Netflix review: Death to 2020

Anthony O'Connor
·Contributor
·3-min read

Streamer: Netflix

Length: 70 minutes

Score: 2.5/5

Charlie Brooker is one of the smartest writers currently working and a canny observer of the human condition to boot. If you’re not familiar with the bloke, he’s the creator of subversive sitcom Nathan Barley (2005), zombies-invade-the-Big-Brother-TV-show thriller, Dead Set (2011) and, of course, the uber-popular near future dystopian dance of Black Mirror.

Point is, Brooker’s insightful, often caustic, observations are usually timely and cathartic, offering belly laughs at things you normally wouldn’t be able to wring a chuckle from. So, why then is his latest effort, a star-studded mockumentary called Death to 2020, sort of... average?

Samuel L. Jackson plays Dash Bracket in death to 2020 Netflix series
Dash Bracket (Samuel L. Jackson) is everyone's feelings about this year personified as an A-list actor. Photo: Netflix

Death to 2020 is styled like a run-of-the-mill documentary, with footage narrated by an ominous voice (belonging to none other than Laurence Fisburne) and experts appearing as talking heads. However, the “experts” in this case are celebrities playing characters with silly names.

There’s Samuel L. Jackson as Dash Bracket, a sweary journalist and Hugh Grant as Tennyson Foss, a historian who can’t tell the difference between Games of Thrones and actual history.

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Kumail Nanjiani has an almost too spot-on turn playing tech billionaire Bark Multiverse, while Lisa Kudrow plays Jeanetta Grace Susan, a conservative spokesperson with, erm, a rather porous definition of the truth.

 Kumail Nanjiani plays smug tech billionaire Bark Multiverse in Netflix's Death to 2020 series
Kumail Nanjiani plays smug tech billionaire Bark Multiverse a little too well. Photo: Netflix

So, Laurence Fishburne takes us chronologically through the events of the year - starting with our own Aussie bushfire inferno (yay us?) - and the experts chime in with their observations. It’s a format Brooker has used before, usually with his far superior Weekly Wipe and Yearly Wipe programs where he snarks at the week/year that was, but there’s something missing here.

Fishburne is a fantastic narrator, and his dry sombre delivery makes some of the funnier lines about Boris Johnson’s resemblance to a confused scarecrow really sing. The talking heads, however, are more of a mixed bag.

Hugh Grant is funny enough, but his dialogue comes off a little too goofy. Cristin Milioti (the mother from How I Met Your Mother) as Kathy Flowers, a vaguely racist, anti-vaxxing Karen, is more consistent but even she eventually skews too broad.

Tellingly, it’s fellow Pom and frequent Brooker collaborator Diane Morgan (playing Gemma Nerrick, one of the top five “most average citizens in the world”) who brings the bulk of the big laughs. Her wide-eyed, gormless schtick (which is basically just her Philomena Cunk character) pairs perfectly with the tone of the piece, which is impressive considering the A-listers she’s up against.

Gemma Nerrick (Diane Morgan)  Death to 2020 Netflix series review
Gemma Nerrick (Diane Morgan) does her impression of the most exercise any of us got in this hell year. Photo: Netflix

Perhaps it’s Brooker’s grim but erudite British sensibility coming up against less subtle American comic stylings, or maybe it’s a little too early to wave off 2020 as we’re still in the dying days of the bloody thing, but what should be an uproarious celebration of surviving this wretched period of time is more an occasional chuckle interspersed with tight-lipped nodding.

Perhaps that will work for those nursing hangovers on New Year's Day, and just want something undemanding and fitfully amusing, but for everyone else this is kind of a letdown.

COVID-19 is still lurking around every corner, America is at war with itself, Cyberpunk 2077 released as an almost unplayable buggy mess and now one of the canniest social commentator’s commentary, Death to 2020, is just okay.

Good lord, 2020, is there anything you can’t stink up?

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