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In a year ripe for satire, Netflix’s predictable mockumentary Death to 2020 is proof of comedy’s calamitous demise

Michael McCaffrey
Michael McCaffrey

Michael McCaffrey is a writer and cultural critic who lives in Los Angeles. His work can be read at RT, Counterpunch and at his website mpmacting.com/blog. He is also the host of the popular cinema podcast Looking California and Feeling Minnesota. Follow him on Twitter @MPMActingCo

Michael McCaffrey is a writer and cultural critic who lives in Los Angeles. His work can be read at RT, Counterpunch and at his website mpmacting.com/blog. He is also the host of the popular cinema podcast Looking California and Feeling Minnesota. Follow him on Twitter @MPMActingCo

In a year ripe for satire, Netflix’s predictable mockumentary Death to 2020 is proof of comedy’s calamitous demise
2020 has been a brutal year, but one that offers huge potential for humor. However, Death to 2020’s tepid, establishment-friendly take on the past 12 months feels like the final nail in the coffin of true comedy.

Death to 2020 is the new Netflix mockumentary that sets out to humorously sum up the nightmare that was 2020. The film, which premiered on the streaming service on December 27, recounts the actual terrible events of the past year and has fake ‘experts’, played by actors such as Samuel L. Jackson and Lisa Kudrow, as talking heads to comedically comment upon them.

The makers of Death to 2020, Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones, are best known in the US for their terrifically terrifying and unnervingly prescient sci-fi horror show Black Mirror. But UK viewers first got to know them from their more comedy-oriented projects like the Wipe series. 

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Death to 2020 is much more like the Wipe series than Black Mirror, as it attempts to be a comedy. Unfortunately, it fails in that endeavor. 

What makes Death to 2020 so irritating is that it has nothing unique to say, and it doesn’t even say the same tired old stuff uniquely. 

Granted, some of the jokes are mildly amusing, and some of the performances are good. Tracey Ullman as Queen Elizabeth II, Hugh Grant as a stuffy and ornery British historian and Diane Morgan as one of the top five most average people in the world are well done. Others, such as Leslie Jones as a behavioral psychologist and Lisa Kudrow as a conservative spokeswoman, are decidedly not. 

Ultimately, the film has the comedic heft, impact and staying power of a snide and snarky tweet. At best, it resembles a high-end, star-studded 2020 version of one of those silly Best of the 80s clip shows on VH1.

The biggest problem with Death to 2020, though, is the problem with most comedy nowadays, in that it is such a suffocating, stultifyingly safe and painfully predictable exercise as to be frustrating and fruitless. 

If you have seen a single monologue in the past year by any of the sanctimonious, self-righteous serfs to the establishment on late night TV, such as Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, Bill Maher, Trevor Noah or John Oliver, then you’ve experienced the same impotent comedy of Death to 2020.  

The tired formula of the late-night comedy eunuchs, where they flaccidly recite establishment-approved witticisms devoid of insight and edge, is dutifully replicated here, just in mockumentary form.

The result is, not surprisingly, that there’s not an ounce of originality or profundity found in the hour and ten-minute film, which is too long by roughly an hour. 

Also, clearly lacking from Death to 2020 is any semblance of comedic testicular fortitude as the usual safe targets are held up for ridicule. Of course, Donald Trump is pilloried because he is a walking punchline, as is clueless Joe Biden, who, amusingly, is referred to both as a “prehistoric concierge” and a “civil war hero.” But obviously none of that is even remotely daring. 

Karens’, conservatives and anti-lockdown activists are also the butt of many jokes, but the equally golden opportunity to lambaste the illiberal left for laughs is never taken. For instance, the comedy-rich environment of the Black Lives Matter movement is not mocked, and the ‘protestors’ looting and burning businesses in the name of George Floyd don’t get taken to task either. 

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But most telling is that also absent from the comedy firing line are celebrities, like the highly hysterical dopes and dullards who vomited out the repugnantly self-serving ‘Imagine’ and ‘I Take Responsibility’ videos. 

By ignoring these subjects, Death to 2020 reveals itself to be little more than just another pandering video compliantly committed to kissing the right asses and devoutly dedicated to never biting the hand that feeds it.

As George Carlin famously once said of the powerful in America, “it’s a big club and you ain’t in it!” But the establishment court jesters who made Death to 2020 either are desperate to become members or are already in the club, as their resolute refusal to challenge the status quo is a perfect representation of the sad state of comedy in 2020. 

Yes, there are some notable exceptions, Dave Chappelle and Bill Burr being the most prominent. But beyond that, whether it be Stephen Colbert weeping on air like one of the buffoons he used to belittle, or Jimmy Fallon castrating himself with a cowardly apology for an allegedly offensive blackface bit from 20 years ago, or John Oliver’s pathetic pandering to wokeness, or Saturday Night Live’s fierce commitment to anti-comedy or any of the other mainstream comedians who have groveled and genuflected to those who hold the power in our culture, 2020 has been the absolute nadir for contemporary comedy. 

The bottom line is that 2020 has been a most brutal year that may have changed our world forever, but it is also rife with profound opportunities for humor. Unfortunately for us, 2020 may also have killed comedy, and Death to 2020 is its decidedly unoriginal and unfunny death knell. 

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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