DOCUMENTARY NOW! blends a love of filmmaking and comedy together with brilliance
Now playing on Netflix Instant is a comedy series produced by IFC in 2015 and created by SNL alumni Bill Hader, Fred Armisen and Seth Myers called DOCUMENTARY NOW! It was inspired by a sketch Hader and Armisen first appeared in on SNL entitled “Ian Rubbish and the Bizzaros: History of Punk” which was made in the style of the 1984 cult classic mockumentary “This Is Spinal Tap”. The fictional series is hosted by Helen Mirren who introduces each episode following a PBS style opening credits sequence.
Sandy Passage: Inspired by the 1975 documentary “Grey Gardens” by The Maysles Brothers, Hader and Armisen co-star as a reclusive, eccentric mother and daughter named Big Vivvy and Little Vivvy who live in a rundown estate. Two nerdy documentarians, The Fines, film their odd daily lives which consist of Little Vivvy feeding bologna and corn flakes to the cats, dancing and screeching insults at Big Vivvy. Little Vivvy is a jerky jabberbox who’s fashion sense is truly hilarious as she makes custom clothing out of sweatpants and other items. Big Vivvy is a cranky old loudmouth that does things like lay in bed and peel corncobs to keep herself occupied. What begins as an innocent, up close look at some old women in a house takes a dark turn as we discover that there may be more sinister things going on.
Kunuk Uncovered: A homage to Nanook of the North a 1922 silent documentary by Robert J. Flaherty and Nanook Revisited (1990) a follow up that goes back to the areas Flaherty filmed in the Arctic. Set in the early 20th century, Fred Armisen plays Pipilok, an Eskimo that is the subject of a film by William H. Sebastian (John Slattery) who renames him “Kunuk”. A cameraman (Hader) now a cantankerous old man, comedically recalls what it was like working on the film. While Kunuk was described as being a terrible Eskimo and not all there, during the troubled production he finds his talent as a filmmaker, elevating the straight forward documentary into something even more artistic.
DRONEZ: The Hunt For El Chingon – Based on HBO’s VICE documentaries. Jack Black is Jamison Friend, founder of DRONEZ and host of a their ongoing investigative journalism series. Bill Hader and Fred Armisen take on multiple roles as goony journalists who are trying to find the elusive Mexican drug cartel leader “El Chingon”. The first few reporters meet with tragic ends during their trips (they do things like shout El Chingon’s name on crowded Mexican streets to find him) but finally the last two guys are granted an interview with the feared chieftain. What transpires is a coke snorting, gun blasting party at El Chingon’s compound that goes from rowdy to deadly.
The Eye Doesn’t Lie – A parody of Errol Morris’ 1988 documentary The Thin Blue Line. Fred Armisen plays Don Lentile a dopey jazz enthusiast who was arrested for the murder of a gas station sign spinner in San Antonio, Texas. Lentile claims he is innocent but corruption within the police force and the damning testimony of a hitchhiker he picked up named Robbie Wheadlan (Bill Hader) proved otherwise. Wheadlan (who is also in prison) clearly has contempt for Lentile because of their different tastes in music. He is a huge fan of Poison and Lentile refused to let him play a tape in the car the night of the murder. One of the main details that led to Lentile being charged was the suspect’s car license plate which was first described as reading “I <3 PUSS” (Robbie’s) but changed to “!Jazz!” (Don’s) by an eyewitness after being influenced by the police.
A Town, A Gangster, A Festival – Where the other episodes are based on real documentaries, this is an original work and one of the strangest and oddly realistic. The subject is an Icelandic festival celebrating the American gangster Al Capone. We learn the origin of the fest came from a joke by some Icelanders about Swedish football fans. The residents practice their best Al Capone mannerisms and dress up to look like the infamous criminal.
Gentle and Soft: The Story of the Blue Jean Committee: In this two part episode inspired by the History of the Eagles, Armisen and Hader play Gene and Clark the co-founders of the “The Blue Jean Committee” a Steely Dan/Eagles style rock band who gained fame in the 1970s. Years after breaking up, the two ex-bandmates are interviewed and we get to see their present lifestyles. Clark (Hader) is an egotistical wealthy entrepreneur who lives in an oceanfront Malibu mansion while a more humble Gene (Armisen) works at his family’s sausage factory in their hometown of Chicago. The band’s colorful history from their early days (you’ll learn how they got the name BJC) to hitting the big time out in California with their hit song “Catalina Breeze” is uncovered through archival footage and audio recordings. Also featured are interviews with several famous fellow musicians/fans/scenesters including singer-songwriters Kenny Loggins, Daryl Hall (Hall and Oates) and rock journalist Cameron Crowe. Out of all the episodes this one really stands out in terms of its acting and stylization.