Roush Review: ‘Documentary Now!’ Season 3 Goes to New Heights of Comic Inspiration
This is my kind of fake news!
In its third season of scrupulously detailed and painstaking mimicry, IFC’s Documentary Now! goes to new heights of comic inspiration to copy the style and tone of renowned nonfiction films and series you may or may not have seen. Familiarity with the source material helps but isn’t essential to get the joke as these elaborate parodies spin from mock realism into droll, full-fledged absurdity.
Befitting the most cultish of cult series, the season opens with the two-part “Batsh*t Valley.” This whimsical take on the Netflix hit Wild Wild Country stars Owen Wilson as the zonked spiritual leader of a bizarre commune that goes to war with a neighboring rural Oregon town. Connie Chung provides vintage 1980s “news” coverage of the dispute, which builds to a hilarious conspiracy to spread pinkeye throughout the state.
Host Helen Mirren, keeping an admirably straight face in her pompous introductions, sets the tone for a star-laden season that includes Michael Keaton as an FBI agent embroiled in the Valley conflict, Michael C. Hall as an eccentric pro bowler (in a riff on the bowling doc “A League of Ordinary Gentlemen”) and, in a tour de force, Cate Blanchett as a mercurial performance artist in “Waiting for the Artist” (inspired by Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present).
Playing her noxious ex-lover is Now’s not-so-secret weapon: the versatile Fred Armisen (cocreator with fellow Saturday Night Live vets Seth Meyers, Bill Hader and director-producer Rhys Thomas). He also stars as a revered and reviled jazz musician in the moody “Long Gone” (based on Bruce Weber’s Let’s Get Lost) and a creepily obsessed Gary Larson fanboy turned amateur filmmaker, stalking his prey in “Searching for Mr. Larson: A Love Letter From The Far Side.”
My favorite of this year’s spoofs is “Original Cast Album: Co-Op,” a spot-on homage to D.A. Pennebaker’s 1970 film about the recording of Stephen Sondheim’s Company. With inspired lyrics by Meyers and John Mulaney, who plays the musical’s wearily imperious composer, “Co-Op” captures the enthusiasms and insecurities of a cast featuring Hamilton Tony winner Renée Elise Goldsberry and Paula Pell (channeling an exhausted Elaine Stritch). I mean it as the highest compliment when I say it’s almost as good as the real thing.
Documentary Now!, Season 3 Premiere, Wednesday, February 20, 11/10c, IFC