Charlie Brooker’s hilarious Antiviral Wipe provides much-needed coronavirus catharsis

The quick-paced satirical special makes Brooker's return to our screens well worth the wait, says Lauren Morris

Charlie Brooker's Antiviral Wipe

After spending the last eight weeks glued to our TV sets in lockdown, the suggestion of re-watching five months worth of coronavirus coverage would make most people want to swear off their screens for good.

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But somehow, Charlie Brooker’s ScreenWipe makes the experience both bearable and cathartically entertaining.

After four years off-screen, Brooker is back with another Wipe special but this time, he’s directing his trademark mix of sarcasm, cynicism and silliness towards the biggest news story of our lifetimes – COVID-19. And he certainly doesn’t hold back, packing the 45-minute episode full of scathing take-downs of public figures, relatable observations of lockdown life and the occasional toilet-related joke.

Brooker kicks-off the quick-paced special by taking us back to 2020 BC (before corona), also known as January, reminding us that the press did actually cover stories unrelated to the pandemic, such as Brexit, Megxit and Phillip Schofield’s emotional coming-out, even if it feels like all that happened a lifetime ago.

He quickly moves on, however, taking us on an extensive coronavirus journey through recent history. From our reaction to the virus’s origins in Wuhan (“China, that’s miles away, who gives a f**k”), to the dawn of panic-buying toilet roll and the “tasty combination” of pasta, yeast and hand gel, Brooker isn’t afraid to take a pop at the public’s ever-changing pandemic attitude.

Unsurprisingly, the Prime Minister bears the brunt of Brooker’s satirical jabs throughout the episode. The presenter makes sure to highlight the “mega-womble’s” absence at early COBRA meetings and his confusing advice on handshakes, whilst repeatedly referencing Boris’s red Brexit bus which promised the NHS £350 million.

It’s not just Boris who receives the Wipe treatment. From “Apprentice finalist” Rishi Sunak and “your sister’s first boyfriend with a car” Matt Hancock, to Gal Gadot and Elton John, no one is safe from Brooker’s derision. Even Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty is described as a “prematurely aged Tin Tin”.

The highlight of the episode, however, has to be the return of Philomena Cunk (Diane Morgan) and Barry Shitpeas (Al Campbell) who pop up throughout the special to give their classically idiotic takes on the pandemic, sharing their ill-informed and misguided views on the 5G conspiracy and the US President’s suggestion of injecting disinfectants.

Diane Morgan as Philomena Cunk
Diane Morgan as Philomena Cunk

Other guest stars include TV presenter Konnie Huq, also Brooker’s wife, seen putting her Blue Peter skills to work by making face masks and attempting to homeschool their children.

Brooker does also find time to quite literally put his earnest hat on, telling viewers, “whoever and however you are, do hold on because we need you”, before reverting back to his default sarcasm.

This refreshingly honest and sharp look at quarantine life is relatable for all of us stuck inside – from the new hobbies we’ve been taking up (“baking, writing novels and screaming at the f***king walls”) to the never-ending Zoom calls which we spend judging our colleagues/friends’ backgrounds.

Antiviral Wipe is exactly what the public need as we enter our third month in lockdown, allowing us to laugh at clips we had previously watched in horror and find humour in the coronavirus chaos.

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Antiviral Wipe is available to watch on BBC iPlayer