In his latest Netflix specialBlack mirrorCreator Charlie Brooker and his co-worker Annabel Jones Gather a cast of talented actors around 2020, a 12 month period that is often accused of being so ridiculous that no one would believe the plot would change if it were featured on an actual episode of Brooker’s award-winning show would. More than once this year Brooker and Jones must have been told that something came straight out of one of their televised nightmares. So why not comment on all the dystopian madness?
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The tone of “Death of 2020“Is a lot” Can you believe this shit actually happened? “like as an actor Samuel L. Jackson, Kumail Nanjiani, Hugh Grant, and Cristin Milioti Play characters commenting on the madness of coronavirus, the election, the Black Lives Matter movement, and more. While there were serious concerns that this would be the comedic equivalent of that terrible “Imagine” video, which completely missed the intended mark, the caliber of the cast here elevates that very inconsistent writing just enough to avoid disaster. Yes, Death By 2020 aims too often at simple targets and low-speed bullets, but the people pulling the triggers have a blast shooting. Between the holidays, this can be just enough to work for people who will still be hungover from 2020 onwards.
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“Death to 2020” is structured like a year-end review program that chronologically sums up the most important events of the year from the forest fires in January to the Four Seasons Total Landscaping press conference and all the blinding stupidity in between. Brooker and his team cast actors as fake interview subjects, such as Jackson, who plays a reported name called Dash Brackett, and Grant, who pays a history expert named Tennyson Foss. Narrated by Laurence Fishburne“Death to 2020” cuts off real news material with fake comments on that news and doesn’t really let go of the attempts at humor. Aside from a brief pause at the beginning of the BLM segment to take the murder of George Floyd seriously (thank goodness), “Death to 2020” follows a quick joke structure. If you don’t like one joke, wait a few seconds for the next one. Unfortunately, you might have to wait a while for a good one.
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While the rapid-fire structure is smart, there are a few segments and recurring punchlines that Brooker really escapes. With a cadre of other writers, he seems to be particularly overwhelmed when he analyzes the US elections and the problems associated with them. He’s either satisfied with making incredibly simple jokes or really doesn’t try to make one at all. For example, how do you write a joke about Rudy Giuliani’s melting hair dye? When “death by 2020” comes into politics it’s hard to shake the feeling that this material has been better handled by people like all year round John Oliver or Trevor Noah. The characters are unforgettable in Death By 2020, but the political humor is really hackneyed.
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Writing is way stronger when it comes to analyzing social trends in 2020. Cristin Milioti (a veterinarian of the “Black Mirror” of the great “USS Callister”) Is wonderful as a racist soccer mom who goes viral after being caught horribly on social media so many times and ending up being a conspiracy nut. “Death to 2020” is best when Brooker rightly creates a character with a comedian like Milioti or the Fantastic Diane Morgan, described as “one of the five most average people in the world”. When it gets weak stings in Biden’s age or Trump’s skin color, it feels like a bad open mic night in an empty comedy club.
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Milioti and Morgan are not alone in the strong ensemble. Tracey Ullman is as perfect as the queen you wish the master impressionist had more canvas time (and better footage); Jackson leans a little on how he trusts the virus more than cops (because the virus doesn’t pretend to want to help you) who feel destined to go viral. Grant has a fun, recurring piece in which he keeps adding the fictional story of shows like Game of Thrones to his comment that the great actor is doing work; Joe Keery is fantastic as a social influencer idiot who doesn’t really understand what it means to be an ally. Kumail Nanjiani nails a social media magnate without resorting to a glimpse of the actual selfish tech giants in the world. Leslie Jones borrows from the cynicism of a writer who is basically just sick of it; Lisa Kudrow nails the bold madness of a Trump spokesman who literally denies Ukraine’s existence. Everyone is good to great and the general sympathy of the cast keeps “Death to 2020” moving (even if it should have been 15 to 20 minutes shorter).
Where “death by 2020” really comes to a standstill is written in writing. Brooker, Moss, and the team too often go the easiest route in terms of analysis or humor, almost like they know the jokes are going to make you moan. (Ex. “Critics described the lack of ventilators as breathtaking” or as a comparison Greta Thunberg to Billie Eilish because they are both teenage girls who depress or pretend people Kamala Harris was the second colored person on the ballot because Trump is orange. Sigh.) There is a feeling that “death by 2020” on December 27th. Was a little rushed because they wanted to spend as much time on it as possible, but it might have been wise to give the script a few more weeks of rewriting and allowing post-production to fine-tune a few things. Focus group some of the worst lines. Pick some of the better improvised takes. It would still have been relevant in mid-January, and some of the weaker lines could have been refined. Let’s be honest: nobody will be forgotten anytime soon in 2020. It will take time to kill this year. [C]