Despite 2016 being a notoriously dire year in terms of global events, it will be a year Charlie Brooker will remember fondly. His science-fiction Netflix series Black Mirror released a third season in November to critical acclaim, achieving a 93% critic rating on Rotten Tomatoes. With the first two seasons being broadcast on Channel 4, the show wasn’t widely known outside of the UK. The release of this third season on Netflix brought the show into the worldwide eye and Charlie Brooker was being praised in levels he probably hadn’t experienced the scale of.
I’ve been a big fan of Brooker’s work for a long time. His jaded Screen Burn columns in the Guardian from 2000 to 2010 were the first pieces of journalism I actively sought out. The Wipe format he became so know for was something I watched and re-watched. This format has been on our screens for ten years, and with 2016 drawing to a close, I was eagerly awaiting his annual month-by-month roundup, albeit with a fearful eagerness. Not many formats stay fresh after a decade, and even though the yearly Wipes bear little resemblance to a Screenwipe episode from 2006, they are themselves in their seventh year. With a year as eventful as 2016 and Brooker’s name now known worldwide, it’s fair to say I wasn’t the only one looking forward to an hour of sarcastic ramblings on a year we’d all rather forget.
2016 Wipe started unlike other years; Brooker himself could be seen wandering in the background of the standard Wipe set. He could be heard on the phone talking to the show’s producers, explaining how depressing a 2016 Wipe would be. It is only when he reluctantly accept due to the payment he would receive that the opening credits roll. This short sequence sets the tone for the entire Wipe, self-aware and more disappointed than ever.
The Wipe, like 2016 itself, was dominated by the two biggest events of the year: Brexit and the US Election. Brooker handled each vote with deftness, acknowledging obviously the complete unexpectedness of the results and extremities of each campaign, but spending a lot of time referencing the confirmation bias bubble experienced by the losing side of each vote. One thing Brooker captured perfectly was the feeling of waking up to the news of Trump winning the US election, which he humorously shows by himself going to the café the losing team goes to in The Apprentice. Brooker has now gotten to the stage in his career where he knows his audience like the back of his hand. After showing Nigel Farage’s infamous “without a single bullet being fired” victory speech, Brooker references the tragedy of Jo Cox’s murder with no more than a facial expression. 2016 Wipe was more to the point than previous years. There was no introduction to regular segments like Cassetteboy’s remixes, this year a mashup of Trump quotes to Outkast’s Ms Jackson. This year felt like Brooker didn’t even need to try very hard to make an entertaining Wipe. It felt as though he hit his stride and was doing everything from muscle memory.
I think the Wipe has now got to the point where there are so many regular items that maybe the format should be extended from 60 to 90 minutes. A lot of segments, like Philomena Cunk’s Moments of Wonder, felt crammed in towards the end. With a 90 minutes format, I think Brooker could have expanded on subjects he clearly wanted to talk more on, like the media’s role in major news stories this year. Even notable real world events weren’t touched at all. The Colorado nightclub shootings, Nice and Brussels terror attacks and Leicester City winning the Premier League weren’t even brought up. Obviously this could have been an editorial decision, but these are the types of events Brooker has always had a lot of material on. If his material has run out on these unfortunately regular occurrences, maybe that isn’t good news for future years.
2016 Wipe was a triumph. The events of a packed and landmark year for many reasons were dealt brilliantly and with laughs to boot. Brooker clearly still has passion for his Wipes, and even though the BBC could milk the success of them, they seem not to be doing so. We’ll have to see if this changes in the coming years. But in terms of 2016, I don’t believe a more entertaining summary exists of the year than 2016 Wipe. And coupled with the success of Black Mirror, I think Charlie Brooker will be very happy with the year we all love to hate.
Charlie Brooker's 2016 Wipe is available to watch on BBC iPlayer until the 1st of February 2017.