I don’t know how wise it is to end a year like 2020 with a mockumentary titled Death to 2020. Especially with only a scant forty-eight hours to go before this cursed year ends. It feels as if the filmmakers are almost daring 2020 to go out with a bang.
Though at the time of this writing the Golfing Fascist is currently siding with the House Democrats and vocally siding with Senator Bernie Sanders to force the Senate Majority Leader to at least allow a vote on a bill that would force the government to cut us a check. In other words, the year’s not done yet, and each twist is more surprising and dumbfounding than the last. That’s the attitude Al Campbell and Alice Mathias have anyway.
Death to 2020 is a bit like an extension of Drunk History, only everyone is stone-cold sober or at least acting as if they are. Campbell and Mathias take us down memory lane of the tumultuous year with an acerbic tongue in bruised cheeks. Narrated by none other than Laurence Fishburne, the mockumentary ambles on through the events with a sharp critical eye and morbid humor that comes from a year that has damn near broken every one of us.
Apart from being satirical, there is a benefit to sitting back and realizing just how much has happened this year. I had forgotten Australia’s cost was on fire for much of January. “Fire, a radicalized, angry form of air and one of mankind’s oldest foes, is raging out of control, subjecting the Australian landscape to an extreme carbon makeover.”
2020 has been so traumatizing because most of us have been on some form of a half-assed lockdown thereby allowing us to be extremely on-line in a way few of us have ever been before. Consequently, the rapid tidal wave of horrifying events has been deeply felt on a psychological and emotional level few people have ever felt in regards to current events. Death to 2020 understands this and while there is an air of goofiness, with Jeff Bezos inspired characters like Bark Multiverse (Kumail Nanjiani), there is also an underlying fury at the exposed injustices of the year.
Luckily we have the noted historian Tennyson Foss (Hugh Grant), who seems to be confused about which events happened historically and which events happened on Game of Thrones. Baffled, condescending, and himself a little racist, he is a reminder that far too many real documentaries feel as if they take the closest old white man who went to university and plopped them down in front of the camera. We quickly begin to realize that while he speaks with great authority, he is not actually an authority on anything.
Much of the comedy in Death to 2020 comes from how they describe the horrific events. At times it feels as if the movie had been written by the staff of The Onion. It wasn’t. The script was penned by Charlie Brooker of Black Mirror fame. Brooker, like most of us, is a little wobbly eyed by 2020.
But Brooker allows for scathing commentary along with the silliness. Sure, some scenes brim with a sort of existential silliness. Such as when Pyrex Flask (Samson Kayo), a scientist, talks about how stunned the world was when Tom Hanks contracted COVID-19. “It showed the virus could also pass from humans to icons, which raised the possibility that it might one day infect God. And God is older than the universe, which puts him in a high-risk category.”
But then Campbell and Mathias give us moments such as when New York Times reporter Dash Bracket (Samuel L. Jackson) discusses the clashing of COVID-19 concerns and the need for social protest over the murder of George Floyd. “But you know in some ways I prefer the coronavirus to the police. And don’t get me wrong, I fucking hate the virus, but at least it doesn’t pretend it’s here to help. It doesn’t drive around the neighborhood with ‘Protect and Serve’ painted on its side before it kills you.”
It’s moments like these that Campbell and Mathias, along with Brooker’s script, reveal their rage. Amidst all the wacky names and fun, there bubbles a wave of pointed anger. It’s never more clear than when they talk to Dr. Maggie Gravel (Leslie Jones), a behavioral psychologist. “I’ve studied human behavior long enough to get sick of it.” Jones leans into her intense persona, and along with Jackson’s no holds barred segment, rips into the atrocities of human behavior and the intransigence of federal and local governments that reminds us that we are not alone in our pain.
But of all the characters though, there is one who is horrifying, despite Campbell and Mathias’s best efforts to ridicule her at every opportunity. Kathy Flowers (Cristin Milioti) is your average soccer mom who also happens to be a raging white nationalist. Brooker’s script has nothing but contempt for her. Milioti plays her with a sort of rictus grin, a Karen to speak for all Karens, as she tries to engage our sympathies as all bigots do with a calm rationality of hatred.
Characters such as Flowers or Lisa Kudrow’s Jenetta Grace Susan, a Kayleigh McEnany inspired caricature, cut close to the bone. Death to 2020 is largely entertaining but the jokes that come with Milioti and Kudrow are chilling and at times a little too real—absurd and farcical as they may be. Kudrow’s Susan calmly denies everything she says moments after saying it. At one point, she blithely states that there is no such country as Ukraine. Only, to moments later admit to Ukraine’s existence so she can spin a false conspiracy involving Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.
Kudrow’s Susan is more honest about her dishonesty than the actual McEnany. Still, as funny and accurate as it was, it left me more than a little chilled. I couldn’t help but feel reality and farce were merging in an all too disconcerting manner.
Death to 2020 doesn’t cover everything. Not surprising considering it clocks in at just barely over an hour. There is no mention of murder hornets or the myriad of political scandals. A wise decision on Campbell and Mathias’s part; after all, a year in a review shouldn’t be so in-depth that it feels like you’ve spent a year watching it.
It does feel as if Death to 2020 could be the start of an annual tradition. A way to say goodbye to the old year with a smile and a defiant middle finger. In a way, it’s a little therapeutic to say goodbye to 2020 while also trying to make sure the door hits it on its way out.
Image courtesy of Netflix
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