Documentaries are no longer a delicacy associated with PBS subscribers and college professors. With streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, classic docs films like Paris Is Burning and Hoop Dreams have gone mainstream. Everyone is a film nerd now! The culture of the academic documentary is now the ordinary.
Documentary Now! is the necessary response to documentary culture. The show is an IFC spoof of the classics framed as an alternate realities greatest hits. Hosted by Helen Mirren (REALLY!) and created by Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, and Seth Myers, the show is framed in the same esoteric and fusty fashion of old guard movie presentations seen on Turner Classic Movies. The show then rolls into an abbreviated, twentysomething spoofing of a classic film.
The first target for making fun of is the seminal documentary Grey Gardens, retitled Sandy Passage. The setup is almost identical to the original—father and daughter recluses, a loss of communal dreams, suppressive and dominate males, power struggles—and adapted using very specific, wonderful memetic performances in homage to the original film’s best moments. Hader plays bizarro Little Edie, Little Vivvy, and Fred Armisen plays Big Eddie based Big Vivvy. The two are equally as eccentric as the originals but intended to point out how fucking bonkers some of the Bouviers’ antics were.
Once the setup is established, the boys start fucking around with the basis. You couldn’t imagine that this show would just be a remake of the classics, did you? It’s thankfully not. While the payoff of this first episode isn’t the funniest, funniest, funniest, where it does go is very enjoyable. The show does unfortunately lack the mania and straightforward and unquestionable absurdity of slightly better shows like Mr. Pickles and Check It Out! With Dr. Steve Brule. It is good at what it does though.
As a conceptual television show and a romping through documentary territory, Documentary Now! is a treat. You also get to see Fred Armisen depicted as Big Vivvy in so many wonderful ways. He also startling looks like my abuela (my Puerto Rican grandmother), who looks like my mother, who looks like me. Thus, I may age into Fred Armisen, which isn’t a bad thing nor a good thing. Below is one of the best moments from the episode: it’s when Big Vivvy sings one of her lost classics, “Pitter Patter.” The show airs on Thursday evenings on IFC and, of course, you can get it online through Apple.