Finding a Mexican drug lord, the journey of a California rock band from Chicago and the story of how one Inuit man revolutionized cinema – these are just a few of the mock documentaries presented in the recently released Lorne Michaels produced Netflix sketch-comedy show “Documentary Now!”
Starring Fred Armisen and Bill Hader, both of former Saturday Night Live fame, “Documentary Now!” flawlessly satirizes contemporary documentary culture through a variety of genres. Similar to fellow Independent Film Channel (IFC) program “Portlandia” (of which Armisen is a co-creator and star), “Documentary Now!” also features writing from SNL alumnus Seth Meyers, who stuns with his clean storyline and dialogue.
The PBS style documentaries, hosted by none other than Academy Award-winning actress Helen Mirren, lend the perfect format the series, allowing it to explore a va-riety of topics while maintaining cohesion as a unit.
The writing is both nuanced and creative, spoofing famous documentaries including Grey Gardens, Nanook Revisited and a “Vice”-like episode. Even without prior knowledge of the originals the jokes land, however, showcasing the writers’ unique abilities in parody.
Those fans of “Portlandia” and “SNL” will not be disappointed – Armisen and Hader are their vintage selves, and they understandably drive each episode. Guest appearances from such stars as Jack Black, rapper Ty Dolla Sign and others give each installment hidden treats, and there is not a single notable disappointment in the entire series.
Perhaps my personal favorite episode was the two part ending, “Gentle and Soft: The Story of the Blue Jean Committee”. Modeled after “The History of the Eagles,” “Gentle and Soft” follows the Blue Jean Committee’s rise to stardom and the subsequent descent. A two-part episode, the piece is full of wit and non-sequiturs, as is the rest of the series.
All in all, “Documentary Now!” was captivating enough to elicit two viewings within a week, and has been my recommended Netflix watch ever since. For fans of documentaries and those less interested.