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Hollywood Insider Documentary Now Review, IFC, Comedy

Photo: ‘Documentary Now’/IFC

A tribute to classic documentaries- seems like a pretty normal premise for a show, right? But add in a boatload of SNL alums and give them free reign to do whatever is funniest and you’ve got one crazy show. IFC’s Documentary Now started airing in 2013. It parodies what is considered to be the greatest documentaries in history.  Every episode is introduced by Helen Mirren which adds a level of prestige and sophistication given her multiple Oscar wins and her British accent. Then things fly off the rails. Each installment is a parody of a different documentary and has a completely unique style, whether it be Sandy Passage which parodies Grey Gardens and gets increasingly more surreal and insane every second, or The Hunt for El Chingon, a parody of Vice, which thrives on humor which can only be described as dark stupidity.

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Bringing Documentary to Mainstream Audiences

Documentary is seen as a very niche art form. Many people view the genre as unapproachable because it’s seen as less entertainment and more educational, and people prefer to be entertained when viewing movies. Documentary Now! unlocks the documentary genre for those who saw it as too high brow and make it accessible to them. The show makes us laugh at something a good portion of the population thought was entertaining only the type of people who go to museums for fun or who only drink wine when paired with pretentious cheeses. By bringing humor to this genre it makes it seem more relatable to the general public and therefore makes them more willing to indulge in the art form. If someone sees one of the parodies they might be more willing to watch the real documentary.

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Chock Full of SNL Alum – Documentary Now!

If you’re worried that this show won’t be funny, know that almost the entire cast and writing staff are SNL alum. Fred Armisen and Bill Hader star in almost every episode. The show demonstrates both actors’ range as every episode has them playing different ridiculous characters in a variety of settings. Armisen’s best performance is in the episode Final Transmission, in which he plays an experimental artist who starts a band as one of his weird art projects. To quote his character’s lyrics, “art student equals poor, art student equals fun.”  Hader’s best performance is in Parker Gail’s Location is Everything in which he performs the entire episode as a “monologue”, which takes place during his parole trial after being arrested for burning down his apartment building. I put “monologue” in quotes because he is constantly interrupted by characters in his supposedly true recollection of crime correcting his story. The show was created by Armisen, Hader, Rhys Thomas, and Seth Meyers. n addition, several other SNL alums have guest-written episodes, including John Mulaney, Erik Kenward, and Rob Klein.

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Documentaries Are Not Inside Jokes

Unlike Scary Movie or Honest Trailers, you don’t need to have seen the documentary an episode is parodying to get the joke. This is because instead of parodying some fictional world and its lore, Documentary Now! parodies an art which takes place in the real world. Therefore, the humor is universally accessible and everyone gets the joke. From the seemingly sweet old ladies of Grey Garden’s plotting the murder of the documentarians to a chef only occasionally offering chicken at his restaurant that only serves rice and chicken. These jokes are not the kind you need to be let in on. This makes the art of documentary seem even more accessible to those who might be intimidated by it because if you can get the joke maybe you can appreciate the real thing.

By Carrie Fishbane


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  • Carrie Fishbane

    Carrie Fishbane is obsessed with all things comedy and loves to reflect on the impact of comedy on the world. Having spent thousands of hours studying literature, she also writes about the political impact of entertainment and the power movies and TV have to create social change. Hollywood Insider promotes ethics and substance in entertainment, which is exactly in line with Carrie's perspective. Carrie’s favorite movies include Jojo RabbitDeadpool, and Inception and her favorite shows are Rick and MortyCrazy Ex-Girlfriend, and The Office.

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