IFC’s The Mirror is the horrifying show America needs.

We’re Not Living in a Black Mirror Episode. We’re Living In IFC’s New Show The Mirror.

We’re Not Living in a Black Mirror Episode. We’re Living In IFC’s New Show The Mirror.

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Slate's Culture Blog
Dec. 15 2016 1:45 AM

We’re Not Living in a Black Mirror Episode. We’re Living In IFC’s New Show The Mirror.

The Mirror.


As President Trump’s inauguration approaches and Americans struggle to understand our new reality, we’ve been all been flailing for metaphors to help us cope, survive, or at a bare minimum, not feel quite so poleaxed at the next unthinkably dumb thing that happens. It’s not surprising that people have been pretty regularly pointing to Black Mirror as things get stupider and more horrible:

But frankly, Black Mirror, great as it is, is way too slickly produced to really reflect the bricolage of rotten apples and dried dogshit Donald Trump is haphazardly constructing. We’re at a point where Twitter—once primarily a source of delightful Dril tweets—carries the same sense of dread as the Jonestown Death Tape; living in one of Charlie Brooker’s “what if phones but too much” dystopias is starting to seem like a pretty good deal. In that kind of situation, aesthetics won’t do; we need an anti-aesthetic just to cut through the haze. That’s exactly what The Mirror, a new series of shorts on IFC’s Comedy Crib, has to offer.


The show is the newest project from AB Video Solutions, the film wing of Baltimore-based art collective Wham City Comedy, though calling what they do comedy is kind of a bait and switch. (Their website’s About page says, “We thought comedy would save us, but oh God we fucked up so so bad,” which is closer to the truth.) They’re the people who created Unedited Footage of a Bear, in which a cheery drug commercial devolves into a doppelganger horror film, and This House Has People In It, where already-creepy raw surveillance footage of a suburban household degenerates into nightmare. (The latter film, despite being less than 12 minutes long, is a gateway into a maze of fake websites and unhinged public access shows.) But The Mirror may be their best work yet, not least because its tone matches the national mood.

Ostensibly, The Mirror consists of six short instructional videos made by a cult called the Children of the Mirror, covering self-help topics like “creativity” and “altruism.” IFC describes it as “a spoof of televangelist educational programming,” and that’s definitely where it gets some of its visual language, but there’s a lot more going on here than you’d find on, say, the Church Lady, and it has very little to say about televangelists. Instead, as with earlier AB Video Solutions projects, The Mirror slowly suffers a kind of on-screen nervous breakdown, not just in content but in form.

Not that the content or form are all that reassuring to begin with. Unedited Footage of a Bear makes great use of the way we’ve all been conditioned to tune commercials out, lulling the audience before going off the rails. The Mirror’s first episode (“Lesson 5: Creativity”), on the other hand, is disquieting from its opening credits, a montage of cultists in Scientology-style white shirts and shorts (and blue rubber gloves) running on a beach and riding a tandem bicycle. Curtis, the cult leader, played by director Robby Rackleff, starts ominously alluding to “the return” immediately, and the focus of the episode is a sequence where cult members glue together hundreds of chicken bones to make what Curtis refers to as “Bone Grenades.” It’s easy to remember the important things about bone grenades, because this handy acrostic appears on screen:

B – Begin With Bones
O – Observe Your Options
N – Never Forget Your Gloves
E – Everyone

G – Great Time With the Bones
R – Really Look At Your Bones
E – Everyone
N – Never Forget Your Gloves
A – Avoid Mistakes
D – Danger Is Everywhere
E – Everyone


It seems like it would be hard for The Mirror to really devolve from that point, but that’s the least disturbing episode in the series. And it is a series—there’s an arc here, with a discernable plot and everything, even if a lot of significant events seem to have taken place during the lessons that aren’t included. (The episodes are titled lessons 5, 8, 13, 28, 56, and 98, the other 92 lessons having presumably not survived.) The first episodes are very funny—like Rick Perry getting a Cabinet position!—but as the show goes on, it gets more and more horrifying, like Rick Perry getting a Cabinet position.

Throughout the show’s disintegration, form and content are in lockstep, as the production values degrade and the language goes from mildly troubling (“We are always sharing—or being shared on—whether we know it or not,”) to outright threatening (“Our truth is a spike. We drive it into the hearts of liars.”) By the meltdown of a finale, Rackleff is drawing from The Blair Witch Project more than The 700 Club, and the show feels like—well, like watching the news. Black Mirror dreams of sweeping technological dystopias, but the doom headed our way is more like The Mirror: seedy, creepy, and considerably lower-budget.

“Lesson 5: Creativity” is embedded at the top of the page, and you can binge-watch the rest of the show right here:

Lesson 8: Altruism


Lesson 13: Cleanliness

Lesson 28: Water

Lesson 56: Cleanliness II

Lesson 98: Interstellar Telepathic Communication