×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

TV Review: ‘Documentary Now!’

With:
With: Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, Helen Mirren

While it’s easy to understand why a little network like IFC would be enamored with programs that features former “Saturday Night Live” stars, that’s a poor excuse for turning what would have been sketches from the show’s last 30 minutes into full-blown series. So after Will Ferrell’s adventures with “The Spoils of Babylon” and its sequel comes “Documentary Now!,” which should produce peals of laugher among, oh, 12 to 15 people. Fred Armisen and Bill Hader serve as producers (along with Seth Meyers) and performers, but despite the occasional chuckle, the jokes seem too inside for their own good.

Actually, the series peaks in its opening credits and introduction, which cleverly approximate the fictional public-TV documentary showcase from which the show derives its name. Helen Mirren, no less, strides out to soberly describe each week’s offering – presented under a shingle that has brought viewers such fare, she notes, “for the last 50 years.”

From there, though, “Documentary Now!” becomes an exceedingly hit-miss proposition, with Armisen and Hader playing the key roles in spoofs of “Grey Gardens,” the silent classic “Nanook of the North” and a more contemporary spin on the “Vice” niche, with Jack Black as the blustery patriarch and a lot of hippy-dippy correspondents who think nothing of wandering into war zones.

The challenge is that for this sort of parody to work requires at least some familiarity with the source, and while a handful of film students might howl at, say, the “Nanook” riff, or the arty shots of blowing curtains in the “Grey Gardens” knockoff, much of the target audience will likely have to take the producers’ word for it. Sure, there’s something to be said for being dryly funny, but “Documentary Now!” is so committed to the exercise as to risk feeling practically arid.

Directed by Rhys Thomas and Alex Buono, the series — which not surprisingly grew out of the principals’ collaboration on “SNL” — is described as an homage to these films, and it certainly feels that way. To the extent it might move a few people to actually go see the inspiration for some of the episodes, hey, serious documentarians need all the help they can get.

Yet while one can understand Armisen and Hader’s interest in scratching this student-film-like itch – especially with someone else’s money – it’s hard to feel quite so charitable toward IFC. Granted, recognizable faces can yield dividends, but the channel continues to squander its original-programming resources on too many oddities and trifles, and, from a distance, looks too star-struck to know when to say no.

Popular on Variety

TV Review: 'Documentary Now!'

(Series; IFC, Thurs. Aug. 20, 10 p.m.)

Production: Produced by Broadway Video.

Crew: Executive producers, Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, Seth Meyers, Lorne Michaels, Rhys Thomas, Andrew Singer; supervising producer, Erik Kenward; directors, Thomas, Alex Buono; writer, Meyers; camera, Buono; production designer, Katie Byron; editor, Adam Epstein. 30 MIN.

Cast: With: Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, Helen Mirren

More TV

  • Cara Delevingne'Carnival Row' TV show premiere,

    Amazon Prime Video Signs Distribution Deal With Altice Europe (EXCLUSIVE)

    Amazon Prime Video has unveiled its first distribution deal with a telco in France, signing a pact with Altice Europe, which owns leading French internet, mobile and cable-TV provider SFR. The deal will give SFR customers access to the service via their set-top boxes, which is crucial in France, where households still consume content mostly [...]

  • Courtney Kemp Agboh'Power' TV show final

    'Power' Creator Courtney A. Kemp On Why Starz Series Hasn't Gotten Awards Recognition

    “Power” is a top ratings performer for Starz and has a hugely committed fanbase, but the series has lacked in its awards recognition. Other than honors from the NAACP Image Awards, “Power” has not received any awards or nominations from the Emmys, Golden Globes or SAG — something that star and executive producer Curtis “50 [...]

  • Breaking Bad Movie

    'Breaking Bad' Movie: Watch the First Teaser for 'El Camino'

    In case you hadn’t heard, Emmy-winning drama “Breaking Bad” is cooking up a movie sequel. On Saturday, after details of Netflix’s project quietly leaked online, the streaming giant issued the first teaser for “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie,” which will be released on October 11. Starring Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman, the “Breaking Bad” [...]

  • Breaking Bad

    'Breaking Bad' Movie Release Date, Title and Plot Revealed

    The “Breaking Bad” movie is coming to Netflix sooner than you might think. The film, titled “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie,” is now set to be released on Netflix on Oct. 11, according to a report from the New York Times, with Aaron Paul returning as the series’ popular meth cook Jesse Pinkman. Jesse [...]

  • Laurence FishburneNational Memorial Day Concert Dress

    Laurence Fishburne to Produce 'Marvel's Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur' Series for Disney Channel

    Laurence Fishburne is stepping into the animation game. The “Matrix” star is set to executive produce “Marvel’s Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur,” an animated series which has been given the greenlight at Disney Channel. Based on Marvel’s comic book series, the show hails from from Disney Television Animation and follows the adventures of 13-year-old super-genius [...]

  • Aracne

    Chile’s Sanfic, Mexico’s Morbido Fest Pact to Promote Latino Horror (EXCLUSIVE)

    Mexican horror festival Morbido and Chile’s Santiago Intl. Film Festival (Sanfic) have agreed on a long-term collaboration intended to strengthen the genre film industry in Chile and across Latin America. This partnership will see Morbido representatives attend the Sanfic industry section each year to aid in the promotion of horror projects and advise those projects [...]

  • 'The Simpsons' Producers on Disney, Spinoffs

    'The Simpsons' Producers Talk Potential Disney Spinoffs, Confirm Apu Will Remain

    “The Simpsons” has never shied away from lampooning Disney over the years, but maybe that’s no longer the case. Homer, Marge and co. are of course now part of the Disney family and made their first appearance at the Mouse House’s D23 Expo convention, where the show’s producers were asked plenty of questions about what [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content