7 Best Documentary Now Episodes Ranked - VRGyani News and Media

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Tuesday, August 17, 2021

7 Best Documentary Now Episodes Ranked

Existing to please a hyper-specific type of comedy and filmmaking fan, Documentary Now! is an IFC half-hour anthology series where every episode presents immaculately crafted spoofs of and takes on documentaries. With a stacked creative team of talent — including writer/performers Fred Armisen and Bill Hader, writer/producers Seth Meyers and John Mulaney, directors Alex Buono and Rhys Thomas, and host Helen Mirren — the show finds jokes and truths in equal measure, in every nook and cranny of production. You'll laugh as much at the accuracy of "1980s documentary typography" as you will at Armisen and Hader wearing wigs and using silly voices. How does this show exist? I'm so grateful it does.

With three seasons produced thus far, a fourth on the way, and the recent inclusion of one landmark episode on the Criterion Collection package of its parody target, we now present to you the seven best Documentary Now! episodes, all full of wondrous production design, subtly silly performances, and emotion-driven turns you'll never see coming.

RELATED: ‘Documentary Now!’ Renewed for Season 4 by IFC

7. "Original Cast Album: Co-Op" (Season 3, Episode 3)

"Original Cast Album: Co-Op" is both ruthless and ambling, cut to the bone while letting numbers play out, a piece of comedy predicated on one laser-focused premise — the show you're recording an album for has been cancelled — and willing to find and showcase all the tangled ivy around that premise. It's full of performative cynicism, especially in the form of Mulaney as the relentless ringmaster of his cast of singers, but also finds a kind of romanticism inherent in the practice of "the most talented artists locking themselves in a room and not leaving until art is made." Paula Pell, Renée Elise Goldsberry, and episode MVP Richard Kind get to go on mini-arcs of redemption in their big performances, even as the existential despair of "this show is no longer happening" looms over them all. In this inherent tension, "Co-Op" finds a fundamental truth (while being desperately, savagely funny) about an artist working in the present moment: It's always about the process, never the result.

6. "Batshit Valley" (Season 3, Episodes 1-2)

Aping the contemporary glut of "prestige cult docuseries" perfectly (think Wild Wild Country), "Batshit Valley" is an unstoppably funny two-parter, a terrific reminder of how silly and playful veterans like Owen Wilson and Michael Keaton can be, and an absolute breakthrough performance for Necar Zadegan. Zadegan plays a kind of Dick Cheney Number Two to Wilson's alluring but nonsensical cult leader, the charged missile ready to find, use, and keep her power through whatever means necessary, whether that's taking over a city, squabbling about vegetables, or lying about an obviously terrible car accident. Typically, Documentary Now! episodes are a marvel of pacing, a triumph of packing tons of story and invention into 22-minute chunks. But "Batshit Valley" doesn't ever feel long-winded or wasteful in its two-parter status; instead, it just takes the extra time to pack in even more twists and character beats and revelations hitting that sweet spot between silliness and pathos.

5. "Globesman" (Season 2, Episode 4)

Speaking of silliness and pathos: "Globesman" is Documentary Now! operating as a full-on tragedy, a peak of sad comedy that technically has a "happy ending," but one hard-earned by a kind of gritted empathy, one with echoes of despair that will make you shake your head with quiet laughter for some time to come. Taking its framework from essential documentary Salesman (this episode also made that Criterion disc's bonus features), the episode casts Armisen and Hader among a cavalcade of "sad but blustery men" as globe salesmen. The crew travels across America, trying desperately to get poor families to buy shoddy globes, trying desperately to survive, let alone thrive. It's a work of comedy full of criticism about sexism, consumerism, the broken promises of American exceptionalism, and the broken creature comforts broken men resort to (i.e. getting drunk in a motel room and peeing on Armisen). And that ending is just devastating, heartbreaking, and quietly inspirational in a way TV comedies rarely get to be.

