‘Documentary Now!’ with Alexander Skarsgård, Real Docs on Rosa Parks and Biden’s First Year, ‘Horror Story’ in New York City, ‘Handmaid’ on the Run
A new season of IFC’s elaborate spoof Documentary Now! opens with Alexander Skarsgård as an obsessed director. True-life documentaries include a profile of activist Rosa Parks and a chronicle of President Biden’s turbulent first year in office. FX’s American Horror Story returns to terrorize New York City. The Handmaid’s Tale puts fugitives June and Serena in a tense situation.
Fake documentaries have rarely looked so authentic as in this inspired series of warped recreations with absurdist twists, co-created by Saturday Night Live alum Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, Seth Meyers and producer/director Rhys Thomas. The two-part opener, “Soldier of Illusion,” is based on famed director Werner Herzog’s 1982 Burden of Dreams and features Alexander Skarsgård in fine form as a pretentiously obsessive movie director. His mission to film an indigenous tribe in the rugged Ular mountains in Russia is complicated when accepts a simultaneous offer to shoot a pilot for the CBS comedy Bachelor Nanny. It’s all gloriously silly, with guest appearances by Armisen and Succession’s Nicholas Braun.
The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks
And then there are actual documentaries that are worth a look, including this profile of the iconic Black activist, executive produced by Soledad O’Brien and featuring LisaGay Hamilton as the voice of Rosa Parks. Everyone knows about Parks defying Alabama’s segregated bus seating, but there’s much more to her decades-long history of organizing and strategizing for the cause of racial equality.
Year One: A Political Odyssey
Beginning on Inauguration Day 2021 in the shadow of the Jan. 6 insurrection and continuing through the State of the Union speech in March 2022, an immersive documentary from Emmy-winning director John Maggio and New York Times reporter David Sanger follows President Joe Biden and his administration through its eventful first year. With access to key players in Biden’s cabinet, the film addresses multiple challenges including the evolving pandemic, the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, the nation’s political polarization and tense relations with China and especially Russia, whose invasion of Ukraine in February set the world on edge.
American Horror Story: New York City
Following back-to-back hits on Netflix (Dahmer and The Watcher), Ryan Murphy resurrects his popular FX creepshow with an edition set in New York City, airing two episodes each Wednesday over five weeks. Details are, as usual, scarce, beyond the tease that mysterious deaths and disappearances are making the metropolis more nervous than usual, with a doctor and a local reporter at the center of the spooky action. The cast, as usual, is stellar, including Joe Mantello, Billie Lourd, Zachary Quinto, Russell Tovey, Leslie Grossman, Charlie Carver, Sandra Bernhard, Isaac Powell and veteran scene-stealers Denis O’Hare and Patti LuPone.
The Handmaid’s Tale
Talk about your odd couples. Each escaping their own form of prison, ex-Handmaid June (Elisabeth Moss) and her former mistress Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) are now yoked as fugitives, with Serena’s very advanced pregnancy creating complications as the Gilead version of Thelma and Louise drive off into an uncertain future. Hulu’s storyline description hints at what’s to come: “Alone and isolated, June and Serena must labor together for both to survive.” Given that June once cursed Serena’s unborn child, this makes for an unusually grueling episode, even by Handmaid’s harrowing standards.
Inside Wednesday TV:
- Nature (8/7c, PBS): The 41st season opens by “Running with the Beast,” capturing the spectacle of East Africa’s Great Migration of more than 1 million wildebeest (along with zebra, gazelle and eland) seen through the eyes of two Masai guides.
- Abbott Elementary (9/8c, ABC): When Janine (Quinta Brunson) enthusiastically introduces a new beverage in the cafeteria, even the school’s plumbing has issues. Which is nothing compared to the chaos in Melissa’s (Lisa Ann Walter) classroom, when she clashes with her less-than-helpful new aide, Ashley (Keyla Monterroso Mejia).
- Chicago Fire (9/8c, NBC): Tis the season, as Firehouse 51 opens its doors for a Halloween open house.
- Chucky (9/8c, Syfy and USA): With multiple killer dolls on the loose, Jake (Zackary Arthur) has a bold plan: brainwash Chucky and make him an ally. What could go wrong?
- The Amazing Race (10/9c, CBS): In a first for the long-running reality competition, the teams traverse the Kingdom of Jordan, where they experience a scene recalling 1963’s Lawrence of Arabia.
- The School for Good and Evil (streaming on Netflix): Paul Feig directs a cheeky twist on the YA supernatural genre in which BFFs Sophia (Sophia Anne Caruso), a would-be princess, and witchy Agatha (Sofia Wylie) are transported to the titular school, but each are dropped in the wrong division. Charlize Theron is the head of the School for Evil and Kerry Washington runs the School for Good.
- Love Is Blind (streaming on Netflix): A third season of the dating show, where couples get engaged before ever laying eyes on each other, plays out over four weeks (launching with the first four episodes).