Death to 2020

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Death to 2020
Death to 2020.png
Title card
Directed by
  • Al Campbell
  • Alice Mathias
Written byCharlie Brooker
Produced by
Starring
Narrated byLaurence Fishburne
CinematographyJamie Cairney
Production
companies
Broke and Bones
Distributed byNetflix
Release date
  • December 27, 2020 (2020-12-27)
Running time
70 minutes
Countries
  • United States
  • United Kingdom
LanguageEnglish

Death to 2020 is a 2020 mockumentary by Black Mirror creators Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones under their Broke and Bones production company as a Netflix original production. The special features a series of fictional characters discussing US and UK events of 2020 including the COVID-19 pandemic and US presidential election. It was released on Netflix on 27 December 2020. The mockumentary received mostly negative critical reception, with reviewers criticising the jokes as obvious, though some of the cast performances were praised. A sequel special, Death to 2021, was released on December 27, 2021.

Synopsis[edit]

In mockumentary format, characters discuss events of 2020 with a mixture of true information and satire. The overarching topic is the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in the US and UK. The 2020 United States presidential election is also heavily featured. Events in the early part of the year include the latter part of the 2019–20 Australian bushfire season, Greta Thunberg's environmental speeches at the World Economic Forum, Prince Harry and his wife Meghan stepping down from the British royal family and the 2020 Oscars. The May 2020 murder of George Floyd and subsequent US protests are summarized, with commentary on the Donald Trump photo op at St. John's Church and protesters removing the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol, England.

On the topic of the pandemic, characters comment on the 2020 royal addresses to the nation in the UK, two national lockdowns in England, online circulation of false information, vaccine trials and the first uses of the Pfizer–BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine outside of a clinical trial. With regards to the US election, topics under discussion include acquittal of the impeached Donald Trump, Democratic primaries between Bernie Sanders and the successful Joe Biden, presidential debates between Biden and Trump, The New York Times' reports on Trump's tax returns and Biden's choice of Kamala Harris as running mate. After Biden won the election, Trump attempted to overturn results with a series of false claims and unsuccessful lawsuits.

The mockumentary closes with characters delivering lines that jokingly predict events of 2021.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

External video
video icon "Death to 2020 – Official teaser"
Released 7 December 2020
video icon "Death to 2020 – Official trailer"
Released 21 December 2020

Prior to producing Black Mirror, Brooker had done several end-of-year topical comedy specials for the BBC based on his Weekly Wipe series up through 2016. He had created a special Antiviral Wipe earlier in 2020 at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Brooker saw Death to 2020 as different to his previous topical comedy, as it is "more character-based" and he does not serve as presenter.[3] He also described it as "sillier", summarising it as "part record of the year, part spoof documentary and part character comedy".[4]

It is produced by Broke and Bones, which Brooker and Annabel Jones founded after departing from House of Tomorrow, the production company they had worked with for the Endemol Shine group in producing Black Mirror. The two reportedly left House of Tomorrow over intellectual property rights issues.[5][6] Netflix has a deal for exclusive rights over Broke and Bones productions. Death to 2020 is its first full production after the co-production Antiviral Wipe.[7]

The special was written with a team of writers over four months. It was filmed in late November across 10 days, in London and Los Angeles.[4] Minimal crews were used due to the pandemic, with some actors in production bubbles. Each actor filmed for only one day. The Los Angeles filming shortly preceded a local lockdown there.[1] Unlike Wipe specials, Brooker does not appear on-screen, but plays a director asking the talking heads questions. This decision was made partially because of an expectation that non-UK audiences would not be familiar with his appearance. Additionally, Diane Morgan appears in a different role—rather than recurring Wipe character Philomena Cunk, she plays Gemma Nerrick, ostensibly "one of the five most average people in the world".[4] Cristin Milioti previously starred in Black Mirror episode "USS Callister".[8]

Actors influenced their characters' portrayal, with Brooker highlighting Kudrow in particular as having a number of things she felt strongly about.[1] To appeal to a global audience, UK subjects such as the Dominic Cummings scandal were avoided. News of Biden's win and the Pfizer vaccine rollout arrived days before filming. Brooker and Jones were both involved with the editing process.[4]

Actor Hugh Grant revealed the project's existence in an interview with New York magazine in late November 2020, saying Brooker had written a mockumentary about the year 2020, which was dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic and described by some as a real-life version of a Black Mirror episode. Brooker said Grant would play the role of a historian who's being interviewed about the year.[9][10] Further details of the special were announced in early December 2020, including many of the principal cast.[2][11]

Reception[edit]

Hugh Grant's performance as Tennyson Foss was described as "a rare highlight in the otherwise disappointing production."[12]

Critics branded the mockumentary as "disappointing", and compared it unfavourably to Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe and Black Mirror.[12] On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, 40% of 20 critic reviews are positive, with an average rating of 4.3/10.[13] According to Metacritic, which calculated an average score of 41 out of 100 based on 11 critics, it received "mixed or average reviews".[14]

In a one star review for The Independent, Ed Cumming found that he was often "waiting for punchlines that never arrive", saying that Grant is "not given a single decent line". Cumming criticised the absence of Brooker's narration, as found in the Wipe series, and wrote that the work "can't make up its mind whether it is for a British audience or an American one".[15]

Chris Bennion gave the special two stars out of five in a review for The Telegraph, believing it to be a "huge disappointment" in which the humour is "as predictable as the targets of the jokes". Though reporting that most of the jokes are "at best wearily familiar", Bennion did find a few that "carry Brooker's acidic wit and giddy surrealism" and praised that Grant "adroitly captures the pomposity of the Grand Old TV Don".[16] Another two star review came from Evening Standard's Nancy Durrant, who found it "not as good" as the Wipe specials. Durrant opined that a runtime of 45 minutes "would have been quite enough". Durrant praised Grant, Kudrow, Milioti and Morgan and the characters' names, along with some small jokes.[17]

Though praising some of the characters, including Jackson, Fishburne and Milioti, Zack Handlen of The A.V. Club gave the episode a B– in a negative review which summarised the mockumentary as "obvious jokes over familiar footage". Handlen found nothing "particularly insightful" and criticised "a few lame stabs at 'both-sides-ing' the polarization of American politics".[18] The Hollywood Reporter's Daniel Fienberg summarised the work as a "generally hacky piece of recycled political satire and tired documentary parody". Finding it "astonishing how lazy everything is", he viewed it as worse than many American topical comedies and said that the humour comes "almost exclusively from the enthusiasm of an impressively star-studded cast". However, Fienberg praised Milioti and Morgan and found it "appropriate" that Jackson discusses most of the George Floyd protest content with "only anger and outrage".[8] The Los Angeles Times called the mockumentary a "bitingly funny, hastily assembled and slightly deranged comedic retrospective".[19]

Sequel[edit]

A programme in the same style, Death to 2021, aired on 27 December 2021, produced by Broke and Bones. Alongside returning cast such as Grant, Ullman and Morgan, the mockumentary starred new members including Lucy Liu, Stockard Channing and William Jackson Harper.[20][21] According to Digital Spy, Brooker had a reduced role, not participating as executive producer due to work on other projects. Instead, the executive producers were Jones and Ben Caudell—a writer for Cunk on Britain, a programme starring Morgan's character Philomena Cunk. The special was directed by Jack Clough and Josh Ruben.[22][23]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Turchiano, Danielle (27 December 2020). "'Death to 2020' Bosses on Creating a 'Cathartic Release' Amid the Pandemic". Variety. Archived from the original on 27 December 2020. Retrieved 27 December 2020.
  2. ^ a b Ramachandran, Naman (7 December 2020). "Samuel L. Jackson, Hugh Grant, Lisa Kudrow to Feature in Netflix Comedy Event 'Death to 2020'". Variety. Archived from the original on 27 December 2020. Retrieved 7 December 2020.
  3. ^ a b "Netflix's 'Death to 2020' Skewers "Trainwreck" Year in Mockumentary Trailer". The Hollywood Reporter. 21 December 2020. Archived from the original on 27 December 2020. Retrieved 21 December 2020.
  4. ^ a b c d Lynskey, Dorian (27 December 2020). "Charlie Brooker: 'There's a certain release in laughing into the abyss'". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 December 2020.
  5. ^ Ravindran, Manori (24 January 2020). "'Black Mirror' Creators Quit Endemol Shine-Owned Label While Navigating IP Headaches With Netflix". Variety. Archived from the original on 24 January 2020. Retrieved 25 January 2020.
  6. ^ Kanter, Jake (10 February 2020). "'Black Mirror' Creators Charlie Brooker & Annabel Jones Waste Little Time In Launching New Production Outfit". Deadline Hollywood. Archived from the original on 10 February 2020. Retrieved 10 February 2020.
  7. ^ Kanter, Jake (7 December 2020). "'Death To 2020': Samuel L. Jackson, Lisa Kudrow, Joe Keery, Leslie Jones Join Charlie Brooker's Netflix Comedy Event Special". Deadline Hollywood. Archived from the original on 27 December 2020. Retrieved 21 December 2020.
  8. ^ a b Fienberg, Daniel (27 December 2020). "'Death to 2020': TV Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on 27 December 2020. Retrieved 27 December 2020.
  9. ^ Harris, Mark (30 November 2020). "Hugh Grant Got the Undoing Ending He Wanted". Vulture. Archived from the original on 27 December 2020. Retrieved 7 December 2020.
  10. ^ White, Peter (30 November 2020). "'Black Mirror' Creator Charlie Brooker Preps 2020 Mockumentary For Netflix; Hugh Grant To Feature". Deadline Hollywood. Archived from the original on 27 December 2020. Retrieved 7 December 2020.
  11. ^ Warner, Sam (4 December 2020). "Black Mirror creators reveal first look at new Netflix mockumentary special". Digital Spy. Archived from the original on 27 December 2020. Retrieved 7 December 2020.
  12. ^ a b O'Connor, Roisin (27 December 2020). "Death to 2020 reviews: Charlie Brooker's Netflix 'disappointing' mockumentary torn apart by critics". The Independent. Retrieved 27 December 2020.
  13. ^ "Death to 2020 (2020)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved 10 October 2021.
  14. ^ "Death To 2020" – via www.metacritic.com.
  15. ^ Cumming, Ed (27 December 2020). "Death to 2020 review: Charlie Brooker's Netflix mockumentary is a complete mess". The Independent. Retrieved 27 December 2020.
  16. ^ Bennion, Chris (27 December 2020). "Death to 2020, review: a disappointing rehash of tired jokes and predictable satire". The Telegraph. Retrieved 27 December 2020.
  17. ^ Durrant, Nancy (27 December 2020). "Death to 2020 review – Charlie Brooker's lookback outstays its welcome". Evening Standard. Archived from the original on 27 December 2020. Retrieved 27 December 2020.
  18. ^ Handlen, Zack (27 December 2020). "Death To 2020 offers an unnecessary summary of a miserable year". The A.V. Club. Archived from the original on 27 December 2020. Retrieved 27 December 2020.
  19. ^ Ali, Lorraine (31 December 2020). "Review: Spend your New Year's Eve wishing 'Death to 2020.' You won't regret it". LA Times. Retrieved 2 January 2021.
  20. ^ Song, Katie; Hailu, Selome (2 December 2021). "Netflix Announces 'Death to 2021,' Releases Teaser (TV News Roundup)". Variety. Retrieved 5 December 2021.
  21. ^ Goldbart, Max (2 December 2021). "Netflix Returns To 'Death To 2021'; Adds Lucy Liu, Stockard Channing, William Jackson Harper To Comedy Special". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 5 December 2021.
  22. ^ Warner, Sam (3 December 2021). "Ted Lasso and The Good Place stars cast in Death to 2021 Netflix sequel". Digital Spy. Retrieved 5 December 2021.
  23. ^ Richardson, Jay (2 December 2021). "Netflix orders Death To 2021, with Nick Mohammed and Alistair Green". British Comedy Guide. Retrieved 5 December 2021.

External links[edit]