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‘Documentary Now!’ Review: The Comfort We’ve Been Waiting For


The show was created in 2015 by a “Saturday Night Live”-associated quartet, Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, Seth Meyers and Rhys Thomas. It was probably a second or third or fifth project for all of them, and that could be a part of why it has worked so well: Nothing is taken too seriously or dwelt upon, and irrespective of how ponderous a documentary is perhaps, its “Documentary Now!” parody is dispatched in about 20 minutes of screen time. (Each season has one double-length episode.)

Hader isn’t in the brand new season, and he’s missed; his performances within the show’s “Grey Gardens” and “Swimming to Cambodia” takeoffs were series highlights. But Thomas continues to be a primary director (with Alex Buono), Meyers wrote three of the five episodes, and Armisen makes droll supporting appearances, starting together with his turn as an oily Hollywood agent within the season premiere, “Soldier of Illusion.”

That two-part opener, a gloss on Les Blank’s 1982 “Burden of Dreams,” concerning the making of Werner Herzog’s Amazon epic “Fitzcarraldo,” just isn’t “Documentary Now!” at its best. The craziness that Blank captured had an autocratic, creepy quality that doesn’t lend itself to jokey caricature, and “Soldier of Illusion” — with Alexander Skarsgard as Herzog and August Diehl as his excitable leading man, Klaus Kinski — is overthought and diffuse, and never very funny.

“Documentary Now!” is healthier when it burrows right into a single mood or character or idea. The brand new season’s “Two Hairdressers in Bagglyport” is all about capturing the charm, alternately winsome and bracing, of the British short film “3 Salons on the Seaside,” wherein storefront hair salons are second homes for groups of doughty, talkative old women.

An imperious Harriet Walter and a timorous Cate Blanchett play the hairdressers who are inclined to a gentle clientele portrayed by a squad of veteran British character actresses; the routines of gossip and reprimand are interrupted by Armisen’s appearances because the friendly, bumbling mail man. It’s a nice, prickly trifle, and Meyers’s script offers nuggets for the terrific solid, like this for Walter: “Her daughter got here as much as me on the funeral and said the nicest thing, she said: ‘You realize what, Edwina? You made our mum’s hair look nicer than she’d ever been to any of us.’”

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