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Mirror is black comedy at its best

Dark comedy is rarely dark enough, satire is rarely satirical enough and horror is rarely horrifying enough.

You can't say that of Black Mirror, the first of three stand-alone tales by Charlie Brooker, the scatological Guardian columnist and author of Dead Set, Channel 4's brilliant zombies-in-the-Big-Brother-house comedy-horror romp.

The National Anthem, in which a British Prime Minister called Michael Callow (Rory Kinnear) finds himself in a revolting dilemma, had dark comedy, satire and horror in abundance.

It might even have had too much of them, but you can't fault Brooker's ambition -- or his twisted sense of humour.

Someone kidnaps a royal princess and sends a ransom demand, in the form of a video of the hysterically weeping victim, to the government.

The princess will be executed by 4pm that afternoon unless the PM complies with a simple, ghastly request: he has to commit a lewd sexual act with a pig.

On live television.

The government imposes a D-Notice media blackout on the story but it's already too late. The kidnapper has posted the ransom video on YouTube and in no time at all it's had six million hits.

So what we're into here, then, is a wild and woolly -- or rather piggy -- satirical assault on politics, the media, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, the internet as a whole and the seemingly insatiable public hunger for voyeurism and humiliation.

Brooker has cited The Twilight Zone as an influence, and you can see why, but Black Mirror is also rife with elements of The Thick of It and Chris Morris's Brass Eye (which Brooker wrote for).

It's full of sharp, absurdly funny dialogue, delivered with utter seriousness by an excellent cast. "What's the playbook?" asks the desperate PM, finally figuring out it's not a practical joke.

"This is virgin territory," deadpans his icy advisor, played by the excellent Lindsay Duncan, "there IS no playbook."

A plan is hatched to have a professional porn actor with the PM's face digitally painted painted over his own commit the act, but the kidnapper gets wind of it and posts another video of him apparently chopping off the princess's finger.

Public opinion, which had been behind the PM, turns against him and the situation worsens when an armed assault on the abductor's supposed hideout goes violently wrong.

Out of time, the PM has no option but to go through with the act. Mercifully, we're spared the graphic detail as the camera instead pans in slo-mo across the fascinated/horrified faces of viewers.

The princess is released unharmed (it turns out the finger was one of the kidnapper's own), the kidnapper hangs himself and the PM's reputation is enhanced. Brooker sometimes over-eggs the satirical pudding, as in a "one year later" coda which reveals that the kidnapping was a piece of performance art staged by a former Turner Prize winner, but it's a small quibble with a drama so bracingly original and horribly, hilariously compelling.

By comparison, Mark Zuckerberg: Inside Facebook, which promised to blow the lid on the dark and sinister side of all-conquering social-networking monster, was more or less a damp squib.

Emily Maitlis's "exclusive access" to the 27-year old Facebook creator amounted to five or six minutes of interview spread over an hour, during he which the robotic Zuckerberg spouted tedious platitudes about "sharing" and "giving people a voice", but was spared hard questions about invasions of privacy.

The sole killer blow arrived 10 minutes from the end, when Maitlis delved into the privacy-defiling consequences of pushing Facebook's "Like" button.

Do this with a brand or a product and you could unwittingly end up having your picture alongside a corporate logo (Coca-Cola, for instance) lodged in your friends' sidebars. And there's no opt-out option. It's there forever.

I'm on Facebook -- barely, because I rarely use it and don't much like it.

Time to log out for good, I reckon.