Tube Talk: Documentary Now!

By Paula Hendrickson

Maybe I’m in the minority, but I love watching documentaries. Whether they explore a specific topic or focus on interesting individuals, I love how documentaries introduce viewers to people, times, places, or events unknown to them.

Last year, about two minutes into the first episode of IFC’s “mockumentary” series, Documentary Now! it became clear that the creative collective behind it loves documentaries even more than I do.

Brought to you by former Saturday Night Live standouts Bill Hader, Fred Armisen, and Seth Meyers, each episode of this brilliant homage to the genre focuses on a different style of documentary filmmaking. Not only are the scripts on point, each episode uses production techniques specific to the type of documentary being parodied, which adds yet another level of perfection to the series.

The show proves that Hader and Armisen really are human chameleons. They disappear into such well-drawn characters that you can forget you’re watching such familiar faces. (During one episode I found myself wondering where Hader was when he was actually on screen.)

In its first season, there was a pitch-perfect spoof of Gray Gardens, with Armisen and Hader playing the dysfunctional co-dependent mother-daughter duo to perfection. Other episodes from that season took on investigative reporting, real-crime stories, quirky human interest pieces, behind-the-music sagas, and making-of documentaries.

Each piece has a specific visual style, and even the smallest of details matter. But perhaps the real stroke of genius was casting Academy Award winner Helen Mirren – who plays herself – as the host who introduces each new “film”. She brings such gravitas that a casual viewer might think the documentaries that follow are real.

If you missed the first season of Documentary Now!, have no fear. Each of the seven episodes stands on its own, so there’s nothing to catch up on before tuning in to the documentary parody series when it returns to IFC this week (that said, you can see some past episodes on IFC’s website:

Personally, I can’t wait for the first episode of the new season, “The Bunker,” which parodies the classic 1993 political documentary, The War Room.

Programming Note:

Documentary Now! airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on IFC.

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