ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The Netflix show "Black Mirror" has always asked viewers to imagine technology slightly more advanced and more sinister than we have today. Well, this morning "Black Mirror" dropped an episode that uses a technology most of us haven't seen before. NPR's Linda Holmes watched it - or maybe I should say played it - and is here to tell us about it. Hi, Linda.
LINDA HOLMES, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: OK, what's the big innovation?
HOLMES: The big innovation is that as you watch the film on Netflix, you use your remote to pick between choices that come up on the screen about what you want to happen next in the movie. And whatever you pick, that happens next.
SHAPIRO: So it's like a choose-your-own-adventure book.
HOLMES: It's very much like a choose-your-own-adventure book.
SHAPIRO: Did it feel like you were playing a video game, or did it feel more like watching a TV show or a movie or something in between?
HOLMES: It doesn't have enough choices to feel like a video game. It's not open enough to feel like a video game. It still feels pretty linear to me. They do try to integrate it as well as they can. You know, we talked about choose your own adventure, and one of the - the first choice that you get is actually what to have for breakfast. And it comes right after the main character, whose name is Stefan, explains that he's actually reading one of these books.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BLACK MIRROR: BANDERSNATCH")
FIONN WHITEHEAD: (As Stefan Butler) No, it's a choose-your-own-adventure book. You decide what your character does like a game.
CRAIG PARKINSON: (As Peter Butler) Sounds thrilling. How about you decide what you want for your breakfast?
HOLMES: You, the viewer, pick between the Sugar Pops and the Frosted Flakes. And whichever one it is, the dad gives him that cereal. And that's what happens next.
SHAPIRO: Crucial decision there - did it feel like an intrusion to make these choices? Sometimes when I watch TV I want to just zone out.
HOLMES: Yeah, the first time that I went through the story, I actually felt, like, the novelty of doing it. And also some of the little ways that they play - "Black Mirror" is a very playful show.
HOLMES: And the way that they kind of mess around with that device definitely kept me entertained the first time through. After that, I definitely felt like it was a little bit tiresome. I don't really want to rewatch the same scene over and over again to just see what happens, what other options I can come up with. So the first time through was great, less great after that.
SHAPIRO: So do you expect this to be the future or a future of TV and movie watching?
HOLMES: I don't really, not yet. I think it's not quite there yet. The rewind and the fast-forward don't work, which makes it hard. It's not like a choose-your-own-adventure book where you can always say, oh, I already read this part; I'm going to go to where I want and start over. You can't really move around freely. There's not a good map to kind of guide you through. I mean, there will be all over the Internet probably by the time...
SHAPIRO: (Laughter) Right.
HOLMES: ...People hear this, but it's not quite easy enough to move around yet. And I don't know that it would work without this kind of meta aspect of it being about a choose-your-own-adventure game.
SHAPIRO: OK, "Black Mirror" has trained me to think of the worst possible outcome for any new technology. And I'm wondering what a content producer like Netflix will do with all the information about whether people choose this ending or that ending, if people like a happy conclusion or a bleak one. Are they going to create content that gives us more of what they see people choosing?
HOLMES: It's very possible. I feel like I'm more worried that they're going to assume that I'm not smart because I keep accidentally rewatching the same thing trying to get a different outcome...
HOLMES: ...Which is the definition of insanity and also bad Netflix viewership.
HOLMES: So I'm not sure if it's that. But I - Netflix has so much data on viewing habits. I don't know what they're going to do with it, but I think you ask a very interesting question about what they plan to learn from this aside from whether people want more of it.
SHAPIRO: Linda Holmes, host of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast, thanks for coming into the studio today.
HOLMES: Thanks, Ari.