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The Power of ‘Documentary Now!’

Although it does so as a friendly roast, ‘Documentary Now!’ ultimately speaks for the necessity and the inherent cultural power of the form.

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There’s a specificity to Documentary Now!, the series created by SNL alumni Fred Armisen and Bill Hader. The show demands a unique level of audience preparation; if viewers don’t bring a deep enough knowledge base with them, much of the comedy won’t land. However, there’s not an episode of the series — now two seasons old — that won’t provide some laughs, even to a person without a film degree. The show is clever and unashamedly smart — it’s just a whole lot funnier if you’ve seen Nanook of the North.

This strain of granular humor a risky proposition, which is undoubtedly why Documentary Now! is tucked away on IFC, the home of the strange, narrow, and specialized. As a haven for a very particular type of humor, the network is owed a debt of gratitude for hosting the show. It’s regrettable, though, that Documentary Now! won’t find more eyeballs, because its vision is singular. The level of production detail is breathtaking, and the laser-sharp focus on its humor is unmatched by the show’s would-be contemporaries.

Watch “Juan Likes Rice and Chicken,” the series’ parody of Jiro Dreams of Sushi. There are a number of entry points here, numerous targets to lampoon. See the stereotypically white, millennial foodies, trekking into the mountains to find “cultural authenticity” in a plate of unremarkable rice and chicken. Watch the obviously absurd method of tenderizing the aforementioned chicken by blasting it against a wall with a rudimentary T-shirt cannon. Hear the breathless description of Juan’s modest eatery, delivered by big city food critics and chefs, who wax poetic about the superior “technique” Juan has mastered over four decades.


This particular episode surgically exposes the absurdities of food culture, the inherent uselessness of awards, the tendency of diners to mistake food for art, and the way gourmands sometimes transfer the qualities of their favorite subjects onto themselves. Hader’s food writer in the episode falls into a rhetorical trap of hubris that snares many actual critics: “this thing is incredible, for reasons that you would need to be an expert to understand, but mostly because I say it is.” The menu at Juan’s is coffee, bananas, rice, and chicken – and sometimes, if Juan fails to catch a chicken in under five minutes, the bird comes off the menu.

Documentary Now! shows its gymnastic ability to pinpoint and expose absurdity without lecturing or chastising, however. The show’s eye is keen, but never mean. The process at Juan’s, and the gratuitous hype surrounding it, reflect the most inflated signifiers of food culture. But the characters on screen, and the emotional through line they build in a mere twenty-five minutes, seems to suggest that Juan’s might actually be worth the trek.

The show frames the subjects of its fake documentaries as buffoonish without seeming trivial, as the construction of each episode is incomprehensibly thorough. These are facsimiles more than parodies, love letters more than mockumentaries. Yes, Juan appears to cook average chicken that white tourists and critics over-rate because of the byzantine process behind the mediocre meal. And to be sure, critics can be blowhards. Because the “documentary” is so formally accurate, however, there is a type of actual gravity bestowed upon would-be farcical subjects. The show executes all the little tics of documentary form – signifiers of importance, as we have come to know them – that lift up the seemingly inane events on screen. That’s the real joke this series is telling. The documentary lens is so inherently powerful that it is able to give equal import to both the inane and the obviously significant.


The team behind these installments nail even the most minute aspects of each imitation. The true subjects of Documentary Now! aren’t the characters, or the events on screen — they are the documentaries serving as each episode’s inspiration. “Juan Likes Rice and Chicken” lovingly recreates Jiro Dreams of Sushi, “The Final Dispatch” does the same with Stop Making Sense, and “The Bunker” takes after The War Room.

In this regard, Documentary Now! fills a space previously unoccupied by its contemporaries. Christopher Guest’s mockumentary projects are tonally generic and more concerned with their ridiculous subjects, and comedies like What We Do In The Shadows and Pop Star: Never Stop Never Stopping have an unremarkable style more similar to shows like The Office or Modern Family. On the other hand, the first priority of Documentary Now! is to accurately recreate the specific documentary it focuses on in any given episode. Little details make each final cut immersive; the dramatic shots of a stoic chef in “Juan,” the dolly shots on stage in “The Final Dispatch,” and the quick cuts and stylized transitions in season one’s “Dronez”, an alternate universe Vice documentary. These are small, formulaic choices made by people who clearly love the documentary tradition – even the contrived, sober conventions within it that are such rich targets for parody.

