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Another season of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror is in the books, and given that it was four years between the fifth and sixth seasons, it’s unclear when (or if) we’ll see more. While Brooker’s series is, by far, the buzziest sci-fi anthology of the modern era, it’s certainly not alone. The format proved itself at least as far back as the 1960s, and the dystopian themes—many having to do with the promise and peril of technology—go back even further.

Mary Shelley warned us of the dangers of artificial life back in 1818, but also suggested that new forms of life and consciousness are only as bad as we treat them. That kind of complexity has been at the heart of much of the best science fiction ever since, and it’s a genre that television is, at least occasionally, well-suited to tackle.

There are anthologies here, certainly, but these Black Mirror-esque shows all share a similar sense of ambivalence about modern life and technology, often with dire warnings about the road we’re on. And, like Black Mirror, which has a reputation for deep cynicism that’s not always deserved, there are hints of empathy to be found as well. The promise of good science fiction isn’t that everything will work out, nor is it that we’re entirely doomed. These shows all suggest that human connection is more than sufficient to overcome our darker impulses, if only we heed the lesson.

Severance (2022 – )

Severance — Official Trailer | Apple TV+

Having trouble finding “work-life balance”? In Severance, biotechnology giant, Lumon Industries has a solution: they split your consciousness between your life at work and your life outside. As the series progresses, the work- and home-based consciousnesses grow apart to the point that they become entirely different people. Inspired by office-based dark comedies as much as movies like Brazil and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the show’s take on both nebulously futuristic tech alongside its dive into the dangers of modern American-style totalitarian capitalism makes it a serialized answer to Black Mirror’s episode-by-episode anthology format.

Where to stream: Apple TV+

Ultra Q (1966)

Ultra Q Episode 9: Baron Spider

What the hell is Ultra Q, you ask? Don’t look for clues in the title, which is mostly to do with the popularity of the word “ultra” at the time. Here, pilot and amateur writer Jun teams up with young newspaper reporter to investigate mysterious happenings involving kaiju—giant monsters, like Godzilla. In that vein, though, the show doesn’t stop at stories involving city-destroying monsters, but uses kaiju in a variety of contexts, including in stories of haunted houses, possessed children, and time travel.

Shortly after its ending, the series would give birth to the better remembered Ultraman, which ditched the proto-X-Files vibe but kept many of the same monsters.

The show’s intended title, Unbalance, conveys some sense of the show’s ideological underpinnings: episodes frequently deal with the idea that modern civilization has created a schism between humanity and the natural world—a disordered state that will, naturally, give rise to destructive (or misunderstood) kaiju.

Where to stream: Tubi, Shout Factory TV

Room 104 (2017 – 2020)

Room 104: Season 1 | Official Trailer | HBO

One of the most eclectic series of the last few years wasn’t afraid to tell a wide variety of stories over its four seasons. In Room 104, comedy, drama, sci-fi, and horror stories all occur within its smart, budget-conscious setting. Aside from its setting, episodes are so distinct from one another that there isn’t necessarily a singular, overriding theme to the series. The vibe ranges from sweet, to disturbing, to apocalyptic (literally, in at least a couple of episodes). What it shares with Black Mirror is a cynicism about modern American life, and a disorienting sense that you never know what’s going to happen next.

It also shares a penchant for solid performances and quality guest stars: Tony Todd, Michael Shannon, Judy Greer, Brian Tyree Henry, Mahershala Ali, Cobie Smulders, Dave Bautista, and Harvey Guillén are just some of the names that have signed the guest register.

Where to stream: Max

Inside No. 9 (2014 – )

Boo! – Inside No. 9: Episode 1 Preview – BBC Two

Though typically starring series creators Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton, each episode of Inside No. 9 is a unique beast, with only the theme of “9″ (typically a room number) linking its stories. The long-running dark comedy takes wild risks, like in the first episode set largely in a bedroom wardrobe, or a later one told in iambic pentameter.

There’s a refreshing, surprising lack of willingness to talk down to the viewer: the Shakespeare parody assumes a certain familiarity with the Bard, while an episode that skewers the art world doesn’t slow down to explain its references. As a gleeful and consistently surprising satire of both modern life and pop culture, it’s at least as impressively twisted as Black Mirror.

Where to stream: Britbox

Mrs. Davis (2023 )

Mrs. Davis | Official Trailer | Peacock Original

The Peacock series is quite a bit goofier and generally less ominous than Black Mirror, but the two shows have a couple of timely preoccupations in common. In Mrs. Davis, saucy nun Sister Simone (Betty Gilpin) finds herself engaged in a mission (from God?) to find the literal Holy Grail and thereby bring down the title artificial intelligence which, in the show, is running pretty much everything all the time. The thing is, Mrs. Davis seems to be doing a good job…better, probably, than we’re doing ourselves. So are we willing to surrender peace and tranquility for a bit more free will?

