Documentary Now!, and the Beauty of Subtle Satire

I had almost forgotten about Documentary Now!, until I found the second season on Netflix last night while looking for something to watch. I had always enjoyed the show, and I thought the first two episodes kept their satirical charm. It was at the same time subtle and obvious, with a real appearance and an unreal story line.

If you don’t know what Documentary Now! is, it’s a mockumentary series, created by and starring Saturday Night Live compatriots Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, and Seth Meyers. Each episode is a different “documentary”, portrayed under the guise of the 50th and 51st seasons of the series (starring Dame Helen Mirren), shining light on the stories that never happened.

The series, while it has some moments of slapstick, more builds its humor around odd or off moments of human interaction, or just strange concepts that could be real, but in this situation are not. A situation that comes to mind is the tenderizing of the chicken meat in the second episode. The chef, Juan, explains how they massage their chicken meat for an hour, before blasting it against the wall with a high-pressurized cannon. While the meat massaging seems more realistic, the humor comes in the fact that they shoot chicken against a kitchen wall daily.

The episode, titled “Juan likes Chicken and Rice”, is one of the more obviously outlandish episodes, making fun of pretentious food documentaries. It exaggerates the pretentiousness of Michelin star and more generally foodies or food reviewers, making a three Michelin star restaurant out of a place that only serves rice, bananas, and chicken (on most days), 40 minutes from the nearest road. It was funny, and I liked it. But is the series for everyone?

I can’t really say it is. And that’s not based off of intelligence, or having insider knowledge of everything and anything. It’s rather based off of what people perceive as funny. Some people like the slapstick, and hate the slow humor. Others are the exact opposite. Some people don’t like satire. So, do I recommend it? Yes, of course I do. But in doing so am I guaranteeing that someone will like it? No. They might think it was a good show, but might not find it funny. But, that’s the art of subtle satire.

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