Charlie Brooker's 'Death to 2020' review: the cheap comedy special no one asked for

Even though it runs for just over an hour, the mockumentary feels infinitely longer – almost as long as 2020 itself

Hugh Grant in a scene from 'Death to 2020'. Alex Zalben / Twitter 
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When Black Mirror creators Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones announced this month that they were releasing a Netflix mockumentary called Death to 2020, most weren't entirely sure what to expect.

Is it too soon to be taking jabs at the events of 2020? After all, the past 12 months have seen enough calamities and tragedies to last the decade, and the year isn’t even fully elapsed yet. Most of us still need time to make sense of it all.

Then again, if the mockumentary is, as Netflix describes, "a cathartic comedy event you’ll never forget”, perhaps it's just what people need.

Spoiler: it isn't. Even though it runs for a little over an hour, Death to 2020 feels infinitely longer. Almost as long as 2020 itself.

I've made it to mid-March. Governments around the world are just beginning to try and find the right way to thwart the spread of the coronavirus, and already, I am swiping at the trackpad of my laptop to see how much longer is left. We've not even reached 10 minutes yet.

By now, we've gone through the devastating Australian bushfires. Qassem Soleimani – or, as he is called in the film, "the Beyonce of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard"– has been assassinated at Baghdad International Airport. Harry and Meghan have announced they want to take a step back from their royal duties and move to the US, "where race has never been an issue at all". US President Donald Trump has managed an acquittal in his impeachment trial.

And, of course, Tiger King has just been released on Netflix.

With much of the year’s chaos still ahead, the film already feels taxing, forced and wholly unnecessary. And, much like 2020, it only gets worse as it continues.

One thing the special does have going for it, however, is its stellar cast. From Samuel L Jackson and Lisa Kudrow to Kumail Nanjiani, Hugh Grant, Leslie Jones and Tracey Ullman, there are more than a few familiar faces, taking on the roles of political pundits, cultural figures and everyday people. But not even its impressive star power can save the frankly unfunny and uncalled for train wreck that this film is.

However, a few performances did stand out. Mr Jackson has a number of memorable lines as the testy and acerbic New Yorkerly News reporter Dash Bracket, especially when reporting on the Black Lives Matter protests.

"But you know in some ways I prefer the coronavirus to the police," he says. "And don't get me wrong, I hate the virus but at least it doesn't pretend it's here to help with 'Protect and Serve' painted on its side before it kills you."

Ms Jones spurs a few chuckles with her depiction of the misanthropic behavioural therapist Dr Maggie Gravel. Ms Ullman’s deadpan and spiritless portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II is a hoot. Cristin Milioti, in her role as Karen, sorry, Kathy, is initially entertaining but, ultimately, her scenes last too long and become sapped of comedic value.

Mr Nanjiani’s role as the tech billionaire Bark Multiverse, who is blissfully out of touch with what is going on in the world from his mountain bunker, is quite possibly the funniest part of the film. However, the bar has not been set particularly high.

“Don’t people call you selfish?” the interviewer asks Mr Multiverse about the bunker he built for himself. “I don’t know,” he replies. “It’s soundproof.”

As the film moves to the US elections, the murder of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter protests and the many celebrity coronavirus cases, it becomes clear that is aimed squarely at a US and UK audience.

The rest of the world’s most important and tragic events of the year are left out.

Besides two succinct clips about the Beirut port blast, both of which are overlooked, there is no commentary about the explosion that rocked the Lebanese capital in August. No mention of the sectarian clashes that left more than 20 killed in New Delhi in February, or the locust swarm in East Africa in March. The war in Nagorno-Karabakh that began in late September is curiously absent, too.

It is hard to believe that this offering came from the same brilliant minds that gave us the existentially distressing Black Mirror.

In the comedy genre Death to 2020 has positioned itself in, it's clear Brooker and Jones are out of their depth, grasping at tattered comedic straws in their bid to make light of an awful year that could, quite easily, have been born from their Black Mirror world. Perhaps that's where they should remain.