'Black Mirror: Bandersnatch' Fully Deserves Its 2019 Emmy Nomination

Netflix's big bet on interactive storytelling is starting to pay off.

The 2019 Emmy nominations, announced Tuesday, included one very big surprise: Black Mirror: Bandersnatch was nominated for Outstanding Television Movie. It would seem Netflix’s gamble on the “Choose Your Own Adventure”-styled film had paid off.

Even if Bandersnatch remains an Emmy-nominated item rather than a big winner (and that’s a distinct possibility with competition like Deadwood and My Dinner With Hervé in the category), it’s at least confirmation of something Bandersnatch fans like myself have known all along: This is a TV movie with a thematically rich text that demands more positive consideration.

When it first arrived on Netflix in December 2018, Bandersnatch was met with mixed reviews and even more mixed reactions from the general public. (It has a 72 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and a user score of 5.6/10 on Metacritic).

It was also a new undertaking for fans. Bandersnatch asked the audience to make simple choices between two different options, branching the story of Stefan, a young video game designer attempting to adapt a complex novel about free will into a new game. The game required active participation as each choice pushed the story forward in what seemed like an organic pattern but was, to a degree, predetermined.

Within hours of its release, the internet was under its spell, either completely entranced by how refreshing the format was or exactly what kind of Bandersnatch endings Black Mirror creator and writer Charlie Brooker had dreamed up for Stefan. The result was a delightfully grim social experiment in how humans perceive free will, whether they embrace it or reject it, and how they put it to use in even the most mundane situations.

Still of Fionn Whitehead and Will Poulter in Tucker offices in Bandersnatch
'Bandersnatch' remains the most innovative and daring thing both 'Black Mirror' and Netflix has ever done

It’s easy to see where the cracks in Bandersnatch’s design. Depending on the path viewers chose, the story either became nonsense or stopped dead in its tracks in such a way the entire endeavor felt useless. At times it felt too convoluted, too laborious, too stressful. But the plot of Bandersnatch and the interactive way it unfolded felt really, awesomely innovative.

The kind of freedom returned to the viewer is something TV fans typically get in small doses, like calling in to American Idol to vote for the season winner (yes, I’m old and yes, this is a dated reference. Go with me here). Brooker manipulating the instant gratification impulse within all of us, which lies at our fingertips every day as we hold our phones or stare at our computers or play video games, and putting it in a deceptively fun, original bit of packaging for us to obsess over was a genius move on his part.

Even more addictive was Bandersnatch’s ability to hold any given viewer’s attention. Viewers became players as they attempted to figure out the best path for Stefan while knowing they’d likely need to get through every possible path. It was hard to get every ending in one 90-minute sitting and it felt like a dare from Brooker: “You should sit here and figure out how to keep Stefan safe, don’t you think?”

Bandersnatch’s ability to keep our focus firmly fixed on one story for more than 15 minutes in a world where attention spans are so shortened and fatigued we can’t focus, process, and react appropriately was a big achievement. That this achievement stemmed from a deceptively simple, approachable bit of programming is what makes Bandersnatch’s Emmy nomination all the more perfect.

Fionn Whitehead in Bandersnatch
'Bandersnatch' nabbing an Emmy nom could change Netflix's approach to CYOA programming

Messing with a person’s free will by allowing them to mess with a fictional character’s free will while foolishly being made to believe your choices aren’t actually harmful is the perfect distillation of where we’re currently at in our relationship with technology. We believe our encounters with the 1’s and 0’s are harmless but we don’t really understand the effects of our interactions with them until we’ve gone too far down a path. In this way, Black Mirror has also achieved what it’s always tried to warn viewers of since its very first episode: Technology is not always friendly.

Bandersnatch’s nomination also indicates this TV movie had a shelf-life far beyond just serving as a gimmick before disappearing off our collective radar. With new shows being thrown onto streaming platforms, namely Bandersnatch’s home platform of Netflix, this nomination six months out from its release, tells us this Black Mirror experience managed to stick with Emmy voters, aligning with the public opinion this nomination is a good one and it’s an interesting deviation from typical Emmys fare.

All things considered, this nomination is a wild one, but it’s one that is well-deserved. Bandersnatch’s Emmy nomination should also hopefully signal to Netflix more measured risks should be taken with the kinds of projects it greenlights. Bandersnatch has broken a mold and it’s done so in a way which is both enlightening and entertaining — the kinds of thing good television should strive for.


Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is available to stream on Netflix now.