Friday, October 15

Charlie Brooker: ‘There is a certain liberation in laughing in the abyss’ | TV

me this year we’ve been unusually optimistic, ”Charlie Brooker says cheerfully from his living room in west London, a prop sign from the Bandersnatch episode of Black Mirror behind him. “Partly because I’ve always been pessimistic and feared the worst. Suddenly, I don’t have to worry about the worst, because it’s happening. I think being a worrisome, neurotic person has prepared me a bit for it. After the swine flu, I wouldn’t touch a door handle for about a year. “

There are other reasons for your unusual levels of joy. Considering that a global pandemic has resided for years in Brooker’s bustling mental database of potential catastrophes, he hasn’t had a bad 2020. In May, he hosted the BBC’s Antiviral Wipe, the network’s first comedy show to it was performed over (and under) blockage. . In July, Broke and Bones, the new production company launched by Brooker and his creative partner Annabel Jones, announced a deal with Netflix that extends well beyond its smash hit Black Mirror. The couple is opening their account with Death to 2020, a unique occasion (obviously) on what a rotten year it was. As Leslie Jones, one of the A-list guests, put it in the trailer: “I’d say it was a train wreck and a shit show, but that would be unfair to trains and stuff.”

Brooker wishes to emphasize what Death to 2020 is not. It is not, for example, an enhanced version of his beloved Annual Wipe shows, where he would helplessly scream at his television every Christmas for 10 years. And it’s definitely not, as some US fans have assumed, a dystopian drama adjacent to Black Mirror (unless you consider 2020 itself to be a dystopian drama, in which case it’s fair enough).

“We are not known for doing comedy in America,” Jones says from another West London living room. “I think people think we are very …”

“Depressed,” Brooker continues. “Grim. Angry. In Britain, people who knew Black Mirror had written came in expecting something darkly comical. In America, people think it was written by Unabomber.”

Brooker and Jones, who have worked together since Newswipe in 2009, enjoy making each other laugh and hope Death to 2020 will have the same effect on viewers.

“It’s dumber than a ‘Wipe’ show, says Brooker. “It is part record of the year, part parody documentary and part character comedy.”

Brooker has long been fascinated by how the real world is processed and distorted across the screen, from the brutal surrealism of his TVGoHome website 20 years ago to his scathing reviews of Guardian Guide TV and his 2008 drama Big Brother. meets zombies, Dead Set. This time around, the fake footage comes from the style of documentary favored by Netflix itself: the guy, he says, “opens with a drone shot of a forest and a gloomy note on a piano and then a bunch of talking heads and stuff. terrible things that happen ”.

Death to 2020 was written and rewritten with a team of writers over four months, then filmed over 10 days in late November, in London and Los Angeles. Brooker and Jones stayed up late every night, editing footage and monitoring Los Angeles shots, “like a vision mixer in hell. Not that hell has a vision mixer, “adds Brooker. “Why would I need one?”

Brooker doesn’t appear on screen, partly because he’s not a familiar face outside of the UK and partly because “I look awful in 4K.” But Wipe favorite Diane “Philomena Cunk” Morgan is listed as Gemma Nerrick, “one of the five most average people in the world”. There’s also Tracey Ullman as the Queen, Lisa Kudrow as a “gaslighting spokesperson” in the vein of Trump’s acolyte Kellyanne Conway, and a list of ridiculous talking heads including Samuel L Jackson, Kumail Nanjiani, Samson Kayo and Hugh Grant. . It was Grant who unknowingly leaked news of the project in an interview last month. “I’d like to think he was a little excited,” says Brooker. “He’s so fucking good that he can do whatever he wants. You can upload the script the day before if you want. “A clarification blow.” No, you can’t. “

Very funny ... Annabel Jones and Charlie Brooker.
Very funny … Annabel Jones and Charlie Brooker. Photography: Matt Holyoak

Unlike the “localized” Wipes, Death to 2020 is designed for a global audience, which means a lot of time spent on Covid-19, Black Lives Matter and the American elections, but a sad trombone for the more specialized local shitshows of the Kingdom. United. “Something like Barnard Castle doesn’t fit because you’d have to explain it to someone in Adelaide,” says Brooker.

