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Of course, it all began with a corny  joke from Barbara Walters: “This is 2020.”

For American viewers, 2020 started as the kind of political drama we’ve been accustomed to watching every four years, when the nation selects a president. With a divisive Republican in office, enjoying a booming economy, the dramatic tension built around a large cast of characters comprising a discordant chorus of Democrats. In a year where people had taken to the streets to protest police brutality and had attempted to reform their work and social spaces in response to the #MeToo movement, viewers wondered if Democrats would pick a woman, a woman of color, an Asian entrepreneur, a homosexual smalltown mayor, or a Jewish socialist to represent them.

Viewers in January and February were transfixed.

In March, perhaps in response to low ratings, the producers took a sharp and unexpected turn, borrowing new and old cultural resources such as The Andromeda Strain, Contagion and The Leftovers—a prestigious HBO television series based on a novel by Tom Perrotta. The Leftovers wondered what life would be like on Earth if a small percentage of the population were snatched away and taken for no good reason. It’s a provocative question but, with deference to spoilers for those of you who haven’t finished the year yet, let’s just say that Perrotta’s fictional universe took events far more seriously than 2020 did.

By March, the cast of 2020 had been forced indoors and the political plot was lost as a cast of 330 million people debated over mask-wearing, social distancing, remote work, online schooling and whether drinking on a sidewalk, illegal in most communities, could count as hanging out at a bar. Donald Trump, introduced to the series as president in the brave but flawed farce called 2016 continued to play the now tired joke of not “growing to accept the weight and responsibility of his office.”

Meanwhile, another subplot saw the country run out of toilet paper, though how this was related to the pandemic was never convincingly explained.

The Democratic sub-plot resolved itself with the nomination of Joe Biden, who had been previously cast as an extra in several other election year specials. While some called it a hackneyed choice, the showrunners must have realized that after a major plot twist just one quarter into the show, they needed a character who could be counted on to reliably deliver familiar lines.

Oddly, throughout the development of the election plot, Biden was rarely used. He emerged now and then, to choose Kamala Harris as running mate, for example, and there were some testy debates, but the writers were able to use the pandemic quarantine as an excuse to push the politicking off stage. Also, in some comedic bits of character revelation, they had Donald Trump speaking almost all of the time, making the case against his own presidency by denying the validity of the health crisis and holding large public rallies where his own supporters became sick, with some dying.

Then, in an audacious October surprise, Trump himself caught the virus and recovered with the help of state of the art medicine available to nobody else.

While we have to skip over a bit in such a vast story, Trump winds up seeming to win the election on election night but then loses badly after mail in votes are counted. Because turnout was so high, both candidates actually broke records for amassing votes, a nice foreshadowing of an antic and divided nation, sure to factor into 2021.

In the fourth act of 2020, Trump refuses to admit that he lost and we’re treated to slapstick comic antics by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a fading star who had been nominated for several awards for his work in 2001. In 2020 he farts during a public hearing in Pennsylvania and a few scenes earlier, he tries to seduce a minor who is actually an actor colluding with a reporter from Kazakhstan. Also, Lindsey Graham is still on the show. Finally, several vaccines were created, the rollout of which, along with the start of the Biden presidency, should set up the first two acts of 2021.

The creators of 2020 certainly took some risks, but they were not well-rewarded. Their unfortunate, juvenile and frankly cynical willingness to guide the characters towards utter stupidity for no payoff more than cheap laughs will keep 2020 from even earning a cult following for its badness.

Michael Maiello

Michael Maiello is a New York-based playwright, author and humorist. His work has appeared in McSweeney's, The New Yorker, and Weekly Humorist. He has two plays available through

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