By Anne Brodie
Netflix debuts a clever, of-the-moment mockumentary on the state of things this past year; it’s all painfully, tragically, achingly there. Al Campbell and Alice Mathias’ Death to 2020 puts a deep (state) black comedy spin on Trump, COVID and its possibly true, never-said-out-loud origins, toxic US individualism, election chaos, the rise of the alt-right, nut-jobs, violence, lies, and the many deaths of innocent Black people at the hands of police. Trump tells people to inject bleach, online “contentainment” is the new boss, Tenet flops for flouting the “creepy old lockdown” and hats just the US. Then there’s the rest of the world’s explosions, So if you like your truths poured straight or served with laughter, you’ve got both. Samuel L. Jackson, Hugh Grant, Lisa Kudrow, Leslie Jones, Cristin Milioti, Laurence Fishburne, Hugh Grant, writer Charles Brooker and Annabel Jones play ordinary, professional, academic and other big thinkers parsing the hopefully once-in-a-century year. Tracey Ullman hilariously nails it as Queen Elizabeth, looking back ruefully and weighing her friendships with an American jackass president. It opens with the Australian fires, or “radicalized air”, goes to Davos, Greta Thunberg, the world’s richest man in his bunker, US strikes on Iran by “experimental pig man” DJT, Boris Johnson, RBG’s death, the soccer mom who doesn’t want any part of democracy if Trump doesn’t. 2020 – just why?
Amazon Prime delivers a comic deathblow to 2020 in Yearly Departed a female and women of colour lead collection of eulogies for what we lost and what we sadly gained, Casual sex, beige Band-Aids, societal upheaval, plague, murder hornets and banana bread, not to mention sourdough, the end of dressing, cabin fever, and my God, so much more, giving the stinkeye to the most crap year in living memory. Rachel Brosnahan produces and appears along with Sarah Silverman, Tiffany Haddish, Natasha Rothwell and more lady talents. Its true, 2020 was a triflin’ ho.
And there’s this:
Leap, Peter Ho-sun Chan’s ambitious story of the incredible forty-year history of China Women’s Volleyball Team is a breathtaking look at the sport and politics, its importance in raising China’s international standing and the sacrifices of the young women who played. Bai Lang, or Lydia, the real-life daughter of the lead character, superstar athlete Lang Ping, plays her mother and she’s got skills! The team, led by Ping had five consecutive championships in the 1980s and great successes until a 2008 loss against the US nearly ended the team. By then Ping was in the US but returned to China to coach and renew China’s reputation. The team’s early days were brutal, the girls were removed from their families, trained beyond exhaustion, suffered repeated injuries, no quarter was given and some quit. Some wound up with severe disabilities, and some died young. But a new spirit in coaching, a more humane, positive way under Ping got the team back on its feet. LEAP is a gripping story that lifts the veil off old and new China, using athletes for political purposes and the strength of the women over forty years under extremely demanding circumstances. VOD.
One sunny morning on the steps of Canberra, Australia’s Magistrates Court, Alex (Deborah Mailman), an aboriginal woman faces down a gunman who has just shot his wife. In a split second, he shoots himself rather than her. The video goes viral and Alex is a national hero. So begins Sundance Now‘s gripping political drama series Total Control. The Prime Minister (Rachel Griffith) facing an election and hanging on by the skin of her teeth, travels to Alex’s isolated home in Queensland’s remote territories to convince her to join the national Senate. She needs a fearless woman of conviction who has worked tirelessly to improve aboriginals’ future. It’s a gamble because the government is a white patriarchal, racist stronghold. The PM and Alex know what they face and carry on with instinctive drive. Against the obstacles Alex correctly foresees, she goes for it. Meanwhile, an aboriginal teenager in a detention centre is murdered by security officers with tear gas, while her friend surreptitiously videos the whole incident. She escapes and heads to Canberra to meet the “the Black Senator”, hitchhiking and stealing provisions; she commits a brutal act of self protection but carries on. Meanwhile Alex has been tasked with convincing her community to hand over lands to the US government for a defense airbase; the community’s complex, ancient political and tribal systems are in for a shock. Total Control in some ways parallels Canadian indigenous history, residential schools, historically racist and uncaring governments, substandard living standards and services. Oh, and hey Alex has an interesting sex life.
BritBox’ Scottish forensic investigation series Traces featuring Canada’s Jennifer Spence and starring current UK “It” girl Molly Windsor debuts Jan 4. A young woman’s on her way to Dundee to take a job at the Scottish Institute of Forensic Science and Anatomy hears a radio report that police have unearthed the body of a woman. Soon after another tragedy, two bodies burned in a fire in a locked bar. Could they be connected? While examining forensic evidence, Emma discovers the dead woman is her mother who disappeared 18 years earlier. Shock galvanizes her to act with the help of work colleagues and police investigations and find out what happened all those years ago. Her late mother’s friend makes an offhand remark about the condition of the woman’s body which opens a new chapter of horrors. Emma hopes her father, a shady dude, can shed light. Martin Compston stars as Daniel a local contractor who comes to Emma’s aid, just as Emma feels she’s entered dangerous territory. The moody thriller offers an interesting story, and a closeup look at crime and investigative forensic science, and the complexities of information gathering in all branches of investigation.
On a lighter note, Oscar nominated Lesley Manville stars in another BritBox‘ New Years Day release. Mum is recently widowed and in her sixties; she’s well off, has family and friends but finds it hard to get her bearings since the death of her husband. Her children idolise him and pooh pooh any idea that Mum might want to move on. And for now, she’s ok with it. They spend a weekend at her brothers ritzy rental to celebrate his birthday and it becomes a squirmy comedy of manners and bittersweet satire on, among other things, the nouveau riche “We’ve just got the 95 bottles of wine”, says Derek. A family friend (Michael (Mullan) piques her interest but disapproving her son and daughter act to scupper a potential romance. Mum’s ageing and edging-on-senile parents provide plenty of sly humour “He’d kill himself if he were even 10% Dutch” providing the Greek chorus to family goings-on. Her son’s passive aggressive pregnant girlfriend becomes more aggressive less passive, needling Mum, leading us to think she might be, well, out of her mind. Such fun!
Baby, it’s cold outside, and here’s how to really experience it! Super Channel Fuse debuts a fascinating new docuseries Secrets in the Ice on Jan 5. The six-parter takes us couch potatoes to the coldest places in the world where archeologists and scientists have un-iced clues to human history. Skeleton Lake, India, known as Roop Kund, 16000 feet up the Himalayan mountains, thaws just long enough in summer to reveal the bones and flesh of about 400 bodies, dating back to 850 AD. Each skull has the same head wound. What happened? The remains of an ancient stone hut found under a massive glacier in Southern Greenland reveals evidence of Viking black magic practices. A Siberian mummy with tattoos, a woolly mammoth, a WWII plane embedded 300 feet deep in ice, frozen corpses hanging upside down in an Alpine cave, buried underground military stations, and enormous craters are all grist for the mill. So why are we unearthing so much ice? Global warming, friends. Yup. The ice is diminishing fast. Who knows what other shockers will emerge? Did I mention they revived in a laboratory an ancient virus found under the ice?