The year 2020 has been bizarre. Or, as Phoebe Robinson eloquently puts it in the opening minutes of Yearly Departed, “2020, you were a big old dick and we are here to tell you to rest in peace even though you destroyed every little ounce of ours.” The hour-long comedy special, directed by Linda Mendoza with Bess Kalb serving as the head writer, does exactly that, finding an oddly cathartic way to mourn some of the things the world missed out on due to the global pandemic, among other problems. 2 Dope Queens’ Robinson hosts the special, which offers a series of eulogies by actors and comedians Rachel Brosnahan (who also serves as a producer), Tiffany Haddish, Sarah Silverman, Natasha Rothwell, Natasha Leggero, Patti Harrison, and Ziwe Fumudoh. Yearly Departed doesn’t necessarily strike comedy gold, but it makes the process of complaining about and bidding goodbye to a particularly tough year a little more tolerable.
The performers in Yearly Departed each infuse their own brand of humor into the special as they deliver eulogies on a set that’s designed to look like a funeral. It’s a breezy watch, one that brings together a group of talented women, though they don’t all get the material to make them shine. The special strikes a balance between talking about social issues that have plagued the country while also lamenting over pettier losses that feel strongly relatable. Fumudoh’s transition from the new array of Black and brown skin tones for bandages to corporations beating their own diversity drum is enjoyable to watch, especially her perfectly impassive delivery of the phrase “fine, here.” Harrison cries for the rich girl Instagram influencers who probably lost out on their branded partnerships this year in a splendidly overdramatic performance that rivals only the social media influencers she sends up.
Despite these refreshing performances, the entire comedy special feels a little too staged, which might be the result of shooting during a pandemic (with all the safety regulations required). A behind-the-scenes look suggests not all of the eulogizers were present on set at the same time, which leads to using cutouts of their heads for placement. Brosnahan, who is no stranger to stand-up comedy after three seasons of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, gives a slightly contrived performance. As she rips into why wearing pants is no longer important due to quarantine, it’s hard not to hope for her to show some of Midge’s effortless humor. Haddish is usually sparkling and animated, but the material—a bit on losing out on lots of casual sex—just doesn’t match her caliber.
Of the entire ensemble, it’s Rothwell and Silverman who bring the most to the performance, thanks to the hard-hitting subjects they have to work with. Rothwell, one of the breakouts of HBO’s Insecure, gets up on stage to mourn, or rather marvel at, the comeuppance of TV cops. This year’s Black Lives Matter protests brought the subject of police brutality to the forefront once again, which has led to television shows like Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Rookie, and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit to examine and revisit narratives that lead to police glorification. Through the veil of humor, Rothwell addresses the seriousness of it all while sprinkling pop-culture references (Dick Wolf, James McNulty, Carl Winslow!) throughout. She also gets the best gag of the special: making up shows highlighting mailmen and USPS workers instead. Who wouldn’t want to watch Mila Kunis and mailman Matt LeBlanc romance each other in U.S.P.S. I Love You (“All this talk about priority mail, when are you going to make me a priority?”) or Selena Gomez and Zendaya in a fake gritty drama called Going Postal about sex, drugs, and express two-day shipping?
Silverman, meanwhile, celebrates the demise of Making America Great Again following Joe Biden’s election victory over Donald J. Trump in the general election (though the latter continues to rage in denial). The notion of just trying to be good for a change would come off as preachy if not for Silverman’s blunt delivery that pulls off remarks about coming together in difficult times just as well as jokes about white liberals and MAGA’s diversity (“It doesn’t matter if someone was a disgraced lawyer, a disgraced CEO, or a disgraced white nationalist.”)
Despite its drawbacks, Yearly Departed manages to squeeze in a delightful musical performance while recapping the year with shoutouts to everything from Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively apologizing for getting married on a plantation to Megxit; from wildfires to mass unemployment; from those pesky murder hornets to a common enemy in iPhone’s screentime notifications. The special may not offer uproarious comedy, but Yearly Departed is still a good—and safe!—way of wrapping up a year that has felt like it went on for approximately 73 months.