Death To 2020 | Review of Charlie Brooker's end-of-year round-up for Netflix © Netflix
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Death To 2020

Review of Charlie Brooker's end-of-year round-up for Netflix

It fast became a cliché to say that the spiralling dystopia of 2020 was like an out-of-control episode of Black Mirror. So it was probably inevitable that Charlie Brooker would be called upon to offer a satirical summary of the momentously awful 12 months, especially given his track record with the Wipe series for the BBC.

The result is a wry, often bleakly amusing look at the year, albeit without the astringent personal bite Brooker normally brings to his year-end round-ups. 

Death To 2020 boasts an 18-strong writing team – providing welcome credits for a lot of up-and-coming but gig-starved British comedians – who have peened they’ve penned some spot-on jokes, from fire being described as ‘angry radicalised air’ to a caption describing Buckingham Palace as ‘as seen on the Netflix Original series The Crown’. But it feels like a writers’ room project, missing Brooker’s strong sense of distinctive authorship.

Instead,the gags circle subjects that have already been meticulously raked over during the past 12 months: Joe Biden’s old, Boris Johnson’s a scruffy incompetent, wasn’t it weird when Donald Trump suggested bleach might kill the coronavirus or Rudy Giuliani threw that press conference in a gardening firm’s parking lot? They even voice the view that 2020 is like a TV drama  – Black Mirror,  say – gone rogue.

Despite this slight familiarity – exacerbated by the fact Brooker already gave us Antiviral Wipe this year – the show has in its favour some great lines, fine characters made flesh by A-grade talent, and occasional biting poignancy, especially when it comes to covering the death of George Floyd at the hands of police.

Narrated by Laurence Fishburne, the show gets much of its tone from Samuel L Jackson’s world-weary journalist who, when told of producers’ plans to look back at the events of 2020 asks simply: ‘Why would you want to do that?’

Kudrow Morgan and Ullman

Tracey Ullman is so convincing as The Queen that Nigel Farage should complain about the deepfake, and Samson Kayo’s scientist is amusing, both for his unexpected dance moves and for facilitating a strong running gag about how documentary-makers are so reluctant to let science speak for itself. And Cristin Milioti plays an appalling soccer mom under the influence of conspiracy theories.

Among the other stand-outs are Hugh Grant – continuing to show his range now Boris has ruined the bumbling but charming posho persona he used to excel at – displaying marvellously underplayed comic instincts as a pompous historian. 

Leslie Jones is a wonderful show-stealer as the brutally blunt-talking behavioural psychologist Maggie Gravel, withering about ‘winey wokelords’ as much as the right-wing targets, while regular Brooker collaborator Diane Morgan moves from the ill-informed but arrogant Philomena Cunk to the ill-informed but meek Gemma Nerrick, chuffed to find she is ‘one of the top five most average people on the planet’.

Lisa Kudrow’s Jeanette, on the other hand, is something of a one-joke character, a truth-denying Trump devotee forever popping up across the media to claim, without any irony, that conservative voices like hers are being silenced. There is just so many real deluded right-wing lunatics like her to make the parody little more than reportage.

That comes to the nub of what any satirist facing 2020 must face: that truth has proved itself way more absurd than anything fiction can muster. When even Charlie Brooker, below, struggles to exaggerate the genuine headlines, that’s when you know we’re in real trouble…

Charlie Brooker

• Death to 2020 is out now on Netflix. Here is a trailer: 

Review date: 27 Dec 2020
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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