4. "Gentle & Soft: The Story of the Blue Jean Committee" (Season 1, Episodes 6-7)

Another two-parter, "Gentle & Soft: The Story of the Blue Jean Committee" contains two fundamental clashes of contexts that never cease to make me laugh. The first, macro clash: The fake band in focus The Blue Jean Committee, as hinted at by tunes like "Gentle & Soft" and "Catalina Breeze," is among the softest of soft rock outfits, more concerned with major sevenths and tasteful triangles than hard rock or punk-filled attitudes. And yet, the episode tracks their fake history with as much drama, infighting, and hard-fought breakups-turned-reunions as any Walk the Line-esque biopic or Behind the Music psychodrama. This level of commitment, in terms of filmmaking, musicality, and emotional instability, is all-encompassing in its formal rigor, making the episode so easy to let yourself get washed in. The Blue Jean Committee will feel real in addition to feeling really funny.

And the second, much more micro clash: Hader's bass player speaks in a rough, deep Chicago accent, but sings in a beautiful falsetto. I'm crying laughing just thinking about it.

3. "Juan Likes Rice & Chicken" (Season 2, Episode 3)

A refreshing seltzer to "Globesman"s hard bourbon and even more gentle than "Gentle & Soft," "Juan Likes Rice & Chicken" is bright, silly, emotionally driven, and beautifully, even sappily heartwarming. Taking its cue (and title) from Jiro Dreams of Sushi, "Juan Likes Rice & Chicken" is a story about commitment, mastery of craft, and the anxieties that come when a father passes on responsibility to his children. It's also a story about being dreadfully afraid of chicken, having lots and lots of heart attacks, and operating a restaurant in an absurdly remote location. It's so funny, so well-made, and so, so sweet; its ending moments made me tear up, so earnest are its messages, so briefly uninterested it is in being a "comedy." It's just a friggin' miracle this weird show is on the air!

2. "Sandy Passage” (Season 1, Episode 1)

"Sandy Passage," the very first episode of Documentary Now!, plays like an efficient proof-of-concept of what the whole series will be. Aping Grey Gardens, Armisen and Hader play two old cronies who have secluded themselves within the rusted and crusted walls of their formerly palatial estates. Wearing ornate makeup, wigs, and costumes, and affecting broad vocalizations of these eccentric, troubled, wealthy women, Armisen and Hader have a ton of fun provoking guttural laughs cleanly, while the show around them flourishes with pitch-perfect parody of the formal stylings of this kind of documentary. It's simple, fundamentally constructed, easy television...

...for its first half. The second half cascades into something completely different, something inherently lurking within the original Grey Gardens text, something this show is unafraid to use the powers of fictionalization and comedy to blow out of proportion. It thus turns into a radically different proof-of-concept, one that promises Documentary Now! to be no mere pastiche. It will, like, shake you.

1. "Any Given Saturday Afternoon" (Season 3, Episode 7)

Written by I Think You Should Leave co-creators Zach Kanin and Tim Robinson, "Any Given Saturday Afternoon" puts Robinson, Michael C. Hall, and Bobby Moynihan at the center of the wild world of competitive bowling, telling a story of past triumphs and future reprisals of glory. In this story, Documentary Now! finds and communicates every pleasure of the show at its highest level. There's the impressive formal homages, the latent emotional sadness, the surprising twists and turns, the slow-pace-crammed-into-a-fast-pace, the "very funny people wearing very funny wigs and behaving very funnily" performances, and most welcomely, the downright heartwarming ending. It's a funny, fearless feat of television, a wild intersection between "broad sketch comedy" and "the most niche comedy ever produced," a half-hour short film that proves truth isn't always stranger than fiction, but it certainly helps for inspiration.

KEEP READING: 'Girls5eva': In Which Busy Phillips Takes Over the Interview to Ask Paula Pell About 'Documentary Now: Co-Op'



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