TV Review: Documentary Now!

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Documentary Now! has me saying “Documentary Wow!” breathing new life into the documentary films that inspired these magnificent spoofs.

Bill Hader - Fred Armisen - Photo Credit: Tyler Golden/IFC.
Bill Hader – Fred Armisen – Photo Credit: Tyler Golden/IFC.

In the series premiere of IFC’s obvious new hit, Documentary Now!, Bill Hader, Fred Armisen, and an unseen Seth Meyers spoof the already superbly weird Grey Gardens in their episode titled “Sandy Passage.”

Hader and Armisen play mother and daughter, Big and Little Vivvy, in a large desolate house surrounded by trash, rodents, and an abundance of cats. While this parody may be a bit misunderstood to those who haven’t seen Grey Gardens, which you really should because it is a marvel in the cinema universe as well as being a bit of a parody all on its own, it stands on its own two feet more frequently than not.

The genuine uniqueness of the episode lies in its writing, by somehow finding a mix of pure comedy and a surprising amount of horror, leaving the viewer wanting more and gasping for breath after laughing so much. Along with this, the absolutely astounding comedic performance of Bill Hader, who has quickly become my favorite after roles in The Skeleton Twins and Trainwreck, and Armisen makes this show a new favorite of mine and possibly the Emmys.

Bill Hader - Fred Armisen - Photo Credit: Tyler Golden/IFC.
Bill Hader – Fred Armisen – Photo Credit: Tyler Golden/IFC.

The episode truly shines within its writing. The direction and tone of the episode are seeming effortless in parodying almost exactly some of the moves and phrases of the original film, largely in part to Hader’s Little Vivvy who is almost an exact copy of Little Edie, truly propel the series into stardom.

The true thrill for me about the episode was how naturally it progressed into a horror movie with a great horror movie ending– making sense almost immediately and even giving you the giggles in the darkest of moments. Turning this mocumentary about Grey Gardens into something that closely resembles a found footage horror flick, so pretty much every horror movie that has come out in the last five years.

Watching Hader as a serial killer was as eerily disturbing as it  was funny, giving the show its extra bit of zaniness it needed to really draw the attention of viewers and critics alike. Without the horror aspect, the show would still have its draw and hilarity by simply parodying the film by itself, but this extra spark of creativity really shows what the show has to offer.

Armisen also gives an amazing performance, especially in his singing  scene that hilariously resembles the original in its style that you forget he is acting for a second.

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All in all, the episode shines in its quirkiness and screwball comedy, truly finding a perfect home at IFC, where the quirkiness is celebrated. The way the episode effortlessly copies the film it is mocking truly is the key to success for the series, and having Helen Mirren fake host the show is even more brilliant than you could possibly think.

Having that perfect mix of sincerity and humor gives the show a sense of rarity in its field. Not appearing mean spirited or too serious, the show delivers exactly what it promises, good times and a pure celebration of the documentary formats we have come to love or hate in some cases.

The performances in the show give life to it in every sense of the word. Without Hader and Armisen’s performances and commitment to their roles respectively, I do not think the show would be the same or in anyway as equally funny and remarkable as it is now. The show truly depends on the equal partnership of both this comedic team and the writing and direction the show is going in.

If the show keeps this type of momentum up, which I know it will, I have no doubt Documentary Now! will shortly become “Documentary Here to Stay!”

Rating: 9 out of 10

Documentary Now! airs Thursday nights on IFC

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Laura Dengrove is the one of youngest members of the Pop-Break staff and is a critic for television/movies of all types on Pop-Break. She’s going into her second year at college where she will be studying to obtain her bachelors degree at Rutgers University for Journalism/Public Relations. She was the editor for the Arts and Entertainment section of her school newspaper, runs her own blog (Pop Culture Darling), and interns for Design New Jersey. She also has an in-depth knowledge about all things True Blood and an avid Eric and Sookie shipper.
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Hello! My name is Laura Dengrove. I am currently a Junior at Rutgers University, double majoring in Journalism/Media Studies and Cinema Studies. I am a film critic and interviewer by choice, professional Linda Belcher impersonator by birth.