Review: Netflix's half-hearted special 'Death to 2020' is just lame jokes you've heard before

Kelly Lawler, USA TODAY
·3 min read

"Black Mirror" this is not.

Those who know that Netflix's mockumentary "Death to 2020" is from "Black Mirror" producers Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones might be expecting biting satire, whip-smart observations and clever humor from the year-end special decrying the horrible events of the 2020. But unfortunately, "Death" is none of those things.

More a whimper than a sick burn, "Death" is a collection of underwhelming jokes about a tragic year that have either already been delivered better by other comedians and the internet or are too lame even for your embarrassing uncle to have texted the family group chat.

Samuel L. Jackson as Dash Bracket in Netflix's "Death to 2020."
Samuel L. Jackson as Dash Bracket in Netflix's "Death to 2020."

The special sees a series of fake talking heads – Samuel L. Jackson as an irreverent journalist, Cristin Milloti as a "soccer mom" radicalized online, Lisa Kudrow as a right-wing pundit – discussing the events of 2020, from the pandemic to Black Lives Matter protests to impeachment to wildfires. They're all given silly names like Joe Keery as “Duke Goolies" (a millennial) and Samson Kayo as “Pyrex Flask” (a scientist) and their discussions of the year are intercut with news footage and stock footage, and occasional comments from an unseen narrator (Laurence Fishburne) meant to be pithy, but more just obvious.

The actors give their level best to their silly characters (particularly Milloti, whose suburban housewife starts out as a run-of-the-mill racist "Karen" and quickly reveals a smiling derangement that is among the only truly funny moments of the special), but the writing isn't there. And a preponderance for Netflix self-promotion (something seen in "Black Mirror: Bandersnatch" and many a Netflix Christmas film) is distracting at best and truly annoying at worst. Tracey Ullman's Queen Elizabeth II hype "The Crown" is what one might call a bit too on the nose.

Tracey Ullman as Queen Elizabeth II on Netflix's "Death to 2020."
Tracey Ullman as Queen Elizabeth II on Netflix's "Death to 2020."

As a format, the best that can be said for the mockumentary-style of "Death" is that it is clearly socially distant. Repeated bits where an unseen director spoke with the talking heads fell distinctly flat, jokes about bad stock footage and the idiocy of Hugh Grant's historian character (who thinks "Game of Thrones" and "Star Wars" are real) repeated ad nauseam.

Netflix is not alone in trying to mine comedy from the ruins of 2020. Amazon will debut "Yearly Departed," Wednesday. The comedy special features female comedians, including Tiffany Haddish and Rachel Brosnahan, delivering eulogies for the worst bits of the year.

Hugh Grant as Tennyson Foss in Netflix's "Death to 2020" special.
Hugh Grant as Tennyson Foss in Netflix's "Death to 2020" special.

And while there is plenty to say about 2020, there isn't much that hasn't already been said. Maybe we need more time and perspective before a true look back can add anything to discussion, either serious or comedic. Maybe Brooker and Jones weren't the right filmmakers to add their voice to the mix.

Or maybe, if we really want to kill 2020, we should just stop talking about it all together.

More: How TV shows are handling COVID-19 stories: The good, the bad and the just plain sad

More: 50 best TV shows to watch on Netflix right now

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Death to 2020' review: Netflix special is half-hearted and lame