This year has been so full of awful surprises that it almost seems possible the clocks will turn back a year at the stroke of midnight tonight. And Netflix’s new mockumentary ‘Death to 2020’ is here to chronicle — and let the air out of — all the extremes of terror and misery we had to endure in that span.
The streamer’s bitingly funny, hastily assembled and slightly deranged comedic retrospective lampoons the worst year ever, in chronological order, courtesy of an all-star cast that has emerged from shutdown to pummel each of the past 12 months like a piñata.
“The history books covering this period will have to be written in crayon... by a dog” proclaims stuffy, pompous “professor of history” Tennyson Foss (Hugh Grant). An authority on all matters of the past, he haughtily provides context on everything from pandemics to police brutality — and insists that White Walkers and Ewoks are real. “I was there!”
Journalist Dash Bracket (Samuel L. Jackson) of the New Yorkerly News represents the exhausted, cynical press corps that’s gotten precious little sleep during 2020 while covering the Australian wildfires, a near-war with Iran, Meghan and Harry’s Brexit, actual Brexit, George Floyd’s death, Black Lives Matter protests, and President Trump and the “flu” he swore was no big deal — and that’s just for starters. When told the documentary is about reliving the events of the last year, he responds, “Why the f — would you want to do that?”
The COVID-era production, from “Black Mirror” showrunners Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones, is part clever parody, part reckless joyride. News clips from the last 12 months are interspersed with high-flying cultural satire, pointed political commentary and wacky, low-hanging humour. Think of it as a corny year-end review crossed with ‘Spinal Tap’, dipped in ‘Veep’ and sprinkled with the absurd reality of our times.
On the high end are sharply executed moments like Bracket’s perspective on November’s never-ending election night. “This election was a done deal on night one but it didn’t feel like it because of the way the count was happening,” he says. “Pennsylvania and Georgia were counting mail-in ballots last, even though those had been the first to arrive. So the narrative that Biden was slowly inching to the finish line was really just a story being told backwards. I mean, you watch ‘Jaws’ backwards and it’s the story of a shark that spits panicking white people back into the sea. Different movie.”
On the goofier side? The requisite scientist here is named Pyrex Flask (played by British comedian Samson Kayo). And the Queen, Monarch and Figurehead (Tracey Ullman) comments about the pandemic-inspired binge-watching. “My favourite program has to be ‘The Crown’. It’s refreshing to see a down-to-earth drama of everyday people living ordinary lives,” she says. As for the Tiger King? “He’s from no royal line I recognise.” Most of the performances, which are clearly done on a spare set with a small crew, are inspired and hilarious.
Off-camera narrator Laurence Fishburne lends a faux gravity and professionalism to this fast-paced, cathartic circus of the absurd. He also delivers some of the show’s snarkiest, wonderfully flippant lines. Take the rise of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris: “Alongside Trump, she’s the second person of colour on the 2020 ballot,” Fishburne quips. As for the president’s joyride outside Walter Reed hospital when he was being treated for COVID-19? Fishburne dubs it “the most dangerous drive-by since the final moments of Tupac Shakur.”
Racial tensions, political divides, conspiracy theories, media disinformation and toilet paper shortages are among the other subjects revisited in this irreverent summation of the year from hell.
Woefully uninformed Gemma Nerrick (Diane Morgan) represents the voice of “the average citizen.” When describing the ghost-town effect that the pandemic shutdown had on her city, she appears equally as empty, staring blankly at the camera. “It was so quiet you could literally hear yourself think ... I expect.”
Embodying far-right pundits and their creative reinterpretation of facts is Jeanetta Grace Susan (Lisa Kudrow), a strident, blonde “unofficial spokesperson” for the White House versed in the art of gaslighting. Directly after watching a news clip of Trump dismissing the threat of the coronavirus, she goes on the defence: “I know this doesn’t fit with your agenda,” she sneers at an off-camera interviewer, “but that never happened!”
From the impeachment hearings to “Amiable Phantom” Joe Biden, ‘Death to 2020’ attacks the year from all sides, looking at it in a rear-view mirror while simultaneously mowing it down like roadkill. It pokes fun at YouTube’s “gig economy millennials” (represented by Joe Keery of ‘Stranger Things’) and average American soccer moms turned conspiracy theorists (Cristin Milioti).
Fishburne introduces a passion of hers — the anti-masker movement — atop news footage of an angry, maskless crowd. “Protesters take to the streets, demanding their constitutional right to spread the deadly virus. The online rumour mill is working overtime.”
Cut to Milioti’s character in her suburban living room, admitting that she once trusted Dr. Anthony Fauci — “but that was before I knew he was an actor ... and that George Soros created virus in a Chinese lab so Bill Gates could make a vaccine out of microchips and control us like a video game.”
In the end, 2020 must have taught us something, right?
“What did I learn?” asks exhausted reporter Bracket. He shrugs. “How many steps there are between my couch and refrigerator.”
So much for your evil reign, Worst Year Ever. The abyss is waiting.
Don’t miss it
‘Death to 2020’ is now streaming on Netflix.