Death to 2020 is a mockumentary or, in simple words, a comedy special, created by Black Mirror‘s Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones to wind up how the year 2020 was… but in a fun way. With the help of an all-star cast, Brooker and Jones put together a satirical piece, where clips of what happened in the year 2020 was interspersed with fake interviews by funnily and absurdly named ‘fake’ experts and fake ‘average people’. So, are you game to go through this FUBAR year via satire?
Laurence Fishburne takes us through all the major events of 2020, starting with the Australian wildfires and Trump’s impeachment trial, twisting into the birth of the pandemic, George Floyd, Brexit and then the most awaited – the US 2020 elections, and finally the silver lining to the cloud of the FUBAR year, the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. The so-called experts that were interviewed gave a variety of opinions and answers about what they thought of the year that was.
Beginning with Samuel L. Jackson, who plays Dash Brakcet in Death to 2020, a print journalist who answers questions much like we know Sam Jackson would. Followed by Hugh Grant, playing Tennyson Foss, a historian who is confused between facts of actual history and fiction from shows like Game of Thrones and movies like Star Wars. Then we have Lisa Kudrow who plays Jeanetta Grace Susan, an unofficial or non-official spokesperson who denies anything and everything which is close to the truth.
Kumail Nanjiani plays Bark Multiverse, a selfish tech CEO that built a mountain bunker for himself and got absurdly rich during the pandemic; Samson Kayo is Pyrex Flask, a scientist whose real expert answers were made interesting by the filmmakers with random footages of everything around the world.
Cristin Milioti is Kathy Flowers, a “self-described regular soccer mom” who ascribes to every conspiracy theory that plops onto her Facebook feed. Leslie Jones is Dr. Maggie Gravel, a sociologist who thinks that pretty much everyone who’s not her is an imbecile; Joe Keery is Duke Goolies, who somehow made gobs of money doing YouTube videos where he dumbly reacts to news stories; Diane Morgan is Gemma Nerrick, literally one of the five most average people on the planet; finally, Tracey Ullman plays Queen Elizabeth II, who’s so annoyed over Harry and Meghan leaving the royal family that she doesn’t even want to speak their names.
These people are supposed to be impressions, kind of, but impressions of nothing or no one in particular.
Lisa Kudrow and Cristian Milioti put in the best performances of their respective fake “experts” in Death to 2020. Milioti’s timing was spot-on as she creepily nailed the “Karen”-type of person who thinks she isn’t a racist conspiracy nut, even though she is. I especially liked it when she mouthed the word “Black” instead of describing someone as a Black person. Kudrow’s denials of reality were scripted to be a bit over the top, but she delivered those lines in the haughty way Kudrow has been doing at least since The Comeback.
We’re at the end of a year that saw massive natural disasters that have been egged on by climate change, a pandemic that has killed 1.75 million people worldwide and almost 333,000 people in the United States, protests that were generated by a horrific video of a Black man dying under the knee of a white cop, a presidency that continues to threaten the very idea of democracy, and election so fraught that one of the most insider candidates we’ve seen in decades is considered a saviour by half the country, with the other half of the country feeling that their candidate still won because of nonexistent fraud.
Are you laughing yet? Didn’t think so. The format of Death to 2020 doesn’t allow for much in the way of subtlety, considering Brooker and Jones needed to summarize the year in 70 minutes. This means they had to take the broad stroke approach with the narration and experts. That approach generated a chuckle or three along the way, but nothing that was laugh-out-loud funny; the special didn’t say anything new that we haven’t seen satirized with more detail and skill on SNL and the various other late-night shows.
And that’s my big issue with Death to 2020; it feels more like a cross between a Stephen Colbert monologue and an SNL sketch gone wrong than something that’s original or memorable. The cast is game — in addition to Milioti and Kudrow, Leslie Jones and Samson Kayo also seem to be invested in their characters — but there’s just not enough funny material for their performances to overcome the special’s structural problems.
If you’re someone who takes pleasure in laughing at pain and agony, Death to 2020 is for you. Otherwise, who knows, you might take to the streets, protesting against the makers of the mockumentary.
Death to 2020 is now streaming on Netflix.
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