Non-Geek TV From The Geek Perspective: Documentary Now

Gabbing Geek What We're Watching

There’s a lot of TV out there, and some of it is parody of things many would not think to parody.

I speak of the IFC series Documentary Now.

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What’s the premise?

Set as a fictional documentary TV series, each episode, introduced by Helen Mirren (as herself), parodies a different famous documentary.

What’s the appeal?

The series has a strong pedigree of recent Saturday Night Live cast members.  SNL boss Lorne Michaels executive produces the series, every episode features characters played by Fred Armisen and Bill Hader, and the series itself was created (and largely written) by Armisen, Hader, and another former SNL writer/performer Seth Meyers.

Anything stand out?

Good parody works best when it is clear that it isn’t just the subject being parodied, but also the style.  Mel Brooks and Edgar Wright have both demonstrated that skill in the past, and everything about a given episode of Documentary Now will be funny by itself, but also do a rather masterful job of copying the style of the documentary being parodied.

Take, for example, the second episode.  The episode parodies HBO’s Vice with Jack Black cameoing as the boss/host of the show-within-a-show.  Not only do Armisen and Hader portray multiple hipster-type reporters who embody first-world privilege cluelessness, but the editing, the music, the cuts and wipes, all point right back to the parody source that anyone who’s ever seen any of Vice would recognize easily.

Fans of documentaries will probably love this stuff.

Any downsides?

Well, if you don’t recognize the documentaries being parodied, your enjoyment may vary.

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