Recent events have given Death to 2020 a somewhat happier ending than it could have had otherwise. The only two emphatically good news of the year came just days before the show began shooting. Having predicted Donald Trump’s victory in 2016, Brooker was more hopeful this time, but interesting 72 hours, I would say ”before Joe Biden’s victory was clear. A few days later, the first Covid-19 vaccine was announced, which Brooker appreciated on a narrative level. Immediately I am delighted as a human being and then quietly satisfied as a program creator. Thank you, destiny! “

“I heard that’s why scientists were quick to do it,” Jones says blankly.

“Yeah, I was on the phone with them all the time,” laughs Brooker.

We talked about how fictional dystopias are too pessimistic in some ways and too optimistic in others. Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion, for example, assumed that the United States government would have a competent, science-based response to a killer virus, while the climax of the original Watchmen comic was based on the idea that a global calamity would unite. mortal enemies. Neither of those propositions turned out to be accurate. Still, there are advantages.

“Societies don’t collapse as fast as they do in movies,” says Brooker. “The experience has been more of constant, low-level angst than fighting your neighbor over a bottle of water. I suppose the reason that movies need societies to collapse is the same reason that they need a room full of heroes to sort everything out before the credits roll. The reality is a bit more like The Thick of It. “

“I suppose the way China has responded is more like a movie,” Jones reflects. “That totalitarian state feels more cinematic than the one we’ve had in Europe.”

Brooker raises an eyebrow: “Are we discussing which country had the most cinematic response to the pandemic? Actually, that’s not a bad debate. “It is the strangeness of everyday rituals that unsettles him.” I feel dystopian vertigo every time I pick up the kids from school: come in this way, go out there, stay two meters away, wear a mask … “As if it were a sign, one of Brooker’s sons comes in on the call. having been sent home from school.” Someone in my spelling group had a crown! “he he chirps. “It spells ‘self-isolation,'” Brooker replies.

Black Mirror, Brooker and Jones’ other contribution to the canon of pop culture nightmares, is currently on hiatus, but not because of the pandemic. It’s just that, having produced three series and a devilishly complicated interactive special in four years, they were ready for “a breather,” says Jones.

I have a text message!  ... Tracey Ullman as the Queen.
I have a text message! … Tracey Ullman as the Queen. Photography: Keith Bernstein

If it weren’t for the virus, they would have been making history in the world presented by Philomena Cunk. Brooker sidesteps a question about future projects by pretending that Zoom has frozen, but then twice references A Touch of Cloth, his insanely silly police parody for Sky from a few years ago, as the kind of pure comedy he misses.

I have the impression that Brooker has grown a bit tired of his reputation as television’s prophet of doom now that “it’s like Black Mirror” has become a cliché. “Much satire is optimistic about the human condition,” he insists. “It points out where things have gone wrong, so you have to believe that things could work out.”

He also doesn’t really like the satirical label. “I quite like the gallows humor, but I also like stupid puns and surreal silly jokes. Even on ‘Wipe’ shows, the amount of satirical comments pales to insignificance alongside all the jokes or poking fun at someone’s hair. I think I’m incapable of being too serious for too long. “He laughs:” It probably comes down to that. I’m probably very superficial. “

Do you think it’s important to give people a chance to laugh at terrible things this year?

“I don’t think we’re laughing to them ”, he answers. “Maybe together with them. Or despite them. Dr. Strangelove appeared when it seemed like the world could disappear overnight. There is a certain release from laughing in the abyss, and also a release from remembering that you can still be foolish even when everything collapses around you. In fact, it is important to do that. “

Notice that comedy writers often translate well to horror, whether it’s Jordan Peele or Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith from Inside No. 9. “A lot of comedy is basically dystopia – the worst happens all the time to people, but you can laugh at it. that”.

You could say that the combination of global crisis and nasty jokes is the essence of what Brooker and Jones do, but he doesn’t think they’re unusual in feeling the need to laugh at the disaster. “People have been doing that anyway,” says Brooker. “Everyone has their ironic remarks and moments of absurdity. That’s only human. “

Death to 2020 is available on Netflix starting Sunday, December 27

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