From 2006 to 2016 Charlie Brooker produced an annual review of the year, a special where he’d cast his eye over the big news stories of the year and take a look at the major pop culture events. Featuring Al Campbell’s Barry Shitpeas and Diane Morgan’s Philomena Cunk as the talking heads, they programmes were nearly always very funny and one of the highlights of the Christmas period, but then with the success of Black Mirror Brooker claimed he didn’t have the time to make them anymore.
That changed back in May thankfully when we got the superb Antiviral Wipe, a summary of the first few months of the pandemic, and now he’s back with another look back on this bastard of a year. It’s a little different though in that the format’s been changed as it has a narration from Laurence Fishburne and an expanded selection of supposed experts, from Samuel L. Jackson’s journalist Dash Brackett to Hugh Grant’s idiotic historical expert Tennyson Foss, and we also get to hear the views of The Queen (Tracey Ullman), racist soccer mom Kathy Flowers (Christina Miloti) and one of the most average people ever born, Gemma Nerrick (Diane Morgan), among various others.
I’ve been a big fan of Brooker’s for a long time, and thought the Antiviral Wipe was absolutely superb, a refreshingly honest take on everything that had gone wrong with the year. So I truly wish I didn’t feel like this, because I wanted to have the same reaction to it as I did his earlier work, but Death To 2020 is painfully insipid and tired material, it feels like nearly all of these jokes were told months ago, and the lack of originality is actually quite shocking, if you’ve been anywhere near social media you’ll have seen the majority of the material (or jokes very similar to them) months ago.
Having an Ullman playing The Queen could have led to some strong mockery of the Royal Family but apart from some vague jokes about her snobbery and lack of relationship with Harry and Meghan the idea was wasted almost completely, with only the gag about her posing for a bank note amusing. Hugh Grant’s pompous historian had a running joke about him making comparisons to fictional characters that failed to raise a smile, as did his “All Lives Matter” nonsensical ramblings, with the audience supposed to laugh because everyone thought he was a twat, but it just didn’t work as it was such a tired old bit.
It felt very odd having Diane Morgan playing a character who wasn’t Philomena Cunk but at the same time was exactly like her, while also poor was Lisa Kudrow’s political advisor who was a one joke idea where she denies everything even if there’s overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Then there was the depressingly racist Kathy Flowers (Christina Miloti) who was also a conspiracy theorist and the lack of subtlety on display was truly surprising given that Brooker is normally far, far better than this.
Samuel L. Jackson’s Dash Bracket got the odd decent line, as did Leslie Jones’ Dr Maggie Gravel and the fact that her next book will be called “In My Professional Experience We’re Fucking Imbeciles”. There was also an oddly amusing moment with Bark Multiverse (Kumail Nanjiani) where we hear Charlie Brooker suggest “Six months exposure to social media sees you hopelessly radicalised” and Bark wanted to bring that down to five minutes, but these few funny occasions were about as good as it got.
Perhaps it’s a case of too many cooks, with eighteen writers listed in the credits, and the desire to reach a much bigger audience given that the likes of Jackson, Jones, Grant and Milioti were all involved, but the satire felt bleakly blunted. It went incredibly lightly on the likes of Trump and Johnson and how they’ve mishandled the pandemic, there were some weak jibes but it feels so odd that Brooker didn’t put the boot in given the deaths they’ve caused, and overall it is a far too mild and dreary a show, and depressingly the blandest piece of satire Brooker has every produced.