The representative accuracy doesn’t start or stop in the editing room. Documentary Now‘s set dressing, costumes, character names, and music are each beholden to their inspiration, completely unafraid to make a joke that lands with only a few people. In “Juan Likes Rice and Chicken”, Documentary Now! shows you a patently ridiculous premise, but the show’s broad argument is that documentary has the power to immortalize, to give any subject cultural significance.


Jiro, the real-life inspiration for Juan, is a sushi chef in Japan who has achieved the highest regard a chef can, occupying a particularly godly place in the culinary world. Like Juan, Jiro’s reputation is staked not to his pedigree, or lineage, but to his unrelenting drive and unthinkable discipline. Still, for all his achievement in Sushi, Jiro was still qualitatively less than what he became under the documentary lens. Documentary Now! asserts that no matter the topic, masterful documentation will always elevate its status. That idea is the show’s most important offering. Much like Armisen’s other creation, Portlandia, it upends the idea of what is serious and what is not, and laughs at the way culture determines significance; but it never sneers, and never chides. Although it does so as a friendly roast, Documentary Now! ultimately speaks for the necessity and the inherent cultural power of the form.

Mike hails from the great state of Massachusetts, where he structured his identity around three inarguable truths - that Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback of all time, Pearl Jam is the best band since 1980, and those who disagree are dead wrong. He complains about the proliferation of superhero movies while gleefully forking over sixteen dollars for each new release, and believes Tom Cruise has yet to make a bad movie. Follow Mike on twitter @haigismichael.

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Wrestling

Greatest Royal Rumble Matches

One Versus All

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Greatest Royal Rumble Matches

WrestleMania may be regarded as the Super Bowl of the WWE but of the other three major pay-per-view events, The Royal Rumble has often given us better matches over the years. Yes, the Survivor Series and King of the Ring have had their fair share of moments, but the Royal Rumble is without a doubt the second-biggest wrestling PPV on the planet.

What makes the Royal Rumble so exciting is how it sets up the most prominent storylines on the programming for the remainder of the year. The Royal Rumble is simply put, the start of playoff season and a steppingstone for WWE superstars to prepare for their big moment at WrestleMania. It really is a seminal event on the WWE calendar and has often launched the wrestlers to superstar’s status.

Greatest Royal Rumble Matches

A Brief History of the Royal Rumble

Credit for the Royal Rumble can be given to Pat Patterson who came up with the original idea when brainstorming an event that would be bigger and better than the Battle Royale. The concept was simple really; unlike the Battle Royale which begins with all twenty participants in the ring, the Royal Rumble would instead start with only two superstars and have the remaining participants join the match every two minutes thereafter. And to up the ante, instead of having only twenty wrestlers, the Royal Rumble includes thirty superstars who battle it out for a title shot in the main event of WrestleMania (except for in 1992, when Ric Flair won the WWE Championship by winning the titular match ).

If you had to choose just one reason as to why the Royal Rumble is one of the most anticipated pay-per-view events, it would be because you never really know what to expect. Aside from anticipating who’ll come out next during the main event— and guessing who will eliminate who— we’re also left wondering who’ll make a long-overdue comeback after being away from the WWE for months – sometimes years.

We’ve seen big men like Kane eliminate eleven opponents in a row, and a superstar like Shawn Michaels become the first wrestler to win the Rumble after entering first. We watched Undertaker get locked in a casket and set on fire and we witnessed The Rock and Mankind battle it out in an “I Quit” match that temporarily led to a power failure and left the entire arena in the dark. There’s just no shortage of over the top moments at the Royal Rumble such as Kofi Kingston’s creative ways to avoid elimination or the surprise entrance by AJ Styles. The Royal Rumble is where dreams are made, careers are ended, and over the years, fans have witnessed some of the most intense rivalries take shape at the event.

