IFC premiered two episodes of “Documentary Now!,” the latest addition to its comedic lineup, on Tuesday night at New York’s New World Stages. Created by “Saturday Night Live” alumni Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, Seth Meyers and director Rhys Thomas and starring Armisen and Hader, the series features episode-length parodies of iconic documentaries, with a comedic tone that constantly shifts from dry to affectionate to absurd to surprisingly dark. The event was presented by the Atlantic.
After screening the first two episodes, Atlantic editor Steve Clemons and MSNBC’s Alex Wagner held a discussion with the creators, which often turned into a contest between the creatives over who could make each other laugh the most or cut Wagner’s questions off quickest. (Wagner did not seem to appreciate this approach to the interview.)
The two hosts did manage to get a few actual questions in, with Wagner asking about the vicious takedown of “self-involved Brooklyn culture” in their Vice parody “Dronez,” which follows the attempts of several edgy, clueless and ultimately unfortunate journalists to track down Mexico’s most notorious drug lord.
“I wouldn’t say at all,” Armisen replied to the suggestion that they were making fun of Vice’s too-cool-reputation. “That’s just their style.”
“It’s the edgiest,” Meyers followed up, “because even Vice would say they’re the edgiest.”
Meyers then talked about how his training as an “SNL” sketch writer informed his desire to make sure each episode told a complete story instead of merely aping its source material, and that he declined to appear on camera for the series as he felt he doesn’t have much range beyond “sitting at a desk.” Meyers wrote the first episode titled “Sandy Passage,” a warped tribute to Albert and David Maysles’ “Grey Gardens.” Hader pointed out it had no improvisational elements whatsoever, as Meyers “loses his mind” when people go off script.
“Documentary Now!” has already been renewed for two more seasons before its premiere Thursday. Upcoming installments of the six-episode season include a spoof of Errol Morris’ “The Thin Blue Line” and a two-parter, inspired by the Eagles documentary “History of the Eagles” about the Blue Jeans Committee, a fake soft rock band Hader and Armisen created for “SNL.” “They’re a Chicago band that wants to be a California band,” Hader said.
Though the two episodes can feel dark, everyone involved said that the point of the series is not to make fun of any of the original documentaries, but to celebrate them. “I’m a big film fan,” Hader said. “I get excited when they tell me they actually got the lenses they shot ‘The Thin Blue Line‘ on. We were all, like, ‘Yeaaaaaahhhhhhh!”
After the presentation, the creators and audience had cocktails and sushi in New World Stages’ reception area.