Among a large number of reshaped template family sitcoms to suit contemporary narratives, Baskets stands out with its unusually realistic tone in an often surrealist viewing.
“Computers aren’t the thing, they’re the thing that gets you to the thing.”
Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (real names Mischa and Nadezhda respectively) are an enigmatic television couple that in their marital situation seem unlike any other romantically involved pair in their arranged, falsified marriage. Yet through compelling characterisation and writing, both are humanised with deep empathy to display that their marital woes are not so dissimilar to any other’s couples. The show constantly worked in binary oppositions to display the tense environment surrounding the Cold War in the 1980s as Elizabeth and Philip as Russian illegals working for the KGB defend their country against Reagan’s America. From the outset of the show’s conception, it is easy to see that Philip and Elizabeth too are polar opposites as Elizabeth’s steel determination and patriotism is juxtaposed with Philip’s sympathetic outlook to America and its culture as well as his exhaustion from his job. This already shows their relationship to be problematic and with arguments and temporary separations already brimming amid the show’s beginning, their marriage is only further challenged and deepened from there on as they deal with parental anxiety for their very American children in a highly protective culture that was so alien to them upon their arrival.
It is evident straight from its pilot episode that something is amiss with Norman Bates with the death of his father causing immediate audience speculation as this tragic event sends our protagonists to the eponymous location infamous for the murderous treachery that happens within the film and begins immediately as the series begins. This is the main pitfall of the series as throughout the first season (and to a lesser extent the second and third) the various subplots (involving crime, territory wars and sex rings) that stretch the runtime—often needlessly—far over the hour and forty minutes with which the film runs for. These elements can become tedious mainly due to when they detract from the fascinating relationship between the dual protagonists—Norma and Norman—as they often serve the character of Norman’s brother Dylan who proves most essential to the drama when placed within the Bates household rather than elsewhere as a force who drives so much tension out of the mother and son through their rather realistically played jealousy. Norma as an incredibly motivated matriarch is endlessly compelling in her tragic failed attempts to protect her son and thrive in her new life in White Pine Bay. Norman in a lot of ways is so unwittingly like his mother in that he too tries to intervene in her romantic life whilst trying to bitterly prove that he can maintain his own individuality when in fact he is so dependent on her that his ill-mind subconsciously believes it would be best if a manifestation of his mother were present all the time.
Striving from the norm of typical Black Mirror episodes with its comical tone and bright aesthetic, "Nosedive" immediately establishes its own unique approach to the social commentary the series is known for. Based on a story by series creator Charlie Brooker, but written for screen by Parks and Recreation veterans Rashida Jones and Michael Schur, the tone for this episode differs dramatically from bleak parables such as Metalhead and White Bear with emphasis on more stylised dialogue and cinematography as well as a memorable score by Max Richter. This makes it quite striking as an opening episode and sets the standard for the now higher budget series after the buy-out from Netflix with access to more realised technology in the props department shaping much meaning for the episode. The new studio partnership between the UK and America also means that more exaggerated culture can be addressed within the series itself. This is true for this episode as with star Bryce Dallas Howard perfectly cast as a desperate socialite aiming for higher ranking from her peers in order to improve her socioeconomic status and achieve the manipulatively marketed dream home with a holographic display of what partner appeals to her.