Black Mirror – The National Anthem Review: Charlie Brooker’s Pig Idea

BLACK MIRROR – THE NATIONAL ANTHEM: Sunday 4th December, C4, 9pm

Charlie Brooker’s been behind some of the best TV in the last 10 years or so. He wrote the scathing indictment of media tossers Nathan Barley and contributed to the infamous but brilliant Brass Eye special Paedogeddon (still the 2nd most complained about broadcast ever).

Meanwhile, Screenwipe was the discerning TV viewer’s programme of choice. The fact that it was buried late at night on BBC Four was a crying shame (as was the fact that Harry Hill’s TV Burp was so highly praised when Screenwipe was infinitely funnier and approximately 85 million times more subversive).

Screenwipe’s follow up Newswipe was implausibly better, and ignoring the modestly successful You Have Been Watching (not his idea, so it doesn’t count), he’s delivered some cracking telly including the excellent documentary series How TV Ruined Your Life (despite the occasional repeats of earlier material) and the funny bits of 10 O’Clock Live (with David Mitchell). But he’s also written some great fiction including the superb Bafta-nominated zombie miniseries Dead Set and now the Black Mirror miniseries.

First of the lot is ‘The National Anthem’, a blackly humourous satire of media consumption and the fascination we all have we celebrity and humiliation.

Prime Minister Michael Callow is in a bit of a bind. Princess Susannah has been abducted and held hostage. The kidnappers have only one demand. Not to erase third world debt, not to release political prisoners, not even to demand that Jeremy Clarkson be fired out of cannon into the sun, but that before 4pm the PM appears live on TV and has “full, unsimulated sexual intercourse with a pigâ€?.

Obviously, he’s desperate to keep this out of the press. The Sun would probably have a field day running headlines like “What a Porkerâ€? or “Bacon Butt-iesâ€?. But it’s too late, the video’s already on Youtube and horror of horrors it’s trending on Twitter.

With the deadline fast approaching, will the PM cave in to the demands and show the world what a real pork sword looks like? Or will the Princess be sliced into quivering chunks of posh salami (the kind you can probably get in Waitrose)? Meanwhile, newsrooms are going apeshit and an unscrupulous reporter (Chetna Pandya) threatens to jeopardise the whole thing.

It’s delivered with all the solemnity of a serious political drama, you know, the ones that always have Michael Sheen in the lead (in fact Rory Kinnear bears a passing resemblance), that makes the humour doubly funny. It’s impossible to suppress a chuckle at line like “This is virgin territory; there is no playbookâ€? or “Make sure there’s no Peppa Pigsâ€?.

The cast is great. Rory Kinnear as PM Callow manfully manages to keep a straight face and doesn’t once break into hysterical fits of laughter and the presence of Alex MacQueen’s baldy bonce makes it feel oddly like a end of season special of The Thick Of It. But like the best entertainment it does make you think “What if?â€? while at the same time being spot on about human nature’s compulsion to gawp at car crash television. You want reality TV, you got it; you’ll certainly never look at a bacon sandwich in quite the same way.