The show’s first season finale may or may not end the series, though it ends fairly conclusively if there’s no season two.

Where to stream: Peacock

The Outer Limits (1963 – 1965)

The Outer Limits | Full Episodes | S01E01 & S01E23

I’m talking about the original series here, not the ‘90s reboot. The original The Outer Limits series often gets compared to The Twilight Zone (though with more and wilder monsters), but where The Twilight Zone excelled in its morality plays, The Outer Limits more often dealt with flawed and complicated-but-recognizably-human characters faced with (often technological) existential threats.

In the very first episode, radio-station owner and part-time scientist Cliff Robertson makes contact with an alien from the Andromeda galaxy. Each realizes that their interaction would be seen as threatening by their own people, and yet they’re still desperate to communicate. It’s probably a bit less cynical than Black Mirror, but the series still revels in putting its characters through the wringer for their own shortsightedness.

Where to stream: The Roku Channel

Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974 – 1975)

Kolchak The Night Stalker 1972

An anthology in every meaningful way, cult-classic The Night Stalker includes one significant recurring character: the title’s Kolchak, played by Darren McGavin. He’s a slovenly investigative reporter who manages to hunt down (but never quite get firm proof of) various supernatural phenomena, including ghosts, vampires, and aliens. The supernatural bent to the series doesn’t line up with Black Mirror’s technological preoccupations, but they both share the (more or less) anthology format and a firm conviction that willful ignorance is among the biggest threats we face as a species.

Where to stream: Peacock

The Handmaid’s Tale (2017 – )

The Handmaid’s Tale: Series Trailer • A Hulu Original

The Handmaid’s Tale, based on Margaret Atwood’s novel, is just about as dystopian as they come. In it, when religious fanatics take over the former the United States in the wake of a worldwide population collapse, women with the ability to produce children are prized, while “fallen” women are assigned as Handmaids, enslaved for sex, in the homes of the ruling elite.

Where to stream: Hulu

Dispatches from Elsewhere (2020)

Dispatches From Elsewhere: Official Trailer | Premieres March 1

On the slightly more whimsical side of the technological apocalypse, Dispatches From Elsewhere is based on The Jejune Institute, an interactive game that ran in San Francisco for a couple of years starting in 2008. Essentially, would-be players would discover the game via flyers on the street that would guide them through a series of real-world locations and scenarios. It was the subject of the documentary The Institute, and this series imagines something a bit more literal, with Jason Segal, Sally Field, Andre Benjamin, and Eve Lindley finding meaning and human connection (or trying to) by diving into a bizarre and potentially sinister world.

Where to stream: Prime Video, AMC+, The Roku Channel

Maniac (2018)

Maniac | Official Trailer | Netflix

In Maniac, Emma Stone and Jonah Hill lead in a miniseries about a pharmaceutical trial with the promise of “fixing” just about anything wrong with the mind. For her, it’s a borderline personality disorder diagnosis; for him, schizophrenia. The drug trial takes them through a variety of visually stunning and imaginative worlds, but the overarching theme has to do with the dangers of scrupulously avoiding the real world and genuine human connection. Sally Field pops up here, as she did in Dispatches from Elsewhere, and the whole thing deals with some of the same themes as “San Junipero,” Black Mirror’s best episode.

Where to stream: Netflix

Alice in Borderland (2020 – 2022)

Alice in Borderland | Official Trailer | Netflix

Black Mirror has dealt with augmented reality in a few episodes, most prominently in season 3’s “Playtest,” (the one with Wyatt Russell trapped in a not-entirely-real mansion). The Japanese series Alice in Borderland isn’t quite so philosophically ambitious, but hits some of the same notes with its story of video-game-obsessed Arisu (Kento Yamazaki), who winds up stuck in an augmented-reality game with his friends in modern Tokyo.

Where to stream: Netflix

Red Rose (2022)

“It’s Not Just Your Battery That Could Die” | Red Rose: Exclusive Trailer | BBC Three

As “Joan is Awful” (Black Mirror’s sixth season premiere) reminds us: We should probably be reading the terms and conditions. British horror drama Red Rose (from the producers who brought us the great Sex Education) finds a group of high schoolers trying to relax before college and downloading the title’s “Red Rose” app…one which makes increasingly disturbing demands with increasingly dire consequences for failure to comply. That’s not an entirely groundbreaking concept, but it’s effectively creepy, and the character-focused show does the premise better than most. And if the idea of people doing wild things to satisfy an app seems far-fetched…well, congratulations on getting your first smartphone. At the moment, the show is being treated as a miniseries, though there’s some talk of a potential return.

Where to stream: Netflix

Russian Doll (2019 – )

Russian Doll: Season 1 | Official Trailer | Netflix

Where Black Mirror generally traffics in stories involving technology, Russian Doll involves a strictly fantastic premise: software developer Nadia Vulvokov (Natasha Lyonne) becomes caught in a time loop on the night of her 36th birthday, reliving her party endlessly (and dying any number of times) until she’s willing to confront her own past trauma. The show’s 2018 interactive episode, “Bandersnatch,” dealt similarly with a time-loop that had the potential for disaster as much as self-actualization.

