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How documentary now! lost his stars – and embraced his true self

If you ask Seth Meyers to give you a lift for Documentary now! two things become easily visible. One is that Meyers, as one of the show's creators and primary writers, has, of course, thought about this issue a lot and teasing the ways the series draws on a unique hybrid of sketch comedy, real documentaries and a deep dedication to imitating some shocking man out of his spoofs of non-fiction movies. Secondly, it is three seasons in which he is still not quite sure what he and his fellow documentaries have done. "It's basically loving parodies of existing documentaries," Meyers offers when asked to summarize the show in a single sentence. But the backtrack comes quickly and cuts extra words into the definition as it goes: "Somehow, even though I say that, parody doesn't seem right," he muses. "That's the closest word I have in my vocabulary." Later in the conversation he will cycle through and discard "recreation" and "satire" also before finally encouraging: "Can we do it! What is the word ?!"

Meyer's collaborators, Alex Buono and Rhys Thomas fellow Saturday Night Live alumni who have instructed every episode of the IFC series and who Late Night host is often described as the program's institutional soul-is more solid in their explanation : "It is a loving greeting to documentaries. For specific documentaries, to the idea of ​​documentary filmmaking," Buono gives up and speaks in tone with one who must quickly and clearly describe the series more than once to his recent influx of big-name guest stars. "It's not a parody. It's not sketchy comedy. We don't make fun of anyone," he adds, emphasizing a sweetness that has grown on the show from his early days of violent Gray Gardens riffs and disposable VICE dweebs. "We are not here to laugh on anyone."

Meanwhile, someone who has seen the show's first two seasons ̵

1; or rather its 50 and 51. As Dame Helen Mirren would be quick to remind us – and you can get a simpler (and less precise, multiple senses) ) answer: "The fake documentary program where Fred Armisen and Bill Hader play all the leading roles."

For his first two years on the air Documentary now! was essentially Fred and Bill Show ; While the occasional episode could only be a member of the couple, sketch comedy veterans were prominent throughout, serving as comforting, repetitive performances for a series shifting from Gothic horror to heartwarming family drama to a full-blown concert movie each week. In the process, Armisen and Hader acted as his two-man repertoire company, playing everything from soulless political fixers to good-natured Al Capone imitators, with stops for sweet stupid chicken cocks (Armisen), a cadaverous Robert Evans send-up (Hader) and evil killers (both of them more than once) along the way.

Which is part of what does Documentary Now! 's third season award tonight with the cult pastiche "Batsh * t Valley" -so radical. It may take you a moment to notice, what about famous faces like Owen Wilson and Michael Keaton flooding the screen, but the new reality of the show will gradually settle in: No Peace and No Bill to See. And while persistent viewers of the season ultimately come to a handful of Armisen-fronted episodes – three in all, out of the six fake docs on display-recent Emmy wins Hader never shows up to the show's third season at all. [19659003] Hader's absence is both understandable and expected, of course; Barry is a big hit over in HBO Land right now, and Doc Now! has always been a side lift or the work of love, for virtually everyone from the late evening hosted Meyers to the infinite Armisen, to John Mulaney, who, when he does not make multiple episodes per season, measures as one of The biggest stand-up comics on the planet. There is a reason why the show has not been running new episodes for more than two years, and it is not because the people involved have not wanted to get it in the air.

"When we were first conceived of the show, we always thought it might be the future of the future." Meyers takes note of the decision to change Hades and (to a lesser extent) Armisen to a rotating crew of famous guest stars for this year's play. Discussing the inevitable change, Meyers, Thomas and Buono, regrets all the loss of Hader, a natural chameleon who can go from amiable to lizard at a moment's notice. Although the series' hottest moments have often come from Peace episodes, all three cite seasons are an "A Town, A Gangster, A Festival" and season two "Juan Likes Chicken And Rice" as personal favorites, and the closest series has ever come to capture their ideal version of Documentary Now! 's humanistic vibe – there is a wild quality to Hader who always stopped the show from tilting over to complete sentimentality, whether it was cool vomiting through "Mr. Runner Up," or totally unheard of Spalding Gray Rifle "Parker Gail's Location is Everything."

