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    Review: Come for the spoofs, stay for the feels with IFC’s “Documentary Now!”

    Alex Buono

    Courtesy of IFC

    Fred Armisen and Bill Hader in IFC’s “Documentary Now!”

    Satire perilously rides the line between comedy and being a jerk. Stalwart satirical shows like “South Park” and the recently departed “Colbert Report” put on masterclasses in satire by revealing the many shades within the satirical color palette while still fitting under the “damn funny” category. 

    “Documentary Now!,” a new show from IFC, is the latest to capture such complex satire.

    I don’t know how “Documentary Now!” managed to get greenlighted, but I sure am glad it did. In terms of “niche” shows, this one takes the cake. 

    The ideal audience for the show would be the small segment of society with a vast knowledge of documentaries and an offbeat sense of humor. This is a show for people who love “Portlandia” and who constantly browse the documentary section of Netflix. 

    Despite having such a niche demographic, the show remains enjoyable for anyone in the mood for top-notch satire.

    “Documentary Now!” is the brainchild of former “Saturday Night Live” buddies Seth Meyers, Bill Hader, Fred Armisen and Rhys Thomas.  The show spoofs various famous documentaries and documentary genres, with chameleon co-stars Armisen and Hader leading the way under the guise of a million different characters. 

    For a show in its first season, the amount of polish on “Documentary Now!” is impressive. Each episode maintains a vibrant energy that powers each ridiculous premise just enough to fill 23 minutes without growing stale. 

    This is no easy task in today’s comedic habitat, where comedic sketches must remain under five minutes, lest the attention spans of potential YouTube viewers run out. What sets “Documentary Now!” apart is its individually curated form of satire that coats each spoofed documentary style.

    “DRONEZ: The Hunt for El Chingon” marks the first hallmark of satire: the skewering. The third episode mocks VICE documentaries along with hipster startup culture. The episode finds Armisen and Hader as two bro-type journalists stumbling around Mexico in search for cartel drug lord El Chingon. 

    The two exhibit zero journalistic professionalism and instead prefer the investigative method of constantly doing the dumbest thing possible. Of course this doesn’t end well for the pair, as they end up being gunned down when they answer the door to El Chingon’s henchmen. 

    Two more DRONEZ—the stand in for VICE—”journalists” take up the task of finding El Chingon. These two last about five minutes before dying as well. The sheer level of stupidity and disregard for human life that permeates the episode directly mocks the superficiality of many VICE documentaries.

    The next episode, “The Eye Doesn’t Lie,” parodies “The Thin Blue Line” and crime documentaries, the hooks of which always center around getting to the bottom of things, but “for real this time.”

    The level at which “Documentary Now!” captures the aesthetics of its subjects is a marvel. If I watched the “Documentary Now!” version and the originals, side by side and without sound, I wouldn’t feel confident picking out the real versus the fake. 

    “The Eye Doesn’t Lie” features telltale aesthetics of crime documentaries, such as close-up subject interviews, overly dramatic re-enactments and transitional shots of the newspapers covering the crime and trial. 

    Rather than outright mocking its subject in this episode, “Documentary Now!” pokes fun at the fact that all crime dramas find their appeal in potentially uncovering the truth that everyone missed the first time around. “The Eye Doesn’t Lie” blows this up to ridiculous proportions by making the truth everyone wanted to uncover incredibly obvious from the beginning. 

    Yes, the subject of the documentary is innocent, but no one cares. This leads to many hilarious moments, including a taped confession of the real killer garnering almost no reaction to the accuastion: “Well, everyone knows you did it.”
    However, the highlight of “Documentary Now!” comes with its two-part episode on the rise and fall of the Blue Jean Committee band.

    Music documentaries, especially “History of the Eagles,” are paid tribute to in “Gentle & Soft: The Story of the Blue Jean Committee.” Rather than the mocking nature of “DRONEZ: The Hunt for El Chingon” or the poking fun of “The Eye Doesn’t Lie,” the Blue Jean Committee celebrates everything about band documentaries, and in doing so transcends the cynical nature of satire. 

    Rather than satirizing with the intent of pointing out how stupid something is, which makes up 99 percent of all satire, this episode creates a narrative and characters that can stand completely on their own. 

    I would watch a full-length documentary on fictional characters Gene and Clark and their band, the Blue Jean Committee. The first episode sets up the rise of the Blue Jean Committee, and the second chronicles their breakup and eventual bittersweet reunion at their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. 

    The empathy that organically grows from this episode surprised me, as I can’t remember ever being emotionally invested in any kind of spoof material.

    Individual care and attention to detail give a heart to “Documentary Now!”. Although its audience would logically be tiny, this heart is relatable enough to expand to all potential viewers.

    “Documentary Now!” captures its intended satirical targets with piercing accuracy, a feat that should be rewarded with a growing audience.

    Come for the spoofs, stay for the feels.

    Worth the Watch: YES

    Follow Alex Furrier on Twitter.

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