The highlight of the festive TV watching in my house was never The Queen’s Speech, or Doctor Who, or The Big Fat Quiz of the Year. For my Dad and I, it was Charlie Brooker’s Wipes, the Black Mirror creator’s annual look at the world and how it had gone down the pan that year. But in a year where things went more down a shit-filled waterslide – twisting and twirling you until you are covered in shit before landing in a big dung heap at the bottom, which also happens to be on fire – Brooker and his long-time producer Annabel Jones aimed to do a more ambitious project: Death to 2020.
When the teaser broke for the film, I was ecstatic. Having watched Brooker’s Antiviral Wipe back in May, I expected comedy of the same level. His show in May was biting and brilliant, a satire already looking back on the events that were still unfolding. I loved the makeshiftness of it: filmed in his own house with his furniture taped up in black tarpaulin to make it look more like a film set, Brooker sat on his sofa and hilariously narrated the chaos of the world around him.
With Death to 2020 being the first in a multi-million-pound deal struck between Brooker, Jones and Netflix, I expected a lot. Netflix has a lot more money than the good old BBC and I wanted to see what they could do with it. At first, I was not disappointed, the cast shone like diamonds: Samuel L Jackson, Hugh Grant, Lisa Kudrow, Cristin Milloti, and Diane Morgan, amongst many others. But what I did not realise from the trailer was that with the awful script they had been given these actors might as well have been lumps of coal.
Hugh Grant manages the best ut of the crew, playing a bigoted historian. Even though some of the jokes he has been given are terrible, he soldiers on through and makes something of the performance. On the other hand, Cristin Milloti is awful. Playing “an average Soccer-Mom”, who has also become a conspiracy theorist and a Neo-Nazi, nothing that comes out of her mouth is remotely amusing. She looks perfect in the role and I understand what her jokes were aiming for but nothing she said landed. The American comedy never translates for me, but even when it’s mixed in with more British humour, it left no one laughing.
Perhaps what lets this film down is that Brooker’s intended audience is not clear. His Wipes were produced for the BBC and aimed at the British public. Whilst Black Mirror can be watched and enjoyed from both sides of the Atlantic as the critique on technology is more universal, political satire is harder to manage, especially when irony is rarely recognised in the American realm of comedy. His topics are often just too broad to find a joke, unlike his focused cynicism of the past which the British public immediately understood and related to.
With eighteen writers on the bill, it is both surprising and unsurprising that it is scripted so poorly. Whilst there is a moment or two when real comedy glimmers through, another hopeless quip is read out and once again the audience is back to dismay. One of the on-running gags is just about Joe Biden being four hundred years old, it is not funny the first time it is read out and it is still not funny the fourth.
Perhaps it is just too difficult to make light of events that have scarred us all and maybe I wouldn’t let Brooker get away with it. Maybe if he hadn’t produced such a cracking show in May, demonstrating what he can do when he has full control of the script and is centre stage, this production may have worked better. But he is nothing but a voice off camera in Death to 2020 and the result is disastrous.
I hope this deal with Netflix leads to more exciting projects from Brooker but between this turd churned out in ten days of filming and a poor recent season of Black Mirror, I’ve become as cynical as him.
Image: mahamood via Wikimedia Commons