Look at the show's third season, it's not hard to see spaces where a Hader performance can "fit"; It would be easy to imagine that he slides into the oversized sunglasses Necar Zadegan cliffs as a vicious cult spokesman in "Batsh * t Valley" or takes Michael C. Hall's deadly bowling joke in "Any Given Saturday Afternoon. " It would also be a mistake to see these new excursions as a series of reused second season episodes with some Wite-Out randomly sprayed on their casting pages. Stripped by one of the key components of his identity, Documentary Now! also loses one of the aspects that defined it for good or ill; Although cautious about not speaking in anything less than glowing expression about their friends and colleagues, Buono and Thomas are, of course, delighted to move away from a "constraint" that limits the kind of stories the series could tell. Or in Buono's words: "When we realized we couldn't get Bill, it became an interesting problem to say," So we can't have every episode on two white guys in a two-handed driver. ""

Sometimes evolution is as simple as using the show's significant talents for non-Hader or Armisen obsessions, just as Mulaney's technically ridiculous Sondheim homage "Co-Op" a take on DA Pennebaker's Company: Original Cast Recording. A party at Doc Now! 's endless dedication to the flawless performance of a relentless foggy idea, the episode comes with the guest's performances by the Broadway stars Renée Elise Goldsberry, Alex Brightman and Richard Kind, a breakout blast from AP Bio s Paula Pell, and an original score of idiotic hummable songs, at least one of which is destined to be the show's show stops of the season. It is an exact perfect cataloging of Mulaney's special fixations – in the same way as "Gentle & Soft: The Blue Jean Committee" story "captured Armisen and Hatter's soft rock solipsism – and it thrives in part because ] There is no known face that looks out to break the illusion of its note-perfect pastiche.

Speaking to the show's creative team, seems to often refrain: Documentary now! is aggressively not sketch comedy. When Meyers expresses his long-standing discomfort at the horror movie's end of the show's first episode, "Sandy Passage," he describes it as "very much a sketch comedy idea". Buono (who, along with Thomas worked on SNL s filmed video page makes it clear that he sees the series' dedication to emotional grounding and storytelling as the things that distinguish it from "a two-three-minute sketch." but the most interesting show SNL aspect has always been its dependence on Armisen and Hader, which has mostly been the series' strengths that make it possible to cope with the work of two of the most accomplished comics on the planet as they Inhale the inner life of a series of ridiculous, self-contained, often falsified men, but no matter how good the Armies and Hades are disappearing into parts, there is still a predictability that eventually appears in the noisy or the time you see them , appears in a talking head, and there are parts and stories that they simply are not equipped to play.

Take the season's biggest turn for guest star casting: Two-time Oscar winner Cate Blanchett, who plays a variant of performance artist Marina Abramović in "Awaiting the Artist." this especially from a creative team so overwhelmingly white and male – without a woman with command skills in leading role. And because we haven't seen Blanchett play other signs on the show, it shortens the little voice in the back of your head whispering "It's such a Hader part" every time he shows up on the screen. Instead, she is simply Abramović-or rather, Izabella Barta, the creator of such modern art-masterpieces as the blatantly self-damaging "Bucket" series. (It does not hurt that Blanchett is not surprisingly married to feed the silliness of her characters' artistic ideas without sacrificing their dignity and humanity in the process.) Buono and Thomas often discuss withdrawing their writers from the urge to do so The show, a cavalcade of jokes, destroys the reality of its carefully crafted universes. Casting an actress by Blanchett's skill in the part achieves a similar effect: By forcibly rendering Hades comic skills, the third season's show feels false documentaries "realer" than anything that has come before.


"Those I am most happy with are those where you kind of forget it's based on something and worry about these signs," Meyers says when He is asked about his favorite section of the series. "The best episodes are one in which you enter an unknown landscape," notes Thomas, echoing the mood of a separate interview. By losing one of its two most recognizable faces – and rationing the other to just a handful of parts – Documentary Now! formally goes into unknown territory. All parties involved are aware that if free time somehow became infinite, they would gladly return the show's original stars with welcome weapons – though they would likely continue to integrate them with the broader talents now available. At the moment, however, the training wheels are off: Documentary now! may not be easy to define, but whatever it is, it comes to itself – and when you talk about a show that was already one of the best and most interesting series on TV, it is worth something to celebrate, regardless of what has been lost.

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