“Death To 2020”: An Hour-Long Fever Dream
Reading Time: 3 minutes
“It’s a look back over the year. We’re reliving the events of 2020.”
“Why in the [EXPLETIVE] would you wanna do that?”
A good question indeed. Sadly, it’s never answered in Netflix’s new 70-minute mockumentary “Death to 2020.” Produced by Emmy-winning producer Charlie Brooker who’s best known for the hit series “Black Mirror” (2011-present), “Death to 2020” showed promise at first. I mean, 2020 was essentially one long “Black Mirror” episode. Instead of the clever, sharp satire audiences have come to expect of Brooker, “Death to 2020” ended up resembling CliffsNotes for 2020.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last year, “Death to 2020” will likely strike you as an uninspired, overdone political comedy. The film is profoundly mediocre, featuring bland jokes that you’ve likely heard before and all-too-familiar characters fetched straight out of Twitter. “Death to 2020” simply recounts the events of the year and doesn't offer the audience more than some recycled observational humor. A piece like “Death to 2020” is meant to offer some much-needed reflection on such a peculiar year, but it hardly warrants a head-tilt, let alone serious contemplation.
“Death to 2020,” however, cannot be considered stale just because of its writing. Political satire has been on the decline for the last few years. This downturn is largely attributed to “President and experimental pig-man, Donald Trump” (their words, not mine). The purpose of satire is to be humorous while exploring social and political issues. Trump seems to be the perfect target for comedians, but he has made their job exceptionally difficult. While most presidents have learned to take a joke or two, Trump responds to any ridicule with full force. By refusing to accept the very mechanism of satire, Trump makes ironic humor next to impossible. An added obstacle for satirists in developing original ideas has been the media. With the media openly criticizing our president unlike during previous administrations, political satire is no longer about saying what everyone is thinking but instead about offering a fresh take.
Regardless, a lot of the faults of “Death to 2020” are avoidable. There are a few lame attempts at adding nuance to the film by poking fun at both sides of the political spectrum, such as referring to the right as “[EXPLICIT]-nose extremists” and the left as “whiney woke-lords,” paired with one too many jokes about Biden’s age. Another issue lies in the structure of the film: the movie follows a chronological storytelling format with interviews and short skits woven in. Though the structure plays to Brooker’s stylistic strengths in establishing an overarching satirical narrative, it isn’t utilized effectively. Instead, we’re left with a collection of shallow one-liners, which is very unusual for Brooker. The last year gave writers a wealth of material to work with, but “Death to 2020” is a rather tame take on such an action-packed year. The film is instead filled with comments that are just… so 2020.
The highlight of the movie is definitely the star-studded cast. “Death to 2020” is meant to tell the story of “the most historic year in history” through multiple perspectives, including historians, powerbrokers, psychologists, royalty, average citizens, and anyone in between. The characters are a mix of what one would normally see in any PBS history documentary and some archetypes specific to 2020. The cast most notably features Samuel L. Jackson, Hugh Grant, Lisa Kudrow, and Joe Keery; however, the most memorable performances are Cristin Milioti’s “regular soccer mom” and Dianne Morgan’s role as “one of the five most average people in the world.” Though the “Karen” trope is the easiest to overdo, Milioti’s performance as a crazed “Kathy” will get plenty of laughs out of you. The ironically human-hating behavioral psychologist, Dr. Maggie Gravel (Leslie Jones), is representative of cynicism during 2020 and offers a breath of fresh air between some duller sections. Honorable mentions go to Joe Keery’s performance as Duke Goolies, your stereotypical millennial influencer and “barman/mixologist/DJ/life coach,” and Kudrow’s nutty “nonofficial White House spokesperson” persona. Despite the film’s shortcomings in terms of writing, the actors’ delivery saves the script.
The greatest issue with “Death to 2020” is simply its lack of perspective. It’s admirable that one would take on the task of recapping such an eventful year, but perhaps it’s too early for us to look back on the events of 2020 in a new light. The film impressively straddles the thin line between “too late” and “too soon” and fails at both. “Death to 2020” may not be a cinematic masterpiece, but it’s a surefire way to kill time and laugh at a rather hellish year. If you are really wishing “Death to 2020” however, then this movie is one you can go without seeing.