Current to please a hyper-specific sort of comedy and filmmaking fan, Documentary Now! is an IFC half-hour anthology collection the place each episode presents immaculately crafted spoofs of and takes on documentaries. With a stacked artistic group of expertise — together with author/performers Fred Armisen and Invoice Hader, author/producers Seth Meyers and John Mulaney, administrators Alex Buono and Rhys Thomas, and host Helen Mirren — the present finds jokes and truths in equal measure, in each nook and cranny of manufacturing. You will snort as a lot on the accuracy of “Nineteen Eighties documentary typography” as you’ll at Armisen and Hader sporting wigs and utilizing foolish voices. How does this present exist? I am so grateful it does.
With three seasons produced to date, a fourth on the way in which, and the current inclusion of 1 landmark episode on the Criterion Collection package of its parody goal, we now current to you the seven greatest Documentary Now! episodes, all stuffed with wondrous manufacturing design, subtly foolish performances, and emotion-driven turns you may by no means see coming.
7. “Unique Solid Album: Co-Op” (Season 3, Episode 3)
“Unique Solid Album: Co-Op” is each ruthless and ambling, lower to the bone whereas letting numbers play out, a chunk of comedy predicated on one laser-focused premise — the present you are recording an album for has been cancelled — and prepared to seek out and showcase all of the tangled ivy round that premise. It is stuffed with performative cynicism, particularly within the type of Mulaney because the relentless ringmaster of his forged of singers, but additionally finds a sort of romanticism inherent within the observe of “essentially the most gifted artists locking themselves in a room and never leaving till artwork is made.” Paula Pell, Renée Elise Goldsberry, and episode MVP Richard Variety get to go on mini-arcs of redemption of their massive performances, even because the existential despair of “this present is not taking place” looms over all of them. On this inherent rigidity, “Co-Op” finds a basic reality (whereas being desperately, savagely humorous) about an artist working within the current second: It is at all times concerning the course of, by no means the consequence.
6. “Batshit Valley” (Season 3, Episodes 1-2)
Aping the up to date glut of “status cult docuseries” completely (suppose Wild Wild Nation), “Batshit Valley” is an unstoppably humorous two-parter, a terrific reminder of how foolish and playful veterans like Owen Wilson and Michael Keaton might be, and an absolute breakthrough efficiency for Necar Zadegan. Zadegan performs a sort of Dick Cheney Quantity Two to Wilson’s alluring however nonsensical cult chief, the charged missile prepared to seek out, use, and hold her energy via no matter means essential, whether or not that is taking up a metropolis, squabbling about greens, or mendacity about an clearly horrible automotive accident. Usually, Documentary Now! episodes are a marvel of pacing, a triumph of packing tons of story and invention into 22-minute chunks. However “Batshit Valley” does not ever really feel long-winded or wasteful in its two-parter standing; as a substitute, it simply takes the additional time to pack in much more twists and character beats and revelations hitting that candy spot between silliness and pathos.
5. “Globesman” (Season 2, Episode 4)
Talking of silliness and pathos: “Globesman” is Documentary Now! working as a full-on tragedy, a peak of unhappy comedy that technically has a “completely happy ending,” however one hard-earned by a sort of gritted empathy, one with echoes of despair that can make you shake your head with quiet laughter for a while to come back. Taking its framework from important documentary Salesman (this episode additionally made that Criterion disc’s bonus features), the episode casts Armisen and Hader amongst a cavalcade of “unhappy however blustery males” as globe salesmen. The crew travels throughout America, attempting desperately to get poor households to purchase shoddy globes, attempting desperately to outlive, not to mention thrive. It is a work of comedy stuffed with criticism about sexism, consumerism, the damaged guarantees of American exceptionalism, and the damaged creature comforts damaged males resort to (i.e. getting drunk in a motel room and peeing on Armisen). And that ending is simply devastating, heartbreaking, and quietly inspirational in a means TV comedies hardly ever get to be.
