confidence to fully go out and seize the day because, quite frankly, that’d be exhausting. But relaxing one night in front of the TV with her milquetoast paramour Krish (Avi Nash), she suddenly finds the details of her day just lived on full display globally via an entertainment platform called Streamberry (clearly a Netflix-inspired clone). What’s she’s slow to realize is that she’s blindly signed away the highs and lows of her existence to the technological giant, and now she’s unwittingly become a media sensation as a truly contemptible human being although given the wonderful face of Salma Hayek.
And … what woman would refuse being played by the goddess Salma effing Hayek?!?!
Therein lies Joan’s dilemma: with friends, family, and total strangers increasingly privy to the shallowness inherent in her good, bad, and ugly of a thought-to-be private life, things ain’t pretty. Her prime-time misdeeds quickly alienated everyone around her, forcing her out of a job and into a kind of cultural exile. In no short order, she’s committed to ending Joan’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad existence … at least in its broadcast form. But given that she’s apparently signed away consent via the endless fine print that’s become part and parcel of any and every business commitment, this will be no easy task.
As Fate would have it, the plot for “Joan Is Awful” doesn’t quite end there – trust me when I say quantifying it is also no easy task – and these circumstances pile on through layers and layers, but I remain staunchly committed to not spoiling those elements I believe are best discovered by audiences on their own. “Awful” presents more than a single compelling question for those watching closely, perhaps even challenging them to think of what they, too, may’ve unwittingly accomplished in their own private lives for convenience’s sake. Director Ally Pankiw keeps the drama (and comedy) moving at just the right pace; Murphy has that girl-next-door quality that makes most of the hour function on its own intellectual merits; and Charlie Brooker’s script cleverly tugs at modern anxieties in ways that might make Rod Serling green with envy.
Black Mirror’s “Joan Is Awful” (S06E01) was produced by Charlie Brooker and company in cooperation with Netflix. The episode is currently available for viewing on the streaming giant. As for the technical specifications? While I’m no trained video expert, I thought the accompanying sights and sounds were exceptional from start-to-finish.
Black Mirror has, arguably, produced some of the best mindbenders in the modern age of television and streaming; and “Joan Is Awful” definitely deserves to be added to the growing list of smart features produced with a watchful eye tuned back on our increasing addictions to technology. Part dark comedy (with a bit of bawd thrown in for the church scene) and part cerebral chiller, it might just make society take pause, consider what we’ve done, and promote a better course of action … but, if we did, then where would such ideas like this ever come from?
Nah. We’re knuckleheads. We’re ultimately destined for the trash heap of history. And we’re deserving of Joan’s awful, awful destiny because she is us, we are her, she is awful, and we – alas – awful, as well.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the entire sixth season of Black Mirror is presently available to me as a current Netflix subscriber, and I was provided absolutely no advance screening of any episodes in exchange for a complimentary review.