Television Review

‘SNL’ alums make a mockery of documentaries

Fred Armisen (left) and Bill Hader in “Documentary Now!”
Fred Armisen (left) and Bill Hader in “Documentary Now!” Tyler Golden/IFC/IFC.

IFC is so high on its new comedy series “Documentary Now!” that two days before its Thursday premiere, the network announced it had already picked up the show for two more seasons.

Created, written, and produced by “Saturday Night Live” alums Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, and Seth Meyers, as well as Rhys Thomas, and co-directed by “SNL” film unit director Alex Buono, the series spoofs a specific documentary or style in each of its six episodes. The attention to detail is as impressive as the laughs are frequent.

The conceit is that the historic PBS-style “Documentary Now!” series is celebrating its 50th anniversary and looking back on some classics from its time on the air. In a real coup, the creators got Dame Helen Mirren, playing it straight, to serve as host.


In the three episodes available for review, the gifted group tackles the familial hoarding chaos of “Grey Gardens” in “Sandy Passages,” the questions of authenticity that rose around the Eskimo chronicle “Nanook of the North” in “Kunuk the Hunter,” and the smug, gonzo hipsters of Vice News documentaries in “Dronez: The Search for El Chingon.”

Each one deftly captures the essence of its inspiration — from visuals to pacing to wardrobe — while taking the action in an anarchic direction. But the innate beauty of “Documentary Now!” is that viewers won’t need to have seen the source material to enjoy the spoofs, although it will certainly enhance the experience.

Although strong guests show up for cameos — including Jack Black and John Slattery — Armisen and Hader ably shoulder most of the acting duties; they clearly enjoy taking a deep, absurd dive with each subject. Hader, particularly, is a rock star here, stretching out beautifully on his “SNL” skill set and down-for-anything approach to characters, both male and female.


All three episodes offered varying degrees of laughs, but the “Kunuk” episode is a high-water mark, with Armisen starring as the increasingly unhinged title character and Hader, under layers of prosthetics, hilariously narrating — from Meyers’s deft script — how the film went off the rails.

Just seeing the preview clip of the two-part season finale about the tortured souls of ’70s soft-rock band The Blue Jean Committee — a gloss on the massively successful “History of the Eagles” — elicits chuckles.

With the proliferation of documentaries and the platforms on which they are available, the timing is perfect for a show like “Documentary Now!” We can only hope that next season they tackle “The Jinx.”

Television Review


Starring: Fred Armisen, Bill Hader.


Time: Thursday at 10 p.m.

Watch the trailer:

Sarah Rodman can be reached at srodman@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeRodman.