‘Death to 2020’ Strikes the Right Tone

The Netflix mockumentary is just dumb enough to be brilliant.

If there were ever a time to let an algorithm tell you what to watch, the waning days of 2020 would be it. If you’re on Netflix over the next few days, odds are you’ll be prompted to click on a mockumentary called Death to 2020. If you have nothing better to do, which you probably don’t, this movie will remind you of everything that happened this year, and put those events in their proper, absurd context.  

At times, the movie itself feels like it was produced by a drunk AI. But its moments of edginess and anger offer a reminder that Death to 2020 in fact comes from the minds of Black Mirror creators Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones. Granted, the two of them probably threw this baby together in about a month, and it shows in some remarkably dumb writing. Still, a good joke here and there, and an entertaining cast of  recognizable contemporary archetypes, makes for an enjoyable viewing experience, a sort of Scary Movie version of current events. It’s a parody that pairs well with, no, demands, some kind of mind-altering substance. 

Perhaps the one useful takeaway from the movie is that you’ll recall things that happened this year that seemed like they happened years ago. Remember Trump’s impeachment? The fear following his assassination of Iranian general Qasem Souleimani? Prince Harry and Princess Meghan “stepping back” from their royal duties? Parasite making history by winning Best Picture at the Academy Awards? Bernie Sanders leading the Democratic primary?

It will all come flooding back, with wry commentary from cynical New Yorkerly Times reporter, Dash Bracket (Samuel L. Jackson), a thinly veiled nod to real life NYT EIC Dean Bacquet, and bumbling historian Tennyson Foss (Hugh Grant). Like a good member of the mainstream media, Bracket really, really hates Trump, while Foss, like a tenured professor who loves to hear himself speak, has some big ideas about polarization and cancel culture. (For those who recently saw Grant in HBO’s The Undoing, it’s hard not to think of his character here as a tipsier, unambiguously British version of Jonathan Fraser.)

Other characters add some color to the narratives that defined 2020. A Trump Administration spokesperson, Jeanetta Grace Susan (Lisa Kudrow), or call her Kellyanne McEnany, finds every possible way to warp or deny the things Trump has said, while arguing that “conservative voices are being silenced” — on her Youtube channel, Tucker Carlson, Joe Rogan, and in a best-selling book. Charlie Brooker’s off-camera banter with Jeanetta and other characters, combined with some self-consciously bizarre stock footage, manages to implicate Adam Curtis and other serious documentarians in the parody.

Bark Multiverse (Kumail Nanjiani) is a Silicon Valley oligarch who was so moved by Greta Thunberg’s Davos speech that he built a survival bunker in New Zealand to ride out climate change, and then the pandemic. Meanwhile, he’s working on making his social media platform, Shreekr, “hopelessly radicalize” its users in five minutes, down from the current six months. The soccer mom/Karen/conspiracy theorist Kathy Flowers (Cristin Milioti), is one of the billions of people Bark Multiverse has managed to hook.  

Things turn serious, for a moment, as the film recaps the killing of George Floyd, and the protests it sparked. But then a broey white Youtuber, Duke Goolies (Joe Keery), starts talking about how posting a black square on his Instagram wasn’t enough to make “other people know that I care.” So he decides to drive around a Black neighborhood with a bullhorn, declaring, “I’m with you.” He also posts a video in which he realizes, “I’m Black, too. Maybe more than anyone.” 

President Trump and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson fit right into this cast of fictional characters. Their remarks, especially on COVID, are some of the more asinine in the entire film. (“Civil War hero” Joe Biden’s gaffes, like forgetting the first words of the Declaration of Independence, get some play, too.) 

With real life this surreal, and all of it being taken in from our screens, “normal person” Gemma Nerrick (Diane Morgan) can be forgiven for thinking it’s all one big reality show. Having watched everything on Netflix during lockdown number one, this ordinary Briton finds a new favorite show during the second lockdown, called “America.” “It’s on the news channel. It’s totally mental.”

The movie runs down some of the highlights of the two-month period leading up to the election: RBG’s replacement by ACB, the notoriously unpresidential first presidential debate, Trump getting COVID, the Hunter Biden laptop affair, Trump losing the election and claiming that it was stolen. 

Death to 2020 ends with a “glimmer of hope,” as vaccines are distributed around the world. But as the characters finish up their interviews, their first priority is finishing their drinks.

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