Why wasn’t Electric Dreams as popular as Black Mirror?

Why wasn’t Electric Dreams as popular as Black Mirror? (Channel 4)

In almost every respect, Electric Dreams seems poised as a response to Black Mirror.

There’s surface similarities, obviously – both are high concept science fiction anthology programmes, after all – but it’s more illustrative to look at who was behind Electric Dreams; when you consider that it was co-produced by Amazon and Channel 4, the intent becomes obvious. Both had reason to want a drama similar to Black Mirror – Amazon to compete with Netflix, and Channel 4, as the latter programme’s original home before it was moved to Netflix, as a replacement.

In the lead up to Electric Dreams’ release, it seemed more than likely that the series would see equivalent success to Black Mirror. Really, there was no apparent reason it wouldn’t; it assembled a variety of Hollywood stars, enlisted some of the top writers and directors in the industry, and took inspiration from the works of Philip K Dick, one of the more successful science fiction writers in the history of the genre.

And yet, ultimately, Electric Dreams failed to replicate the success of Black Mirror. That’s not to say it wasn’t successful, generally speaking – it received largely positive reviews, albeit despite some divisive episodes – merely that it hasn’t quite taken the crown from the show it was most directly styled upon. What is interesting to note is that it seems to have been more popular in America than it was in Britain – which begs the obvious question of why?

On one level, there’s the fact Electric Dreams found a home on a streaming service rather than terrestrial television; arguably, given it would largely only be found by people specifically looking for it, that’s going to influence the response the programme. What’s also notable, though, is that Electric Dreams was available in a different order on Amazon than it was broadcast on Channel 4. Of course, there’s little need to watch an anthology series in a given order on an online platform – but would Electric Dreams have done better on Channel 4 if the episodes aired in a different order?

Honor (Holliday Grainger) and Ross (Richard Madden) Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams Episode 106 “The Hoodmaker”

Maybe. The logic behind Channel 4’s broadcast order is difficult to ascertain with much accuracy – not because it’s particularly strange or bewildering, but because there’s likely a great number of considerations involved in such choices, opaque to the armchair viewer. From the outside, though, it appears that the choice was made based on the star power of the actors involved; the earlier run of six contains more household names than the latter four, certainly. Positioning, for example, The Hood Maker first makes a clear amount of sense – it stars Holliday Grainger, star of the then-recently popular Strike series, and Richard Madden of Game of Thrones fame, as well as being the episode most overtly similar to Blade Runner, Philip K Dick’s most famous work.

And yet, for the most part, Channel 4 managed to choose Electric Dreams’ weaker episodes for its first run of six. Obviously, it’s always going to be a difficult case to make, but it’s not unfair to argue that some of Electric Dreams better episodes – in particular Kill All Others, which was perhaps the best instalment full stop – were those held to the end of the run, by which point people would have already formed their opinions about the show. Insofar as it’s any indication, there’s a clear downward trend in terms of viewing figures for the first run of six; moving the series from Sunday nights to Monday nights seems to suggest someone felt it wasn’t working.

That, in turn, raises the other obvious possibility, that Electric Dreams simply isn’t as good as Black Mirror. However, given how subjective such a conclusion would be, it’s difficult to say that had a manifest impact; certainly, Black Mirror has weaker episodes just as Electric Dreams does, and some of Electric Dreams’ best are as good if not better than certain installments of Black Mirror. More likely, then, is that Black Mirror has a comparatively more straightforward concept – in general terms, it’s a series about the excesses of technology, and taps into cultural concerns that will easily find an audience. Electric Dreams, generally, is less easy to categorise; early UK episodes veered between different tones and genres, arguably meaning the series was less likely to find – and keep – a dedicated audience.

Admittedly, of course, much of this is speculative; indeed, it perhaps wouldn’t be difficult to disprove some of the assumptions made. If nothing else, it’s entirely possible that Amazon and Channel 4 consider Electric Dreams a success; it’d likely be unrealistic to expect the show to be as popular as Black Mirror is now right out of the gate, after all, and Electric Dreams might well have been met with the response that was hoped for with its first series.

There’s no word yet as to whether Electric Dreams will receive a second series. Hopefully, though, it will; there’s certainly room enough for more than one science fiction anthology, and while Electric Dreams might not be as popular as Black Mirror now, it certainly has the potential to become so.

Related:

Black Mirror’s USS Callister is a perfect metaphor for nerd culture in 2017

Ranking the episodes of Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams

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