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Charlie Brooker: ‘I pivoted to a strange kind of optimism’

The Death to 2020 co-creator shares how this year made him hopeful and why it might be the best year ever

Death to 2020 writer and co-creator Charlie Brooker has said the events of 2020 resulted in him feeling a ‘strange kind of near-optimism’, because society hasn’t collapsed in the way he might have envisaged in a Black Mirror episode.

New Netflix comedy special Death to 2020, produced by Brooker and Annabel Jones, uses a mockumentary format to review the year, with Samuel L. Jackson, Hugh Grant, Kumail Nanjiani, Tracey Ullman, and Lisa Kudrow among the characters sharing their opinions of the least popular 2020 in history.

Hugh Grant as Hugh Grant as history professor Tennyson Foss

During a press conference for the special, Brooker, Jones, and members of the cast were asked if they could draw a positive from this hellish leap year. To start, Brooker said one significant positive has been the appreciation shown for the NHS and everyone who keeps society “moving, healthy, and functional.”

“In the UK there's been a real appreciation of our National Health Service and each week everybody stood outside and applauded. We were extremely appreciative of the NHS. Then, six months previously, I would have complained about Amazon delivery drivers tossing a package over my gate. I’d have been moaning on Twitter. Suddenly, they're a flipping hero to me. I think this appreciation of the people who actually keep society moving, healthy, and functional has been good.”

Brooker then shared a personal positive which has emerged this year.

Tracey Ullman as Queen Elizabeth II

“You wouldn't tell this from Black Mirror, but I've always been a very paranoid and worried person who's neurotically concerned that the worst thing possible is about to happen. Oddly, when this happened, I think on some levels I pivoted to a strange kind of almost optimism. Once something terrible is happening it's suddenly a real and going concern. You're not worrying about some great unknown, you're dealing with an actual situation.

“If I'd been writing the Black Mirror version of a pandemic unfolding across the planet it would have been incredibly violent, and society would have collapsed into dust in a thrilling opening credit sequence. Generally speaking, thus far, your neighbour is more likely to help you with something than they are to fight you for a bottle of water.”

Leslie Jones as behavioural therapist Dr. Maggie Gravel

A sense of community and society not devolving into a Lord of the Flies fight for survival were surprises joined by one which self-confessed cynic Brooker never saw coming - crying while watching the news. When Brooker saw 91-year-old Margaret Keenan become the first recipient in the world of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, he burst into tears.

I'm a cynical person and I burst into tears. I was wracked with sobs at my desk in a way that never happens in my life. It was the relief and the joy, and just being so grateful to the scientists who have been working on this. There's a palpable image of hope and there have been several cathartic and hopeful releases in the year. So maybe we'll look back on it as the best year ever.”

Death to 2020 drops onto Netflix on Sunday 27th December

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