Whether you’re a fan of documentaries or not, it’s difficult to resist the appeal of a great mockumentary. This Is Spinal Tap, Best in Show, The Office, and Reno 911! are all legendary—and Documentary Now!is aiming to join them.
SNL alums Seth Meyers, Bill Hader, and Fred Armisen were tapped to create the project following their hilarious 2013 sketch about a fictional English punk band called Ian Smith & the Bizarros. Rather than continue down that route, they expanded to cover several classic documentaries from Grey Gardens to Nanook of the North.
Adding a nice touch of gravitas, each episode is introduced by Helen Mirren, who Meyers says is apparently a big fan of the IFC hit Portlandia (stars—they're just like us!). Meyers sticks to writing, while Hader and Armisen play most of the characters on screen.
Hader is a master of impressions, and this is the ideal stage to see him at work. Particularly memorable is his role as Little Vivie, a Little Edie equivalent, in the Grey Gardens spoof Sandy Passages. Hader traipses around with a headscarf that’s in fact a set of sweatpants held together by a brooch, and though he is modest, saying, “I have no idea what will become popular,” there’s no doubt that this character will inspire countless Halloween costumes this year.
Aside from the general mockery, each episode stays true to the style and cinematography of the particular documentary being parodied. But if you're not an avid doc-watcher, don't fret: Meyers thinks that they’ll still be funny to viewers who haven’t seen the original documentary. “We’re all willing to embrace that this show’s target is probably people who are real cinephiles who like the idea that we’re going out and parodying things that maybe not a lot of people have seen,” he admits.
The standout from the series so far is “DRONEZ: The Hunt for El Chingon,” a play on VICE News. (You can actually catch the full “DRONEZ” episode here ahead of the premiere date.) Perhaps it’s because VICE is ripe for parody—the Onion did just recently release their own version, EDGE—but it also incorporates the most constant action, where other episodes can slog slightly. Still, they all seem to play out like a long-running inside joke between Meyers, Hader, and Armisen—if you enjoy watching them work together, then you’ll undoubtedly find Documentary Now! delightful.
But Hader seems satisfied regardless of what the reception will be. “To be honest, it’s probably not right for me to say this, but...I did this show for myself. I just wanna be there,” he said. “So I don’t know if people are gonna get it or not, but I hope they do. That’d be nice. But the main motivation was me and Seth and Fred. Let’s do this so we can see this.”
Photos by Tyler Golden/IFC