Bill Hader, Fred Armisen back in spoof spotlight
‘SNL’ veterans keep laughs coming in ‘Documentary Now!’
Campaign managers. Rock musicians. Door-todoor salesmen.
Fred Armisen and Bill Hader are comedic chameleons, disappearing into varied roles for a second season of IFC’s Documentary
Now! (Wednesday, 10 ET/PT). Parodies of acclaimed documentaries, cooked up with fellow
Saturday Night Live alum Seth Meyers, give them a chance to celebrate a genre they love as Armisen and Hader try on enough personas to make Sybil dizzy.
On a warm summer day, Armisen is taking the multicharacter motif to a new level on a studio lot, portraying an Italian film star who plays a slapstick bellboy channeling Jerry Lewis in a film within a documentary inspired by producer Robert Evans, the subject of 2002’s The Kid Stays in the Picture.
His over-the-top character, Enzo, “is only expressive,” says the red-suited Armisen, who ratchets up the character from friendly aide to fawning, suitcase-dropping bumbler during a succession of takes.
Hader, who plays a successful producer of popular pedestrian fare who yearns for Oscar prestige in Mr. Runner Up, says the two-part episode incorporates a lesson producers learned during Emmy-nominated Now!’ s first season.
“What always helped was when we had a strong emotional through-line, and this one is about a guy needing respect and the lengths he goes” to win it, he says during a shooting break. Season 2 opens with The Bunker, loosely based on 1993’s The
War Room and featuring Armisen and Hader as cocky 1990s political operatives working on an Ohio governor’s race.
Other episodes, and the documentaries that inspired them are: Parker Gail’s Location Is Everything, based on 1987’s Swimming to Cambodia with Spalding Gray; Final Transmission, a musical documentary patterned on 1984’s Talking Heads film, Stop Making Sense; Globesmen, a takeoff on 1968’s Salesman, from Albert and David Maysles; and Juan Likes Rice & Chicken, a spoof of 2011’s Jiro Dreams of Sushi. Helen Mirren plays the series’ straight-laced host, and SNL vet-
erans, including executive producer Rhys Thomas and comedian John Mulaney, write, produce and direct, while Maya Rudolph guest-stars in Final Transmission.
“They’re friends and the most talented people I know,” Portlan
dia star Armisen says of what can seem like an SNL post-graduate seminar. ( SNL’s Lorne Michaels is executive producer.) “I’ll never get over how insane it is. These would normally be my heroes (at) making comedy.”
Previous collaborations make production easier, Hader says.
“It’s like having a band. Everybody has their specialty they work on and you go, ‘They got it,’ and you work through it. There’s so much trust,” he says. “You just know each other’s shorthand.”
Late Night host Meyers says variety helps. “Each episode is so different. What we set out to do is make you feel like you’re going to a video store and grabbing six
documentaries, and they’re all over the place in tone and storytelling. Some episodes are really jokey and some aim to be a little sweeter.”
The Bunker made sense in an election year, and it also makes the most of the chemistry Armisen and Hader have developed over the years, Meyers says.
“We really like when Fred and Bill have the chance to play off each other,” he says.
They picked other films for varying reasons, Meyers says. Admiration for the Maysles brothers, whose Grey Gardens was a jumping-off point for Season 1’s
Sandy Passage, resulted in Globesmen, the series’ first blackand-white episode.
A growing subset of food docs led to Juan, filmed in Colombia and almost entirely in Spanish, and written by Meyers.
Fred Armisen, left, and Bill Hader hunker down as campaign operatives in a timely mini-doc, The Bunker.
Dame Helen Mirren adds a serious touch as the host of IFC’s Documentary Now!