IFC’s “Documentary Now!” is history as it never was

IFC Documentary Now! Ryan Berenz

As Comedy Central’s Drunk History revolutionized the way we look at the past, IFC’s Documentary Now! (Thursdays beginning Aug. 20) hopes to alter how we remember some of history’s most important documentary films.

IFC Documentary Now!

Former Saturday Night Live castmates Fred Armisen, Bill Hader and Seth Meyers are the creators of this new six-part comedy series that spoofs famous documentaries like Grey Gardens, Nanook of the North and Reportero. Each installment has the appearance and tone of a serious documentary (they even got Helen Mirren to introduce each episode!). But the seriousness ends when Armisen and Hader appear onscreen as parodies of eccentric Grey Gardens subjects Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter “Little Edie” as they feed invading raccoons and fall through the ceilings of their dilapidated house. I asked Meyers, Armisen, Hader and executive producer/director Rhys Thomas about all the animals that infested the house in that episode.

ME: For Bill and Fred. In the Grey Gardens spoof how well behaved was that raccoon, and did it get along with the cats and other vermin in that house?

BILL HADER: Well, the raccoon, there were only like one animal was allowed in the house at a time, right?

RHYS THOMAS: Mm hmm.

FRED ARMISEN: And they’d sort of let it out for a little while and then back again.

BILL HADER: We all had to sit there the whole crew, we had to come in and set ourselves, and then the lady would bring the raccoon in. And it was like you were on the raccoon’s time.

SETH MEYERS: One of my favorite things is I had a very serious conversation with Rhys, saying, “I think it would be great if we got an opossum.” (Laughter.) And it’s very fun to work on a TV show where that’s an actual conversation.”

(Later, when asked about the size of the budget, Meyers replied, “I can tell you this: The answer to the opossum was ‘We can’t afford it.'”)

In a spoof of Nanook, Armisen plays 1920s documentary subject Kunuk, who goes from “bad at being an Eskimo” to a Hollywood prima donna to a tyrant movie director during the course of filming.

Other episodes explore Iceland’s Al Capone Festival, a dysfunctional ’70s rock band, journalists investigating a Mexican drug cartel, and a crime mystery in the style of The Thin Blue Line.

IFC has made the entire “Dronez” episode available online:

About Ryan Berenz 2012 Articles
Devotee of Star Wars. Builder of LEGO. Observer of televised sports. Member of the Television Critics Association. Graduate of the University of Wisconsin. Connoisseur of beer. Consumer of cheese. Father of two. Husband of one. Scourge of the Alaskan Bush People. Font of Simpsons knowledge. Son of a Stonecutter.