History of the Royal Rumble

The Royal Rumble is without question, an important PPV and has been a part of a tradition dating all the way back to 1988. We’ve seen many of the most iconic wrestlers win the multi-man brawl, including Hulk Hogan (1990, 1991), Ric Flair (1992), Bret Hart (1994), Shawn Michaels (1995, 1996) Steve Austin (1997, 1998, 2001), The Rock (2000), Triple H (2002), The Undertaker (2007), and John Cena (2008), to name a few. And we’ve seen plenty more superstars come close, but ultimately getting eliminated at the very last minute. Yes, it’s a simple concept but the Royal Rumble is also incredibly exciting to watch.

Apart from the titular main event, WWE’s annual January extravaganza has also given us some incredible matches in the undercard. From surprising sleeper hits to fast-paced tag team action to hardcore matches and strange gimmick matches— the Royal Rumble has time and time again, blessed wrestling fans with the perfect blend of great storytelling and in-ring action. As such, the event has given fans some classic matches over the years and many have stood the test of time.

Whether it’s the rumble itself or a high-tempo singles match, the list of great matches that took place during the Royal Rumble is rather long. Below is a list of the greatest Royal Rumble matches to date, with links to the full review of each match.

Simply click on the links below to read about whichever match interests you most and let us know in the comments, what you think is the greatest Royal Rumble match of all time.

Editor’s Note: This is part of an ongoing series. You can find all the articles here.

  • Ricky D

Greatest Royal Rumble Matches

1) Royal Rumble 2003: Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit

2) Royal Rumble 1992: The Royal Rumble Match

3) Royal Rumble 2000: The Hardy Boyz vs. The Dudley Boyz (Tables Match)

4) Royal Rumble 2000: Triple H and Cactus Jack Street Fight

5) Royal Rumble 2001: Chris Jericho vs. Chris Benoit (Ladder Match)

6) Royal Rumble 2007: The Royal Rumble Match

7) Royal Rumble 2015: Brock Lesnar Vs. John Cena Vs. Seth Rollins

8) Royal Rumble 1995: Diesel vs. Bret Hart

9) Royal Rumble 1998: Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker (Casket Match)

10) Royal Rumble 1999: The Rock vs.Mankind (“I Quit” Match)

11) Royal Rumble 2009: Jeff Hardy vs. Edge

12) Royal Rumble 2004: Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels

13) Royal Rumble 1994: Yokozuna vs. The Undertaker (Casket Match)

14) Royal Rumble 1991: Sgt. Slaughter vs. the Ultimate Warrior

15) Royal Rumble 1991: The Rockers vs. The Orient Express

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Wrestling

Greatest Royal Rumble Matches: Diesel vs. Bret Hart

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Royal Rumble Diesel vs. Bret Hart

Royal Rumble 1995

“Big Daddy Cool” Diesel vs. Bret “Hitman” Hart

World Wrestling Federation Championship

The 1995 Royal Rumble was the eighth installment of the annual pay-per-view. It took place on January 22, in the USF Sun Dome located in Tampa, Florida and is remembered most for two things: Pamela Anderson’s one and only appearance in the WWE ring and Shawn Michaels becoming the first wrestler to win the Royal Rumble after entering first. But aside from that the iconic, game-changing ending in which Shawn Michaels dangled on the ropes, barely hanging on, before pulling himself over and eliminating the British Bulldog— there was another great match that is often overlooked.

It was the first WWE Championship defense of Diesel and it came against the face of the company, Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart.

The storyline behind the WWF World Heavyweight Championship match began in 1994, when Bob Backlund with the help of Owen Hart, beat Bret Hart for the championship at Survivor Series. Three days later, Bob Backlund was scheduled to defend the title against Bret Hart at Madison Square Garden only on the eleventh-hour, Hart was replaced by Diesel. Despite spending most of the evening protesting the last-minute change in the card, Backlund was forced to square off against Big Daddy Cool who defeated Backlund in a nine-second match to win the World Title.

With Bret Hart looking to recapture the title, a match with Diesel was then scheduled at the Royal Rumble. It was a rare instance of two babyfaces assigned to compete against each other with the audience having to choose sides.

