Not Another Teen Movie
Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too is not a Black Mirror episode. At least, not for the final 30 minutes or so. This strange, tonally confused episode ultimately serves as a reminder of the corruption within the pop music industry, with Miley Cyrus thrown in for good measure. Despite a strong opening 20 minutes or so, Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too loses its way, forgetting it’s part of Black Mirror and somehow winding up emulating a bad Nickelodeon teen movie. It’s bizarre, it’s incoherent, and worse, lacks any sort of subtext or thought provoking narrative to speak of when the credits roll.
We begin with Rachel, a young teen obsessed with pop idol Ashley O. When she sees a new AI robot called Ashley 2 released to the general public, she pleads with her Father to buy it for her birthday. While her older sister Jack watches on skeptically, Rachel is given the new doll as a present and they talk constantly for hours. While Rachel’s out of the room, Jack talks to the robot and the AI hits a nerve when talking about music and their dead Mum.
Meanwhile, Ashley has failed to come up with any new, original songs, leading her Aunt (and manager) to take drastic measures when her daughter fails to take her medication. As her manufactured pop facade fades, Rachel enters a talent contest at school and, with the help of Ashley 2, learns how to dance before the contest. Only, it doesn’t go to plan and everything goes wrong. Crying in the car, she feels like she’s let Ashley 2 down which leads Jack to take the doll and put it up in the attic.
A fight between Ashley and her Aunt leads the pop idol to be drugged and thrown into a coma, where we cut forward 6 months later to find Ashley and Rachel barely talking. Ashley 2 wakes up while Ashley O is in her coma during a news report with an update on her situation. The doll goes crazy before the teens hook it up to a computer and unleash the real Ashley O’s personality into the robot.
From here, the episode devolves into a storyline as manufactured and cliched as the music Ashley O sings. A rescue mission, disguised as a heist to gather evidence, ensues as the trio drive their Father’s dog-decorated car to Ashley’s house, unplug the real Ashley and race to a theater where her Aunt has managed to siphon off some manufactured songs, courtesy of Ashley’s coma-brain activity. The episode then ends with a rock concert as Ashley O ditches the cutesy persona, presents the real her to the world and adopts a new, pop-rock personality.
To be fair, Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too does do well for the first 40 minutes or so, delivering an uneasy and unpredictable tone with good pockets of drama thanks to the strange doll at the heart of this tale. Unfortunately, this under-utilized idea is thrown out in exchange for a bizarrely off-topic commentary about the evils of pop music and forced talent (which we’ve already seen to some degree in 15 million merits). It’s a strange blend of teen comedy, bordering on slapstick, some very questionable Miley Cyrus acting and a tone that’s so far off from Black Mirror it might as well be featured on a different anthology show altogether.
For some reason a lot of the returning big shows recently have failed to live up to expectations. The Twilight Zone had some pretty poor episodes, Doctor Who’s latest season left a lot to be desired and there’s been enough talk about Game Of Thrones’ rushed final season to fill an entire website archive. Unfortunately, Black Mirror is another to add to the list after this unfortunate, tonally confused episode. Sure it’s fun and enjoyable at times but is it really Black Mirror? Did we learn any sort of profound message here other than to rebel against manufactured pop?
There’s no subtext, little in the way of interesting composition and the whole episode is fueled by Miley Cyrus who fails to deliver a compelling performance throughout. Although the lines are delivered dramatically – peppering in profanities and over-acting as many lines as possible does not constitute as good acting.
A shame for sure but Black Mirror ends really poorly, with an episode that’s arguably the worst ever produced on this show. Which is saying a lot, given the first episode included a man having sex with a pig.