'Black Mirror' breaks through with creepy Netflix return

(CNN)Having quietly invaded America via DirecTV and then Netflix, "Black Mirror" appears destined for a coming-out party with a new batch of episodes premiering on the latter. The provocative, technology-focused anthology returns with most of its charms intact, an R-rated "The Twilight Zone" spun forward into the digital age.

The six new installments arriving (one of which runs a movie-length 90-minutes), representing half of Netflix's order, feature some modest upgrades, and even a few casting coups indicative of the show's cachet. That includes Bryce Dallas Howard as a woman living in a status-obsessed, "Stepford Wives"-like society, where privileges and access depend on one's "rating."
Mostly, though, the show -- created by Charlie Brooker, who again writes many of the episodes -- exudes a level of creepiness by tapping into slightly tweaked versions of reality that offer both commentary about where we are and warnings about where we might be heading.
    The most bracing hour, arguably, involves a teenager who is spied upon via webcam (the message "WE SAW WHAT YOU DID" pops up), then blackmailed by his unseen puppet masters into carrying out a mission with escalating stakes. Another focuses on soldiers assigned with killing off zombie-like creatures (a "roach hunt," as they call it), which turns into an extremely thought-provoking look at the perils of war.
    Appropriately, there's also an episode that deals with murders linked both to an ecological threat and social media, starring "Boardwalk Empire's" Kelly Macdonald, and an extremely poignant one about two women (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mackenzie Davis) who find each other in a vacation town. The weakest entry deals with a traveler who gets lured into a strange experiment, although the payoff nearly redeems even that.
    " allowfullscreen>
    Like "The Twilight Zone," "Black Mirror" cleverly creates these slightly skewed worlds with limited special effects and in a truncated amount of time, trusting the audience to catch up with stories that are often joined in progress. It's the sort of brainy science fiction to which many aspire and few consistently deliver.
    In one respect, "Black Mirror" isn't the ideal Netflix show, since there's nothing to be gained by binging the stand-alone episodes. The production is so good, though, that viewers might find themselves doing just that -- consuming the hours in one big, greedy gulp, eager to see what other dark nooks the show is going to explore next.
    The danger with any anthology, of course, is that you're only as good as your last episode. The fact that "Black Mirror" so consistently delivers on its premise is a testament to the fact that Brooker and company are very good indeed.
    "Black Mirror" premieres October 21 on Netflix.