Karl Pilkington, star of An Idiot Abroad and collaborator on The Ricky Gervais Show, is also almost eerily in tune with the TV series Black Mirror. A YouTube video maker dug up Ricky Gervais Show clips where Pilkington closely outlines much of Black Mirror’s season 4 finale, “Black Museum” — years before the episode aired. It’s an uncanny coincidence, but also a good reminder that stories are more than just clever ideas.
“Black Museum” is a three-part mini-anthology, and Pilkington nails the central premise of two arcs. The animated clips above aired on HBO’s The Ricky Gervais Show in 2011 and 2012, but the audio was recorded even earlier. (Obviously, there are light Black Mirror spoilers ahead.)
In one conversation, Pilkington imagines a machine that would let doctors diagnose his pain by feeling it. That’s exactly what a doctor in “Black Museum” tries, via experimental brain implant. In the other clip, Pilkington pitches a movie about a man who’s hit by a car. A doctor tells his widow that although the man is dead, they can transplant half his brain into her head, so she’ll be able to hear his thoughts. Switch the genders and tweak the technobabble, and you’ve got a blow-by-blow recap of the middle story — or at least, its first half.
It’s remarkable how easily Pilkington’s monologues mesh with clips from Black Mirror, and deliciously ironic to hear co-hosts Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant make fun of his supposedly ridiculous ideas. But Pilkington probably shouldn’t go to Netflix asking for royalties.
“Black Museum” draws on big, familiar sci-fi tropes
Far more than most Black Mirror episodes, “Black Museum” is based on big, familiar science fiction tropes. You can find people voyeuristically experiencing agony in Robert Silverberg’s short story “The Pain Peddlers,” or the film Strange Days. Vulture has even more comparison points, including an episode of Jimmy Neutron. Black Mirror’s creators were adapting a short story called “Pain Addict” by magician Penn Jillette, who says he got the idea all the way back in 1981. You can also find plenty of fiction about keeping two minds in one body, from Silverberg’s novel To Live Again to the Steve Martin / Lily Tomlin comedy All Of Me.
Pilkington’s ideas hit closer than any of these stories, but they’re still just jumping-off points for “Black Museum,” which takes them to much darker places than he ever did. Black Mirror doesn’t just imagine the existence of new technology, the way Pilkington does. The show tries to predict its unintended consequences, which is a very different endeavor — and ultimately, what makes “Black Museum” compelling television.
Strange parallels between science fiction stories are nothing new. In 1979, authors Charles Sheffield and Arthur C. Clarke almost simultaneously published novels about the same imaginary technology. Sometimes authors actually claim they’ve been ripped off: Harlan Ellison was credited in Terminator after accusing director James Cameron of plagiarism, and Grant Morrison has said The Matrix was lifted from his comic The Invisibles. But more often, it’s just the result of people sharing a cultural petri dish. So while it’s entertaining to imagine Black Mirror cribbing from The Ricky Gervais Show, or Pilkington having nigh-psychic powers, it’s not an unbelievable coincidence.