Very early on in Bo Burnham stand-up special “What” he sits down at a piano. This would have been expected by audiences given he was mainly known for his YouTube comedy songs at this point in his career, He introduces the first song of the set “A World On Fire.” He pauses, screams hits random keys on the piano, gets a cheap laugh and then moves on to the actual first song. Burnham at his best is one of the sharpest comedians and writers out there ( this critic saw him live at the Scottish premiere for Eighth Grade and he was every bit as quick-witted as fans would hope.) That said if audiences want to see gags like that cheap World On Fire effort extended for 70 minutes look no further then Charlie Brooker endorsed Netflix mockumentary Death To 2020.
2020 may have been an abysmal year for pretty much everyone around the world but in concept, a satirical look back at the year’s events is not a terrible idea. With a strong script and participants who enabled audiences to buy into the pieces satirical targets. Brooker’s Netflix brand has enough clout at this point to rope in several solid stars for this endeavour. Samuel L Jackson, Kumail Nanjiani, Lisa Kudrow Leslie Jones Hugh Grant, Tracey Ullman and Laurence Fishburne among others are all here. When viewers watch this they will hopefully recognise it as one of the most embarrassingly unfunny failures in a year that was full of them.
Having not seen any work affiliated with Charlie Brooker previously this critic is willing to accept that Black Mirror and other projects may be just as brilliant as he has heard. The multitude of awards won by his productions certainly further that narrative.) Any comedic value Death to 2020 possessors starts to run thin after 5 minutes and then overstays its runtime for the borderline painful next 65. As a mockumentary, it fails because the characters and scenarios it uses to satirise the events of 2020 are such painful stereotypes. Jackson place into his own media persona. Grant is a bumbling history professor, Nanjiani is a healthcare professional. Cristin Milioti turns up in an attempted parody of right-wing Trump supporters. Tracy Ullman’s take on The Queen is to deliver plenty of uninspired self-referential gags about The Crown (brand synergy) and Joe Kerry is a streamer when the script has no idea what sort of jokes to make about his character or profession. According to IMDb 19 writers were involved in this completely unfunny bilge that could have been knocked out by a team of edge lord 15-year-olds in an afternoon.
That’s not to say the special doesn’t produce a couple of begrudging chuckles but this is not due to the way the attempted satire is constructed. Cracking lowest common denominator jokes at the easiest targets possible can work. Cue expected routine about Parasites Oscar win, endless trump/ right-wing mocking, attempted commentary on the corporate response to Black Lives atter and of course plenty of attempted satire on the western world failure in response to Covid. It’s not that any of these potential punchlines could not work with some additional development and a couple of redrafts. In this case the team of writers that worked on this mildly pustulant rip off just assume there’s an inherent joke in watching Trump do something embarrassing and then move on the next easy target. Even in the moments where a comedian like Sacha Baron Cohen is at his lowest comment denominator, there is normally still some value in watching the organic reactions of the people being pranked. Death to 2020 is so focused on highlighting just how many stars they can get to be in this embarrassing failure none of this holds here. Another comparison might be an All-Star live-action version of Creature Comforts( especially given the specials use of a mock interview structure) but the organic charm found in even the worst of Ardmans work is sorely lacking from this pile of elephant excrement. Even fans of slapstick and very straight forward satire should avoid this humiliating disaster at all costs.
Death to 2020 is an embarrassing failure that should be a black mark on the creative CVs of every collaborator involved. It uses an embarrassingly thin veil of supposed satire to crack jokes at a bunch of easy 2020 related targets and expects the audience to laugh. Black Mirror and Charlie Brooker fans may have an inbuilt desire to watch the special given the star-studded cast and creative team. The said audience would probably be better off spending time on YouTube looking for supposedly topical skits and sketches. it doesn’t matter if they have more or less bite then this overcooked disaster of a special. Unless they are a special kind of abysmal none of them will fear towards the second-hand embarrassment of watching a talented cast participate in a project that they know is far below them. Avoid at all costs.