Death To 2021

“I forgot what cinemas were like, you can’t pause the film to go to the loo. So I had to go right there in the seat.”

As much as we all would probably like to stride away from 2021 and leave it in the dust, there’s something to be said for shining a comedic light over a year and going out of it on a high. This is something that Charlie Brooker knows all too well; his Screenwipe and Weekly Wipe spin-off specials for the BBC, recounting the year’s news in a satirical fashion, would eventually lead to Death To 2020 as a result of his deal with Netflix; an hour-long comedy special featuring popular actors from both sides of the Atlantic lampooning the year’s news in a considerably partial fashion. The concept returns with Death To 2021, with a few changes; both positive and negative

Longtime Brooker-collaborator Diane Morgan is back as Gemma Nerrick in Netflix’s Death To 2021

If you read my review of Death To 2020, you’ll know that I enjoyed it; and Death To 2021 is mostly the same as we got from the first. A number of cast members return; most notably Hugh Grant as British historian Tennyson Foss OBE, Diane Morgan as “member of the public” Gemma Nerrick and Cristin Miloti as Trump-supporting, conspiracy theorist housewife Kathy Flowers. Notable debuts include Lucy Liu as journalist Snook Austin and Stockard Channing as journalist Penn Parker. The loss of some actors is out felt, primarily Lisa Kudrow’s excellent turn as Jeanetta Grace Susan, but her replacement is a re-purposed Tracey Ulman as fake Fox News host Madison Madison, who is much better utilised in that role than she was as The Queen in Death To 2020.

While Death To 2021 is not afraid to wear its left-leaning politics on its sleeve (and every other item of clothing), in a style traditional to Brooker-led programmes, the show does suffer by Brooker not taking a more active role in the writing room this time around. That is not to say the jokes aren’t there, and lead writer Ben Caudell, as a long-time collaborator of Brooker and Annabel Jones still manages to maintain the expected tone, but this outing still feels like it lacks a little something, like a pot of chili which is missing the paprika; though when the script does find its more cutting lines they cut hard, and some of narrator Laurence Fishburne’s lines are particularly devastating, perhaps enhanced by a lessening in the overall vitriol present in the piece.

Cristin Miloti once again steals the show as Kathy Flowers in Netflix’s Death To 2021.

Cristin Miloti is, again, the stand-out star of Death To 2021, building on the excellent characterisation of Kathy Flowers in Death To 2020 in an incredible way. Without spoilers, the footage created to demonstrate her activities over the course of the year is incredible, and one early revelation was so well put together that I almost choked on water because it caught me so by surprise. Hugh Grant also puts in another strong showing, with his more conservative character getting multiple opportunities to display the characteristic hypocrisy from the original, and Diane Morgan returns to essentially play the same character she has always played for Charlie Brooker, but that’s a good thing because she is just that damn good at it. William Jackson Harper debuts as a social media network CEO, essentially replacing Kumail Nanjiani in the role from the previous show, and arguably falls into that role better than Nanjiani did with a very enjoyable performance. Joe Keery is back as social media influencer Duke Goolies, and it’s here that some of the breaks in the script show the strongest, with the team lampooning the idea of social media influencers, especially TikTokkers, in a way that says more about the age of the writing room than it does about the actual effect of social media in the modern world; but Keery is engaging enough to make those segments enjoyable, regardless of the skewed perspective.

The takeaway from Death To 2021 is pretty easy; if you enjoyed Death To 2020, there’s something here for you to enjoy as well. If you didn’t like the original, you probably won’t like this (and you definitely won’t like it if your politics skew to the right, because you are not the hero of this story). Regardless, I feel like there are a lot of us who are still hoping to see Brooker return to his original annual review format down the line, as unlikely as that may be.

Dave McGuckin is a theatre graduate, bar manager, former comedian and eternal film lover from Northern Ireland, now living in Canada. He began writing film reviews in 2016 for The Grade and then Great Central, both based in Leicester, England.

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Published by theirishdave

An Irishman in Toronto who feels like his thoughts about modern media should be inflicted upon others, for some reason.

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