Netflix’s end of year special Death to 2020, made by Black Mirror creators Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones, was supposed to be a surprise, announced mere days before its December 27 release. Actor Hugh Grant presumably had a different plan, inadvertently lifting the veil off the project in a late November interview with New York magazine Vulture.

“I’m doing a thing tomorrow, actually. Charlie Brooker has written a mockumentary about 2020. It’s for Netflix, and I am a historian who’s being interviewed about the year. I’m pretty repellent, actually! And you’ll like my wig,” said Grant.

Death to 2020 recaps the major events of the year blending starkly-delivered factually-correct information and satirical material. “The whole format is slightly tweaking the nose of high-end Netflix documentaries, so it sort of made sense to be doing the show in this form and also on Netflix,” said Brooker himself during an interview with The Hollywood Reporter.

The special contains a host of comedians and actors alluding to specific individuals or broad archetypes we have become acquainted with over the past year. Samuel Jackson portrays a New York-based journalist, Grant a seemingly objective historian who unwittingly lets his biases and age permeate his statements, while Lisa Kudrow plays a political commentator in the vein of Kayleigh McEnany or Tomi Lahren.

Kumail Nanjiani’s Bark Multiverse contains allusions to an uncomfortably large number of Silicon Valley technology company owners, while the enduringly proficient Tracey Ullman plays the Queen herself, while Diane Morgan arguably steals the show with her performance as “one of the five most average people in the world”.

These are just the highlights. Laurence Fishburne is the narrator and waited till the very end to record just a few days before the show was completed so the script was as recent and up-to-date as possible.

“We wanted to film everyone as late as possible. In an ever-changing year, you want to be topical. So we filmed everyone at the end of November and beginning of December, and left Laurence to the very end,” Jones said in the Hollywood Reporter interview.

“We kept joking about how something else was going to happen, and then something else would happen. Immediately when we locked the picture, London goes into Tier 4 and there are all these other sorts of things that are happening,” added Brooker.

Also speaking about the extremely small window between completing the project and its release, Brooker reiterated the primary worry for creators was a new event would take place, that was impossible to ignore. “One year, we did a topical show for the BBC and then the day after we delivered it, some huge story broke,” he said.

But Brooker and Jones honed in on the most universal and substantial stories of the year, the US Election, the global reach of Black Lives Matter and, of course, the coronavirus. “This is a global special but we weren’t trying to pack in all of the stories from everywhere around the world,” he added.

Brooker fans will see similarities with another show: BBC Four’s Newswipe with Charlie Brooker, but the creator is not keen to paint the two shows as the same. “It’s sillier than a ’Wipe show. It’s part record of the year, part spoof documentary and part character comedy,” Brooker told the Guardian.

But despite providing a bit of light relief for viewers around the world, Death to 2020 has not been much of a success with critics, receiving generally unfavourable reviews. “Death to 2020 is ultimately just more of the same painfully humourless noise that’s made up most of the year,” wrote Vox’s Aja Romano.

The London Evening Standard’s Nancy Durant wasn’t much of a fan of it either. “Too often it wasn’t quite clever enough to raise much more than a half-smile at this already listless moment in a miserably uncertain year,” Durant wrote.

Armchair reviewers have been much kinder though, with the audience approval score on Rotten Tomatoes currently hovering at the 69 per cent mark.