Funnier Than Nonfiction: SNL Alums' Documentary Now!

Aug 18, 2015 by Alex Castle

I have always been a sucker for a good documentary. Documentary feature (like Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room or Tim’s Vermeer, documentary TV series (VICE), newsmagazine show (60 Minutes), music documentary (Gimme Shelter) documentary short (everything on Facebook) – doesn’t matter. Even if the topic is something I don’t think I’m interested in, it’s only a few seconds before I’m hooked.

Fake documentary is not exactly a new idea: two of the greatest film comedies of all time (Albert Brooks’ Real Life and Rob Reiner’s This Is Spinal Tap) were “mockumentaries,” and they not only spawned whole subgenre, including all of Spinal Tap star Christopher Guest’s films; many of the conventions of documentary – handheld camera style, direct-to-camera “confessionals” by key subjects – have even seeped into more conventional formats like sitcoms (The Office, Modern Family and horror movies Chronicle, Cloverfield).

IFC’s new half-hour series Documentary Now!, premiering this Thursday at 10pm ET, takes things back to basics, spoofing a specific documentary (or type of documentary) with each episode, starting with the premiere’s sendup of the 1975 classic Grey Gardens, with series stars Fred Armisen and Bill Hader assuming the roles of the eccentric Kennedy cousins holed up in a squalid East Hampton estate. The series’ conceit, cooked up by Armisen, Hader, and co-executive producer Seth Myers (who all worked together on Saturday Night Live, obviously), is that Documentary Now! is celebrating 50 years of excellence, and re-running all its greatest pieces - presented by a dead-serious Helen Mirren.

IFC has posted the show’s second episode, a riff on HBO’s VICE, on YouTube in its entirety as a teaser, and it is very amusing, capturing the specific self-important (yet somehow blase) tone of the show. It makes me wonder what they’ll do for some of my favorites, and I’m looking forward to what they do next. Season one episodes include takes on classics like The Thin Blue Line, Nanook of the North, and The History of the Eagles (a recent favorite of mine).

The show has already been renewed for two more seasons, so don’t be the one binging to catch up just before season three kicks off – get in on the ground floor.

Documentary Now! airs new episodes on IFC at 10pm ET on Thursdays through September 24.

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