IFC

Documentary Now! is to documentaries as Kroll Show was to reality television. Kroll Show breaks down everything that makes up reality television and then parodies it in the extreme. The show’s approach to parody is comprehensive, taking on not only the writing, directing, and acting styles of the original material, but also the editing. Documentary Now! has a similarly detailed and complex satirical style, mimicking specifics and zeroing in on exactly what to heighten for effective comedy. Documentary Now! takes on the added difficulty of stretching its parodies into whole episodes instead of the sketch-show format Kroll Show follows. But Documentary Now! also works with a much more vast and diverse genre umbrella than Kroll Show does. Even as the latter added new characters and sketches, the overall tone of the show remained pretty consistent (and that wacky voice was one of Kroll Show’s greatest strengths). From one episode to the next, Documentary Now! transforms into a totally different show because of how much each of the original documentaries they’re skewering vary. This week’s “Dronez: The Hunt For El Chingon” doesn’t look or feel anything like “Sandy Passages” or “Kanuk Uncovered.” In fact, it’s a hell of a lot more overtly satirical than the rest. But it’s just as effective on the comedy front and the show’s most accessible episode to date.

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“Sandy Passages” barely manipulates anything from the original Grey Gardens until the very end. “Dronez: The Hunt For El Chingon” has a little more fun—and pokes a little more fun—throughout, so while it doesn’t build as effectively, it’s a much zippier episode than the first. It isn’t all that surprising that IFC released “Dronez: The Hunt For El Chingon” on the internet ahead of the premiere. Overall, it has broader appeal than the pilot, attacking the very modern format of Vice’s HBO documentaries.

And I really do mean attacking. Even more so than the oddly thoughtful “Sandy Passages,” “Dronez: The Hunt For El Chingon” has a message. Written by Duffy Boudreau, Rob Klein, and Bill Hader, the episode targets very specific flaws in Vice’s approach to journalism and heightens them for comedic effect. Hader and Fred Armisen play different iterations of the same stereotype: millennial white dudes who live in Brooklyn and arrogantly risk their lives on dangerous assignments in places where their cultural ignorance gets them into a whole lot of trouble. The episode racks up a body count as the Dronez reporters keep ignoring everyone around them in their quest for an interview with dangerous cartel leader El Chingon.

If you’ve watched any of Vice’s documentaries on HBO, then you know that structurally, “Dronez: The Hunt For El Chingon” looks nearly identical (the biggest difference being that the typical Vice documentary covers two topics instead of just one). Jack Black’s Jamison Friend bears strong resemblance to Shane Smith, the Vice founder who provides context for the documentaries. The intro sequence is nearly identical.

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And while Documentary Now! certainly embellishes, those embellishments are rooted in truth. There’s a certain othering that sometimes comes with Vice’s methods—an othering that “Dronez” first targets and then accelerates. Of course, this isn’t to say that there isn’t something valuable about what Vice does. And as much fun as Documentary Now! makes of Vice, I don’t think that’s what the show is saying either. In fact, Vice, which promoted “Dronez” ahead of the premiere, seems in on the joke.

On a larger scale, “Dronez” critiques the current media landscape beyond Vice—Vice just provides the way to package it all. Vice’s ballz-to-the-wallz approach to journalism is admittedly easy to parody, but Documentary Now!’s approach to parody has laser accuracy, and the show focuses on specifics instead of the broad. As a result, it’s wildly funny but works on a deeper level than just the jokes.

Stray observations

  • “Their dog is a chicken.”
  • Which hipster look that Hader and Armisen donned was your favorite? I’m a big fan of the tote Armisen carries as Kyle Riley.
  • “Trevor Kenny was on assignment in Alabama making omelettes with a racist sorority.”
  • I think the joke I laughed the hardest at was after the fallout of the raid, when the news reporter sticks her microphone in Hader’s face and he just says “Dronez!”
  • Although, that moment is closely followed by Jamison Friend suggesting they use the barrels containing Trevor and Bryce’s melted bodies as coffee tables in the front lobby of the Dronez offices.
  • I’m so happy this show got Helen Mirren to say “ballz to the wallz” and also to explain that both words were indeed spelled with “zeds.”

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