Unfortunately, the match ended in controversial fashion, but not without its share of drama and plenty of highlights.

Royal Rumble Diesel vs. Bret Hart

Diesel’s match with Bret Hart was a pivotal moment in his career. Not only was it the first time he had to defend the WWE Title on a PPV, but for someone who was often criticized as being over-rated, this match proved that with the right competition, Diesel could put on a great match while also telling a great story.  

It was a face vs. face, but Hart played the de facto heel for much of the match, going so far as slamming a chair on Diesel’s back and taking advantage of his injured knee by applying the figure-four leglock twice. The match itself lasted a good 28 minutes with plenty of finishers including Diesel’s Jackknife powerbomb and of course, Bret Hart’s signature Sharpshooter. It was physical; it was exciting, and it was an example of great storytelling thanks to the ongoing interference.

First, Shawn Michaels came out and attacked Diesel. After being thrown out of the ring, fans anticipated the referee would disqualify Bret Hart and end the match — only instead, the ref ordered it to continue. After a back and forth brawl, Hart hit the Sharpshooter on Diesel’s injured leg but before Big Daddy Cool could tap out, Owen Hart ran in and attacked Bret from behind. And just like before, the referee cleared Owen out of the ring and ordered that the match continue, causing the fans in the arena to explode in cheers.

Royal Rumble Diesel vs. Bret Hart

While the match isn’t as notable as the Survivor Series fight between Diesel and Bret Hart, it’s still a genuine classic and one of the best matches of Kevin Nash’s career. With the help of Bret Hart, Kevin Nash had risen again and delivered a performance for the ages.

The match, however, would end in disappointing fashion. After the referee was knocked unconscious, Shawn Michaels, Jeff Jarrett, The Roadie, Owen Hart and Bob Backlund all came out to attack Bret Hart and Diesel. Realizing he had lost full control of the match and could no longer officiate due to the constant interference; the referee officially ended the match and rang the bell. In the end, it was ruled a draw and Diesel retained his championship.

Royal Rumble Diesel vs. Bret Hart

Despite the interference, the match itself lasted a good half hour and featured two stellar performances by Bret Hart and yes, Kevin Nash. It was just another example of how with the right opponent, Kevin Nash could really work the ring and whatever mistakes and turmoil led Kevin Nash to the WCW, whatever demons that plagued him – you can’t forget that at one point in time, the man was at the top of the WWE.

All in all, the Championship match was well choreographed; perfectly scripted and packed with non-stop action from beginning to end.

  • Ricky D

Editor’s Note: This article is part of an ongoing series. Click here to see every entry.

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TV

Arrow Season 8 Episode 9 Review: “Green Arrow and the Canaries”

Arrow looks to the future in an intriguing, clumsy penultimate episode/backdoor pilot.

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Green Arrow and the Canaries

It’s not often the penultimate episode of a long-running series is constructed as a backdoor pilot to a spin-off. But even rarer is a show heading into its final two hours with its titular character already enjoying a hard fought, well earned dirt nap after casually saving the universe – a fate both hero and viewers alike were aware of well over a year ago. It is under those strange, post-Crisis on Infinite Earths circumstances that “Green Arrow and the Canaries” exists, a backdoor pilot trying to leap frog off a near-decade of world and character building, to continue building the next generation of Arrowverse heroes alongside shows like Supergirl and Batwoman.

It is tough to strike a balance to find between carrying the torch of an iconic series, while still finding room for its own identity; that is the challenge facing both Mia and Arrow, as the Arrowverse looks to its next generation of storytelling.

As Arrow – and inevitably, The Flash – ride off into the sunset, The CW’s grasped the opportunity to diversify its starting lineup, on full display during the five-part Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover. No longer is the Arrowverse just led by Oliver Queen, Barry Allen, and Rip Hunter: with characters like Jefferson Pierce, Sara Lance, and now Mia Queen-Smoak, the Arrowverse is heading into the next decade with a refreshed starting lineup, a creative re-invigoration that reverberates through “Green Arrow and the Canaries” in some really interesting, if limited, ways.