Where to stream: Netflix

The Prisoner (1967 – 1968)

The Prisoner: Season 1 Episode 1 – Arrival (Full Episode)

As high-concept as anything that’s ever been on television, The Prisoner follows Patrick McGoohan as Number Six, who finds himself whisked away to an idyllic coastal village after he resigned from his high-profile government job. Though the town is colorful and lively, designed to offer everything any of its residents could need, it feels very much like a prison to the show’s lead, who’s been robbed of even his name. The psychedelic show explores themes of individualism versus the needs of the collective, smartly arguing not for either, but for the need to find a balance.

Where to stream: Tubi, The Roku Channel, Crackle, Shout Factory TV, Freevee

Electric Dreams (2017 – 2018)

PHILLIP K. DICK’S ELECTRIC DREAMS Official Trailer (HD) Amazon Exclusive Series

If Black Mirror often feels inspired by Philip K. Dick (the author whose works inspired Blade Runner, Minority Report, and Total Recall), Electric Dreams goes right to the source in adapting ten of his stories. “Safe and Sound” deals with the encroaching convenience of the surveillance state, “Real Life” explores augmented reality as a means of handling survivor’s guilt, and several episodes deal with the pros and cons of artificial intelligence and synthetic consciousness…themes and ideas that will more than resonate with Black Mirror fans.

Where to stream: Prime Video

Humans (2015 – 2018)

Humans TV Series Trailer

Thematically, Humans deals with the ways in which we find excuses to dehumanize beings with thoughts and feelings just like ours. In a near-future world, highly advanced “synths” are commonplace, doing the work that regular humans don’t want to be bothered with. And, of course, these beings are treated as entirely disposable sources of cheap labor despite their apparent and burgeoning humanity. That’s the type of sci-fi analogy that the best of Black Mirror is adept at exploring.

Where to stream: Digital rental

Cunk on Earth (2022)

Philomena Cunk, your substitute music teacher 🎵 | Cunk on Earth

Deadpan mockumentary Cunk on Earth might seem planets apart from the dark sci-fi of Black Mirror, but the two have writer/creator Charlie Brooker in common, and there’s plenty of satirical overlap. Philomena Cunk (Diane Morgan) travels the globe interviewing (generally polite) real-world experts on a variety of topics. Given the state of much modern journalism (CNN just did a cover story on Robert Kennedy Jr’s pecs, for instance), Cunk’s straight-faced delivery of impossibly dumb questions is both hilarious and a perfectly aimed swipe at modern media.

Where to stream: Netflix

SF8 (2020)

SF8: WHITE CROW Trailer | Ahn Hee Yeon (Hani) | Now on Viu

A variety of filmmakers bring diverse styles to the eight episodes of SF8, a South Korean series, with the sci-fi scenarios having no less depth than those of Black Mirror. The first episode, “The Prayer,” finds a nursing robot forced to choose between a comatose elder and her failing carer, raising questions not just of artificial consciousness, but about the mechanization of elder care. Other episodes deal with a disturbingly accurate AI fortune-teller, a near-future in which the rich are able to survive Earth’s degraded climate at the cost of the lives of the poor, and a VR dating app that matches personalities but shows you a face that you’re more likely to find attractive. The show’s often referred to as a “South Korean Black Mirror,” which is a little dismissive given its unique style, but the two shows do approach some of the same dystopian territory.

Where to stream: The Roku Channel

Dimension 404 (2017)

Dimension 404 – Official Trailer

At just six episodes, Dimension 404 is a slightly lighter take on some of Black Mirror’s darkest themes, and is a smart and easily-digestible science fiction anthology narrated by Mark Hamill and featuring actors like Patton Oswalt, Constance Woo, and Megan Mullally. The first episode deals with online dating via an app that will build a partner to your exact specifications, while other episodes take shots at corporate cinema (in the story of a brain-sucking monster), our nostalgia obsession, and even energy drinks. The show has great production design and a penchant for going off the rails (which I mean as a compliment) in the final acts.

Where to stream: Hulu

Tales from the Loop (2020)

Tales From the Loop | Official Trailer

A gorgeous-looking anthology (sort of), Tales from the Loop takes place in the small town of Mercer, Ohio—a town that happens to sit upon the titular Loop, a physics lab exploring mysteries for which science has no answers. Each episode offers the story of a person or family in the town impacted by the work of the Loop, in slow-burning stories about the intersection of technology and human existence. It’s based on a conceptual art book by artist Simon Stålenhag, and successfully ports over the book’s striking look and feel. The show often feels very much like a meditation on some of its sci-fi themes.

Where to stream: Prime Video

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