4. “Light & Smooth: The Story of the Blue Jean Committee” (Season 1, Episodes 6-7)
One other two-parter, “Light & Smooth: The Story of the Blue Jean Committee” comprises two basic clashes of contexts that by no means stop to make me snort. The primary, macro conflict: The pretend band in focus The Blue Jean Committee, as hinted at by tunes like “Light & Smooth” and “Catalina Breeze,” is among the many softest of soppy rock outfits, extra involved with main sevenths and tasteful triangles than exhausting rock or punk-filled attitudes. And but, the episode tracks their pretend historical past with as a lot drama, infighting, and hard-fought breakups-turned-reunions as any Stroll the Line-esque biopic or Behind the Music psychodrama. This degree of dedication, by way of filmmaking, musicality, and emotional instability, is all-encompassing in its formal rigor, making the episode really easy to let your self get washed in. The Blue Jean Committee will really feel actual along with feeling actually humorous.
And the second, rather more micro conflict: Hader’s bass participant speaks in a tough, deep Chicago accent, however sings in a fantastic falsetto. I am crying laughing simply excited about it.
3. “Juan Likes Rice & Rooster” (Season 2, Episode 3)
A refreshing seltzer to “Globesman”s exhausting bourbon and much more mild than “Light & Smooth,” “Juan Likes Rice & Rooster” is vibrant, foolish, emotionally pushed, and superbly, even sappily heartwarming. Taking its cue (and title) from Jiro Desires of Sushi, “Juan Likes Rice & Rooster” is a narrative about dedication, mastery of craft, and the anxieties that come when a father passes on duty to his youngsters. It is also a narrative about being dreadfully afraid of hen, having heaps and many coronary heart assaults, and working a restaurant in an absurdly distant location. It is so humorous, so well-made, and so, so candy; its ending moments made me tear up, so earnest are its messages, so briefly uninterested it’s in being a “comedy.” It is only a friggin’ miracle this bizarre present is on the air!
2. “Sandy Passage” (Season 1, Episode 1)
“Sandy Passage,” the very first episode of Documentary Now!, performs like an environment friendly proof-of-concept of what the entire collection can be. Aping Gray Gardens, Armisen and Hader play two previous cronies who’ve secluded themselves inside the rusted and crusted partitions of their previously palatial estates. Sporting ornate make-up, wigs, and costumes, and affecting broad vocalizations of those eccentric, troubled, rich ladies, Armisen and Hader have a ton of enjoyable frightening guttural laughs cleanly, whereas the present round them thrives with pitch-perfect parody of the formal stylings of this sort of documentary. It is easy, essentially constructed, straightforward tv…
…for its first half. The second half cascades into one thing utterly completely different, one thing inherently lurking inside the unique Gray Gardens textual content, one thing this present is unafraid to make use of the powers of fictionalization and comedy to blow out of proportion. It thus turns right into a radically completely different proof-of-concept, one which guarantees Documentary Now! to be no mere pastiche. It should, like, shake you.
1. “Any Given Saturday Afternoon” (Season 3, Episode 7)
Written by I Suppose You Ought to Go away co-creators Zach Kanin and Tim Robinson, “Any Given Saturday Afternoon” places Robinson, Michael C. Corridor, and Bobby Moynihan on the heart of the wild world of aggressive bowling, telling a narrative of previous triumphs and future reprisals of glory. On this story, Documentary Now! finds and communicates each pleasure of the present at its highest degree. There’s the spectacular formal homages, the latent emotional unhappiness, the stunning twists and turns, the slow-pace-crammed-into-a-fast-pace, the “very humorous folks sporting very humorous wigs and behaving very funnily” performances, and most welcomely, the downright heartwarming ending. It is a humorous, fearless feat of tv, a wild intersection between “broad sketch comedy” and “essentially the most area of interest comedy ever produced,” a half-hour quick movie that proves reality is not at all times stranger than fiction, however it definitely helps for inspiration.
Five of them, one of him…who will win?
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