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UK science-fiction fans have been buzzing about the second season of Charlie Brooker's anthology series "Black Mirror," which is very much like "The Twilight Zone" or "The Outer Limits," but pointedly looks at the potential consequences of recent advances in technology, like social media and Big Brother style surveillance. I stumbled across an episode of the first series about a year ago on Youtube, not realizing it was part of a television series. I was so impressed that I gave it a good review over here. And then I made a mental note to look out for the DVDs when they became available so I could rewatch it legally.

Well, a whole year later, after a thorough search, I've discovered that the first season of "Black Mirror" is still not available to American viewers in any way shape or form. None of the streaming sites have it. The DVDs listed for sale on Amazon are Region 2 only, with prominent warning notices that they will not play on a Region 1 DVD player. The show does not appear to have been licensed to any American network or website, though it's apparently been making the rounds in Europe. Robert Downey Jr. picked up the remake rights to the third episode, "The Entire History of You," the only sign that the Brits are aware the potential American audience exists. Of course it's very easy for any curious American viewer with an internet connection to get a hold of "Black Mirror" episodes through unofficial channels. A cursory glance at Youtube reveals that the one episode I found a year ago is still there. That’s a worrying sign.

It used to be that a movie or television show from a foreign country was entirely inaccessible until a domestic version was officially released. This didn't mean that foreign media didn't still get around, but it usually required a lot of effort. My relatives would trade VHS tapes of recorded Chinese soap operas and American cartoons back and forth across the Pacific. My college anime club had a collection of nth generation fansubs with amateur subtitles. Now, it's possible to find these shows online a few hours after they air in Taiwan or Japan, thanks to digital recording and broadband internet. And yet, media companies often persist in retaining the delays between release dates in one country versus release dates in another. I constantly run across complaints from Anglophiles in the US waiting for the new season of "Downton Abbey," or animation fans in the UK who can't understand why there was a three month gap between the American release of "Wreck-It Ralph" and the British one.

The usual reasons for the delays are familiar by this point. The studios and distributors want to tailor each release to specific countries, they want to capitalize on the show or film's successful performance elsewhere first, or they just don't have the resources to put everything out simultaneously. The extra time is needed to finalize deals, to create new campaigns, and to ensure the best possible positioning of the property to maximize viewership. Unfortunately, more often than not the reality is that if these delays are perceived as too long, tech-savvy viewers are going to bypass the official releases entirely in favor of piracy. That's why the delays are getting shorter for the most prominent titles, like blockbuster movies and popular television shows. Though they’ve been dragging their heels, the distribution companies are learning. A well-received, but obscure foreign prestige film might take over a year to show up in the US, if at all, but new "Doctor Who" episodes pop up on iTunes within days of airing in the UK.

I don't doubt that "Black Mirror" is going to find its way Stateside eventually, but right now it seems to have slipped through the cracks. The buzz around it is significant enough, with many geek media sites trumpeting its praises, that the demand for it is surely there. "Black Mirror" is quickly becoming one of those British television titles that people are recommending in the same breath as "Sherlock," "Luther," and "Misfits." The trouble is, "Sherlock" and "Luther" are on Netflix, "Misfits" is on Hulu, and you can find all of them on iTunes. Where is "Black Mirror"? It's absolutely dumbfounding that somebody hasn't picked up the license yet. Heck, I'm surprised Syfy hasn't cut a deal to air edited versions, the way they did with "Doctor Who" and "Merlin." This is the kind of content they usually eat up.

As for me, I guess I'm still going to stick it out, at least for a while longer. However, I am getting more and more frustrated. I don't think that a year is too long to wait, honestly. I've still got the latest seasons of "Dexter" and "Louie" and "American Horror Story" in the queue. "Game of Thrones" fans who don't have HBO had a ten month wait for the DVDs and Blu-Rays, but at least they knew in advance about it.

The last episode of the second series of "Black Mirror" airs Monday on Channel 4 in the UK, and who knows when anywhere else.


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May 2014

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