Christopher Guest wasn’t the first director to develop the mockumentary style. Richard Lester was there before him with “A Hard Day’s Night,” and Woody Allen was there, too, with “Take the Money and Run” and “Zelig.” But Guest humanized the format, warmed it up and used it to deliver a sense of humanity as well as satire. With the likes of “Waiting for Guffman” and “Best in Show,” he invited us to laugh at his characters’ two-bit dreams while being touched by their pathos and innocence. In his hands, they were rare birds.
Without trying, Guest has been hugely influential on TV since the early 2000s, after Ricky Gervais borrowed Guest’s technique for “The Office.” Now shows such as “Parks and Recreation” and “Modern Family” behave like Guest’s fake verites, complete with hand-held camerawork, direct-to-camera interviews, and an unseen crew. They all tend to avoid the big one-liners and the tight staging of more conventional sitcoms, in favor of casually dropped lines, peripheral facial reactions, and character comedy.