As one of the most horrible years in recent history comes to a close, Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones, creators of Black Mirror, along with directors Al Campbell and Alice Mathias released their mockumentary Death to 2020 on Netflix ‘commemorating’ the year gone by. For a parody, Death to 2020 boasts of a rather stellar star cast – Samuel L Jackson, Hugh Grant, Cristin Milioti, Leslie Jones, Kumail Nanjiani and Lisa Kudrow – and is narrated by Laurence Fishburne.
A quick take first. Death to 2020 is not seminal, but it’s hilarious. Buoyed by great performances by its cast, and a decent spread of punchlines and zingers, the ‘comedy event’ emerges as a holiday watch that might make you laugh, smile and cry all at the same time. Samuel L Jackson sets the tone as journalist Dash Bracket, being asked to relive the year 2020. He responds, in quintessential Sam L Jackson style, “Why in the <anglo-saxon word> would you want to do that?”.
We are then introduced to the rest of the star cast. A slew of caricatures of real life characters – Hugh Grant is British history professor Tennyson Foss, Lisa Kudrow is Jeanetta Grace Susan (a Kerryanne Conway parody) and Kumail Nanjiani is tech-mogul Bark Multiverse. It’s clear from the start that the best ‘Dank’ punchlines are reserved for Jackson and Nanjiani and they deliver them with deadpan ‘near-perfection’.
Moving chronologically from Australian wildfires in January 2020 to the COVID-19 pandemic, the mockumentary tries to deliver the ‘2020 Greatest Hits’ by weaving real life footage with mock interviews. At first the laughs come quickly and regularly, but then the jokes get too familiar, too quickly. You soon realise that these are jokes you’ve heard (or seen) before, while scouring through your social feeds, on a Late Night Show or from your friends and co-workers over Zoom calls. Death to 2020 just has two things your meme groups, or friends probably didn’t – A-Listers to deliver the jokes, and Netflix production money.
Death to 2020 is a victim of its US centricity. For a show/movie aiming to do a cynical, comedic analysis of the world’s “most traumatic year” there’s no mention of the migrant crisis or the world’s strictest lockdown in India, or how South Asia and New Zealand overcame the crisis. Even a passing mention of Africa would have been nice.
The “comedy event” veers less towards Black Mirror and more towards Saturday Night Live (SNL). But there’s a reason those SNL skits are 5 minutes or less. At the midway point, Death to 2020, much like the year itself, loses steam. By the time we meet Cristin Milioti’s Soccer-mom Karen as part of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement commentary, the novelty is exhausted. The mockumentary then starts making a laboured run to the finish line, much like the geriatric contenders of the US Presidential Elections, a segment it closes with.
Which brings me to my other gripe – Death to 2020 is a victim of its US centricity. For a show/movie aiming to do a cynical, comedic analysis of the world’s “most traumatic year” there’s no mention of the migrant crisis or the world’s strictest lockdown in India, or how South Asia and New Zealand overcame the crisis. Even a passing mention of Africa would have been nice.
Death to 2020, like Black Mirror, feels like it is for the white (American) man, by the white (American) man. Maybe that’s what the producers, creators and the studio wanted and I guess that’s perfectly fine. But if that is the case, the show/movie need not pretend to carry the burden of parodying our collective global trauma.
Death to 2020 is a ‘one-time’, ‘must-watch’ comedy event (with a 85% efficacy rate!) – but it is also highly forgettable. Watch it now for a last chance at laughing at the horrible year gone by. I bet that a week from now if someone asks you if they should watch Death to 2020, your answer would probably be the same as Dash Bracket’s: “Why in the <anglo-saxon word> would you want to do that?”