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'Black Mirror' support group: The digital grass is always greener

Season 1 | Episode 2 | “15 Million Merits” | Aired Dec 11, 2011

Welcome back to Black Mirror Support Group, a safe space where we all gather in a blanket fort to watch kitten videos on YouTube and try to get over what we just saw. Today, we’re recovering from “Fifteen Million Merits,” a story of a dystopian future that was not adapted from a young adult novel.

We open with our hero, Big Madsen (Daniel Kaluuya), waking up to the crowing of an animated rooster projected onto the walls of his pod. Our first impression of him is that he must love to suffer, because seriously? I’d choose a gentler noise. His balance, a little over 15 million merits, changes with his every action. Toothpaste costs him a few. Electing to skip an ad for the adult program Wraith Babes costs him even more.

Question #1: If skipping commercials cost you real-world money, would you do it? For those who say no, please recall “HeadOn: apply directly to the forehead.”

Boy Meets World make it stop

We learn that Bing makes his fat stacks riding a stationary bike while watching TV. Sounds dope. Bing’s obnoxious neighbor, Dustin (Paul Popplewell), watches Wraith Babes and verbally abuses the female janitor who interrupts his viewing. It seems that once you weight passes a certain threshold, you turn in your gray tracksuit for yellow, and your career opportunities are then limited to sweeping up trash or being sprayed with a hose on the program Botherguts.

Question #2: Would you rather pedal a bike and watch TV all day, or sweep up trash and get verbally abused?

The next morning, Bing overhears newcomer Abi (Jessica Brown Findlay) singing, and for the first time, we see actual emotion on his face. Abi’s voice is the first real thing Bing has experienced in a long time … maybe ever. Bing encourages Abi to try out for the talent competition show Hot Shots, but she can’t afford the entry fee. Bing has more than enough merits, and offers to pay her way. She tries to argue, but there’s nothing he’d rather spend it on. New video games or hats for your avatar aren’t real, but Abi is.

Question #3: Is Bing crazy to blow all his money on a girl he met yesterday?

Back at the pod, Bing spends almost his entire savings on an entry ticket for Abi. The next morning, on the way to the audition, Abi gives Bing an origami penguin made out of a food wrapper. She tells him that you can never get away with keeping them for more than a day, but “it’s, you know, something.”

Absolutely Fabulous thanks a lot

At the audition, Abi is ordered to drink a juice box for “nerves.” Yeah, I’m not buying it. Judge Hope (Rupert Everett) declares Abi’s singing to be the best he’s seen this season, but he was distracted by her looks. He thinks she’d be a better fit for Wraith Babes. Bing tries to intervene, and security removes him. The judges assure Abi that she won’t feel shame, as they “medicate against that,” and she’ll have everything she could ever want. She reluctantly concedes.

Question #4: If you were Abi, would you have given in so fast? How strong is that juice box?

Bing goes downhill fast. He keeps the penguin and the empty juice box as reminders of Abi, but she’s on every screen, extolling the virtues of her new life. Her voice is dull and flat. She’s a shell of the girl Bing knew. Her show comes on in his pod and, out of merits, he’s forced to watch her get treated as a living sex doll. In a rage, he shatters his screens.

Bing has a new plan. He spends every waking hour on the bike, watching whatever the screen demands. He lives frugally, using minimal toothpaste and eating other people’s discarded food. The little downtime he has is spent perfecting a dance routine in his pod. After two months of working like a dog, he’s earned back his merits. He buys another entry to Hot Shots.

Bing is quickly chosen from the pool of applicants, and identifies himself as “an entertainer” to the screener. He uses Abi’s empty juice box to avoid drinking his own. In front of the judges, he begins his dance routine, then produces a shard of glass from his screen and holds it to his throat.

Question #5: Would you have gone through all that just for a chance to yell at some people? Me, I still think I would just go yellow. Hey, you can always watch the bikers’ TVs over their shoulders, right?

Honey Boo Boo no thank you

Bing rants about how everything and everyone in their world is fake, from the judges to the performers. He screams at them for taking Abi away from him. Judge Hope calls it the most heartfelt thing he’s ever seen on the stage. He says he agrees with Bing, and offers him a twice-weekly show on his channel.

Flashing forward—as we always do on Black Mirror—we see Bing hosting his new show. He’s sitting in a pod with the glass against his neck, ranting about how B.S. it is to spend your money on avatar accessories, while his fans are encouraged to buy a virtual “Bing shard” of their own.

The show ends, and we see that the pod was actually a set. Bing lives in a nice, large home now, with real food and a real view. As he looks out the window at the forest, we see a bird fly by that doesn’t look quite right.

Question #6: Do you think this means that Kelly Clarkson is actually miserable?? Wait, don’t answer that. I don’t want to know.

Sloth cat no tears just dreams

Black Mirror is currently streaming on Netflix.

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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