Black Mirror had a lot to prove after years away, so this season’s first viral episode brought out the big guns—specifically, Salma Fucking Hayek.
Upon its release Thursday, the first episode of Black Mirror Season 6, “Joan Is Awful,” instantly began going viral. It’s not hard to see why. A cheeky send-up of Netflix’s algorithmically “personalized” content, the episode stars Schitt's Creek alum Annie Murphy as the titular reprehensible person, whose life gets turned into a TV show against her will. Hayek, meanwhile, plays herself—and wouldn’t you know, she absolutely nails it.
As dark and cynical as Black Mirror can often become, “Joan Is Awful” finds the dystopian show at its best. The episode is bleakly funny, gorgeously designed, and meticulously crafted with twists that only enhance its absurdity over time. It also finds Hayek at the peak of her comedy renaissance, after hilarious turns in films like House of Gucci and Magic Mike’s Last Dance.
“My entire life I wanted to do comedy and people wouldn’t give me comedies,” Hayek told British GQ in February, ahead of Magic Mike’s release. “I couldn’t land a role until I met Adam Sandler, who put me in a comedy [2010’s Grown Ups], but I was in my forties! They said, ‘You’re sexy, so you’re not allowed to have a sense of humor… Not only are you not allowed to be smart, but you were not allowed to be funny in the ’90s.”
In Black Mirror, the sheer conviction behind Hayek’s delivery of lines as ludicrous as, “Doesn’t my asshole have any rights?!” should be enough to indict anyone who ever tried to keep her out of comedy. Honestly? Who wouldn’t want to watch this version of Salma Hayek?
In “Joan Is Awful,” the actress is in complete command; she’s mastered the farcical tone this episode demands in projects like 30 Rock, in which she played the very religious nurse (and one of Jack Donaghy’s many love interests) Elisa Pedrera. Here, she’s a force of nature—a one-woman wrecking ball in an immaculate mustard jumpsuit who’s hellbent on winning back the rights to her image.
Much like she played with stereotypes in 30 Rock, Hayek does so again in Black Mirror. During a recent interview with Radio Times about her appearance this season, the Mexican actress said (per the Independent), “I got to explore the concepts and clichés people have about me and be self-deprecating… It’s as if I created an alter ego where I could do the most disgusting, grotesque things that you would never do in real life.”
No spoilers here, but the moment she’s talking about will be obvious to anyone who’s seen the episode—and at the very least, it would’ve definitely scandalized Elisa Pedrera. It also prompts an inspired “What’s wrong with you, girl?” from Hayek.
She might remain best known for her work in 2002’s Frida, which netted her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress, but Sandler clearly ignited something in Hayek with Grown Ups. A year later, she gave a purrfect performance alongside Antonio Banderas as Kitty Softpaws in Puss in Boots. Her 30 Rock turn came to an end in 2013, but then, in 2014, she appeared in the delightfully silly Muppets Most Wanted as a guest act for Madrid’s “El Muppet Show”—an ill-fated indoor running of the bulls led (of course) by Gonzo, featuring some truly ridiculous outfits.
The fun didn’t stop there. Hayek ruled in 2021’s House of Gucci, in which she played the TV psychic Giuseppina “Pina” Auriemma, Lady Gaga’s conspirator. In that scene-stealing appearance, as in Black Mirror, Hayek is the master of provocation. She’s a little devil on Gaga’s Patrizia’s shoulder, whose purring cats amplify the humor of each and every scene. Once again, however, it’s Hayek’s comic conviction that cuts through—a kind of bluster she’s perfected through years of playing huffy characters.
Last year, Hayek blessed us with more Kitty Softpaws in the surprisingly excellent Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, and this year, she pulled off some truly inspired physical comedy in Magic Mike’s Last Dance. In that movie, Hayek plays with a heightened kind of longing that never scans as desperate, so much as voraciously horny.
None of these roles, however, prepared me for what Hayek unleashes in “Joan Is Awful.” Here, the actress plays with barely-pent-up rage—a velvety growl on a ridiculous line here, a disgusted “What’s wrong with you, girl?!” there. Somehow, she seems to be having even more fun here than she was in that viral video, dancing with Anthony Hopkins.
More than anything, that might be what makes the episode such a triumph. Both Hayek and Murphy go all-in on this episode, which, in turn, goes all-in on Black Mirror’s core appeal: sending up the technology that pervades our lives with surprising, perhaps slightly ridiculous dystopian story lines. If Charlie Brooker ever wants to make another Bandersnatch, let’s hope Salma’s at the top of his call list.