Documentary spoofs are nothing new. Director Christopher Guest has made a career out of such lampooning from his feature films “Best in Show” to “A Mighty Wind.” But, the comedy three amigos of Fred Armisen, Bill Hader and Seth Meyers have taken it a step further with the docuparody IFC cable series “Documentary Now!”
Origins of their new cable series can be traced back to their “Saturday Night Live” days. Hader recalls the last episode for both himself and Armisen: “We did this thing that Seth wrote called ‘The History of Punk’ where Fred played a guy called Ian Rubbish, who was the only punk rocker who liked Margaret Thatcher.
“At the after party of that show, we were all leaving and we kind of knew we were leaving, and we were like, ‘Let’s do another. What if we did one of these for different documentaries?’”
Helen Mirren will host “Documentary Now!”
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That idea turned into “Documentary Now!”
The series kicks off with “Sandy Passage,” a look at the lives of two aging socialites and their deteriorating estate. The mother and daughter in this parody of the documentary “Grey Gardens” are played by Armisen and Hader.
Those who have seen the 1975 documentary by Albert and David Maysles will get the jokes more but the comedy team behind “Documentary Now!” don’t think it’s mandatory to have seen the original product with any of their parodies.
“We weren’t hoping that people had seen everything. But we do think this is a time where people documentaries are kind of having a moment because they exist on so many of the streaming sites. And, even places, mainstream places, like ESPN, have become so documentary friendly in the last few years,” Meyers says. “But I think if you’ve seen ‘Grey Gardens,’ you might enjoy ‘Sandy Passages’ more than people who haven’t.
“But I also would hope that maybe someone out there will see ‘Sandy Passages’ and it will make them want to see ‘Grey Gardens.’ Circle of life.”
The team is doing everything they can to make their parodies look as close to the originals as possible. When they were working on “Sandy Passage,” Albert Maysles was still alive. The Maysles family offered tips on how to shoot the mocumentary such as what film stocks and lenses they used.
Their efforts to match the originals has gone so far as traveling around the globe for shoots. For their docuparody “Dronez,” the team went to Tijuana, Mexico. They went to Iceland for a fake documentary on why the country has an Al Capone festival.
We do think this is a time where people documentaries are kind of having a moment because they exist on so many of the streaming sites.
Meyers was introduced to documentary films through the syndicated TV show “Siskel & Ebert.” He recalls how the Chicago film critics talked in such glowing terms about the 1988 Errol Morris documentary “The Thin Blue Line” that he had to see the film.
To make their spin on that documentary, the team used the same set of lenses Morris used to film the original. They even tracked down the woman who had made the courtroom illustrations seen in “The Thin Blue Line” to create artwork for their parody.
Future episodes will range from a soft rock documentary about a Chicago band’s rise to fame with their hit album “Catalina Breeze” to a behind-the-scenes look at the world’s first documentary.
Along with the three creators, other actors scheduled to appear include Jack Black, John Slattery and Tim Robinson.
Helen Mirren is the host. Meyers knew Mirren from her hosting of “Saturday Night Live.” When he ran into her at an event, she started talking about how much she loved Armisen’s work in “Portlandia.” Meyers took that opening to ask Mirren to be the show host.
10 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 20, IFC