The Independent described this storytelling format as “groundbreaking” while The Guardian proclaimed that the “TV of tomorrow is now here”. On Twitter, fans gushed about its “amazing” storyline and how #Bandersnatch is “a genre-defining piece of art”.
- Lucy Mangan’s review for the Guardian:
- “In just one episode, Charlie Brooker’s interactive adventure has upended everything we relied on for entertainment and sanity. What a rush”
- “On the other hand – whatever your visceral response to the sudden upending of every convention you depended on for your entertainment and sanity – what a rush Bandersnatch provided. What a feat you felt you were witnessing. What an accomplishment in every practical way.
- “A new genre is now here.”
- Josh Matthews’s review of Bandersnatch – ‘Bandersnatch might signal the beginning of a new film genre. It might even be, if it has any influence, a brand new visual medium’
- Or this one – Black Mirror’s ‘Bandersnatch’ redefines interactive television
- The Vulture’s ‘Is Black Mirror: Bandersnatch the Dawn of Interactive TV?’ ‘Bandersnatch feels like a leap forward for the form, one where interactivity is built into the design from the first moments of the story.’
For good measure, here is a curated selection of other Bandersnatch reviews
- ‘Bandersnatch’ doesn’t really operate like TV because it demands a different type of interactivity than Netflix usually needs. I think there is something quite different about the type of collective interactivity that ‘Bandersnatch’ allows; at least in my household, the few precious seconds that we were given to make our decisions within were a flurry of activity and thinking-out-loud, as we tried to come to a conclusion about what would be the best course of action. Part of the experience was about working out what or whose side we’re on.
- Alongside this is a promise of a different type of viewership habit, one that brings audiences together in new ways – in a manner more akin to collective watching of sports, where everyone voices their opinions about what the person in control should do next. At least with regards to the way that both audience and content can be engaged differently, Netflix is hinting at a future where games are played collectively, and in a way that perhaps challenges the traditional console market’s domination of living-room videogaming. The idea of activating non-player viewers has been a challenge for years, with developments such as online esports, VR and mobile phones being introduced into consoles to try and find a way to make videogaming more communal. ‘Bandersnatch’ suggests that maybe adding more tech is the wrong way to go about this, and that perhaps we could play collectively in a different, simpler way.
If you work in interactive narrative at all, there was a period recently where you could not go anywhere without people asking your opinion of Bandersnatch, Netflix’s branching-narrative episode of Black Mirror.
Because I am ornery and/or busy and/or was sick part of the relevant time, I didn’t watch it then. Still, I was aware that IF folks felt
- annoyed that people were treating this as massively innovative when there are tens of thousands of works, produced over the past fifty plus years, exploring the possibilities of interactive story, including quite a lot specifically of interactive film if we’re narrowing the gaze to just that
- disappointed that a lot of the choices were kind of basic
- weary at the prospect of yet another Author’s First Interactive Work about free will vs chance, fate, and external control — this theme being (for obvious reasons) not exactly new in the interactive narrative canon
- excited by the hope that this meant big commercial possibilities for interactive story
- like ignoring Bandersnatch and playing more Cragne Manor
The New York Times Review
- “Viewers are voting on more than who lives and dies on one program. If the response to “Bandersnatch” is enthusiastic, Netflix will take it as a strong signal that the public is ready for interactive movies and television shows, and a new age of storytelling will commence.”
- This is not the first Choose-Your-Own-Adventure narrative to jump from the pages of vintage kid’s lit onto screens; it’s not even the first TV-related project in the past year to hand the audience the storytelling wheel and let them drive. But it’s arguably the most ambitious attempt to date to sell this concept, on such a grand platform and with such a prominent corporate name attached. In a way, it makes perfect sense that it was the popular U.K. anthology show, the same one that’s warned of how that bright, shiny new piece of “breakthrough” tech may not be the answer to your problems (and may, in fact, be the harbinger of something much more nightmarish), that made it happen…
- Because at the end(s) of Bandersnatch, after all of the in-jokes and Easter Eggs and peeked-into corners and deeply explored crannies, you discover that it’s really all about the journey and not the destination. The medium is genuinely the message here, and for those that would like a message beyond “we now have the capability to do this!”, you have to make the decision between “um, ok, then” and “you’re shit outta luck, son.”
The Slate review, which has a long, interesting history of pre-digital choose-your-own-adventure narratives
- The idea for interactive fiction was laid out by Jorge Luis Borges in 1941 in his short story “The Garden of Forking Paths”: A Chinese spy for Germany living in Great Britain discusses his ancestor’s ambition to write a vastly complex novel that is also a labyrinth wherein every branching path is determined by the reader’s choices. A more prosaic early attempt at interactive texts were psychologist B.F. Skinner’s “programmed learning” books that culminated with Doubleday’s interactive TutorText series, which debuted in 1958 with the thrilling The Arithmetic of Computers. Basically an extended multiple-choice quiz, a correct answer sent you forward in the text while an incorrect answer sent you to a page explaining just how wrong you were. But all of these efforts were eclipsed by the bedtime story Edward Packard told his two daughters in 1969.
- The heart of Bandersnatch, thematically, is the question of free will. Do we, as humans, have it? Or do we simply have the illusion of free will? What guides our choices? This manifests in various ways for Stefan, and Bandersnatch is at its best when it’s being meta—in certain pathways, Stefan becomes aware he’s not making choices, you the viewer are. It’s funny in a dark, twisted sort of way. .
- …Bandersnatch kind of works better as a game than as a satisfying episode of Black Mirror. It’s incredibly fun to play through, and it’s delightful to see the wildly varying endpoints to Stefan’s story. The key to kind of sort of maybe keeping track of all of this in some sort of cohesive manner lies in a sequence set at Colin’s house, where Colin rambles about multiple realities and lack of free will. It’s meta, sure, but it also somewhat explains how these very different branches of Stefan’s story could conceivably all exist at the same time
- Interactive TV is close, but not exactly akin to a video game — as the remote control control lacks the fine motor skill interaction afforded by a joystick, touchscreen or even keyboard. And interactive TV is close, but not exactly akin to normal television: there’s no one narrative path, and thus some of the anxiety of watching comes from one’s desire to find the “winning” or “correct” pathway for the narrative. But unlike a video game, you don’t have to slash up any dungeons or shoot any hell-demons to win. Pretty much the only thing you can do in this video game-lite format is pick between a couple options on the screen now and then. It’s kind of like filling out an online survey.
- Without giving away too much, “Bandersnatch” lacks the greater social import of previous episodes because of the restrictions imposed by the simple interactive format, which forces the plot into the trap of many choose-your-own-adventure stories — specifically, the protagonist questioning his or her own free will, wondering if they are being controlled by a greater outside power (in this and every case, the viewer). But because this scenario has been done to death in print — and even in the “Puss in Boots” episode that came out in 2017 — it doesn’t break any new ground narratively, and falls readily into metatext cliches.
- Oral storytelling meant that stories would change depending on the narrator and the audience. Perrault, for example, wrote his version of Cinderella that suited the French court, with a soft glimmer of magic and settings that might be familiar to his readers. The Grimm Brothers’ version, though sharing some traits, was hugely different because their outlook, audience, and intentions were different. And these were just two of the many iterations of the Cinderella story. Somewhere along the way, however, these became the fixed versions of the story (particularly Perrault’s due to Disney’s influence). So why am I rambling about this? Print, and later film, helped solidify stories into a fixed and relatively unchangeable form. While tweaks can be made to later additions, and adaptations can modernise the story, if you read Orwell’s 1984 it’s going to be the same version I read. If you watch Wall-e, it’s the same one I’ve seen. —— (Orality as the original, most responsive medium of hypertext storytelling)
- I guess the biggest question, with something like this is, did Bandersnatch need the interactivity or was it just a gimmick? And, to be fully honest, I haven’t quite decided. The decision-making was well-threaded into the narrative, providing complexity (and occasional hilarity), but I did feel that I was being geared in certain directions. You could choose to go the other way but the resulting thread would often end abruptly or descend into hilarious/ridiculous moments. And then, rather than actually ending, you’d be given the opportunity to go back to choose the other option, implying that your decision was somehow wrong.
- Do I think the interactive story format is the next step for tv? Ultimately, no. Bandersnatch worked because they wove it well into the story and ensured that it didn’t feel gimmicky. The narrative worked with the function rather than the interactivity being an afterthought tacked on at the end. And maybe your occasional mystery or sci-fi show might manage it once in a while, but I don’t think it will be a constant feature in our watching experience. What I do appreciate, however, is the way that Netflix has launched the possibility. Bandersnatch showed the function in the best possible light and with an established, successful show at that. It’s honestly probably one of the best things they could have done to show off the possibility and leave open the potential for interactive narratives to be drawn into the mainstream.
- This is where the meta references to the actual movie we’re helping write start to escalate, eventually moving past thoughtfulness to the point of parody, as the taste level becomes more sophomoric. At one point you’re offered the opportunity to flat-out tell him it’s Netflix that’s controlling him, setting up the grand comedy moment of a TV character screaming in angst, “What the fuck is Netflix?” and the ensuing challenge of explaining the concept of the online streaming service to a person in the ’80s.
Good Background info on the development of Bandersnatch – ‘Black Mirror’ Interactive Film: Inside the 2-Year Journey of ‘Bandersnatch’