Like most of the CW’s attempts to introduce new characters and worlds, “Green Arrow and the Canaries” is an awkward mash of ideas and tones, establishing a new Star City in 2040 post-Crisis, with all the inconceivably ridiculous machinations it takes to get there. Frankly, it does not do a great job of catching anyone up who is new to the Arrowverse, or is checking in with the final few episodes of Arrow to see what’s next: anytime it tries to explain how Mia lost her memories of 2020 (and how Dinah Drake ended up in 2040 Star City), “Green Arrow and the Canaries” strains credulity with its own premise.

Though, there is something to say for the episode’s very Legends of Tomorrow-esque approach to not really giving a fuck: we get cool shots of Dinah singing in a bar she owns (under her apartment, which looks like it is in the original clock tower Sara used as a hideout? Please don’t quote me on this if I am wrong), and it never lingers too long on trying to justify its existence. After all, how do you logically explain how the Earth-2 version of Laurel Lance, a Dinah who hasn’t aged in 20 years, and Oliver Queen’s adult daughter end up working on the same case (trying to find a kidnapped granddaughter of the Bertonelli family)? Smartly, “Green Arrow and the Canaries” only makes a few flimsy attempts before saying fuck it, and running with its narrative.

It makes for a fairly engaging experiment; with Mia Queen at the center, “Green Arrow and the Canaries” basically hits the reset button on Arrow‘s story of legacy, with Oliver as the deceased patriarch of the family, and Mia facing a world without either of her parents around (they do not mention Felicity at all, which is… very weird). How does someone follow in the footsteps of the man who saved the entire universe? “Green Arrow and the Canaries” doesn’t directly attack this issue, but the pressure of reputation, and the echoes of the trauma of losing him, provide this potential spin-off with an interesting emotional framework.

Green Arrow and the Canaries

It also features Black Siren, as the Kate Cassidy redemption tour continues; after years being stuck in a laughably thin character (and equally limited performance), the integration of Earth-2’s badass, morally ambiguous Laurel Lance was a boon for Arrow‘s late season resurgence – a renaissance that welcomely continues into this new series, channeling Laurel-2’s goth bitchiness into a powerful, driven portrayal of a rich supporting character.

“Green Arrow and the Canaries” is not without its limitations, though: despite the inherent pleasure of seeing these three characters team up together (and the simple fact it is vastly superior to the languid, mediocre Batwoman), the actual dramatic arc of the episode is cookie cutter material, formulaic in the way any experienced Arrow or The Flash viewer will recognize. There’s plenty of intriguing notes there (like the maybe-return of Deathstroke 3.0, as Mia’s now-estranged fiancee), but unlike Legends of Tomorrow or Black Lightning, “Green Arrow and the Canaries” doesn’t really introduce any wrinkles to a well-worn storytelling style, which could quickly lead any spin-off down a disappointing road of dwindling returns.

Green Arrow and the Canaries

The Arrowverse as a whole is in a strange place; as The Flash winds down (or at least, appears to be), Legends of Tomorrow continues to fucking rule, and shows like Supergirl and Black Lightning cement their place in The CW’s lineup, the massive universe Berlanti and company have built (and with Crisis, completely integrated) is both in a great place, and at a critical crossroads.

If “Green Arrow and the Canaries” becomes Green Arrow and the Canaries, it must be careful not to follow in the footsteps of the disappointing Batwoman (which suffers from the unwieldy combination of poor plotting and dismal performances). Following the series that started it all is a challenging affair, and one that comes with the high stakes of tainting what came before it (after all, it wasn’t long ago that Mia Queen-Smoak was one of Arrow‘s weakest points, through most of season seven’s flashbacks).

But there’s a lot of potential here; if Green Arrow and the Canaries harnesses the energy of its central trio, it could be so much more than a carbon copy of its hallowed predecessor – which, at its worst moments, briefly turning Dinah into Felicity and Mia into proto-season one Oliver, it comes dangerously close to being. It is tough to strike a balance between carrying the torch of an iconic series, while still finding room for its own identity; that is the challenge facing both Mia and Arrow, as the Arrowverse looks to its next generation of storytelling, and a question that “Green Arrow and the Canaries” ultimately only provides a partial answer to.

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