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Documentary Now! provides a wildly accurate satire of Netflix's cult docuseries

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Documentary Now! unsurprisingly takes some big swings in its season three premiere. From this start, this has been an ambitious, weird series that strikes an impressive balance between niche, specific jokes and broader comedy. It has to play to viewers who might not be familiar with the source material it’s skewering while also tapping into the particulars of the genre, style, and story of those original documentaries. “Batsh*t Valley” plays things very, very close to the hit Netflix documentary it parodies, Wild Wild Country, heightening just ever so slightly to brilliant comedic effect.

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It’s a surprising choice of source material for the show, which usually tends to gravitate to either older docs or more obscure ones. It’s easy to accuse this lampooning of Wild Wild Country for being a little too on-trend for the series, which tends to be more surprising in its choices. But it’s so good, so razor-sharp in the way it mimics the original’s style and tone that it’s not worth getting hung up on.

“Batsh*t Valley” follows cult leader Father Ra-Shawbard, played with disturbing charm by Owen Wilson. Michael Keaton plays FBI agent Bill Dawes, who investigates the Shawbardite cult that has overtaken a small town in rural Oregon, full of people who “only eat the vegetables after the vegetables give permission” and also have a lot of orgies. Documentary Now! dedicates two installments to this docuseries parody in a super-sized premiere, and it earns that length, making every second count. Like all the best episodes, it’s a comprehensive parody with strikingly meticulous attention to detail, even down to the fonts used throughout.

Much like the original docuseries, “Batsh*t Valley” weaves together talking heads with “actual” footage of the cult ongoings and local news segments—the latter of which have some of the funniest lines of the episode. The dynamic style here has the same effects as the dynamic style of the original: It’s exciting, immediately watchable. Documentary Now! pulls you so deep into its world that it’s easy to forget it’s parody. And then the moments that remind you of that, like when the town is renamed Raw-Shawbard’s Butthole, it makes it all the funnier.

Another ambitious choice the episode, written by Seth Meyers, makes is to not involve the show’s frontmen Bill Hader and Fred Armisen. Their performances are usually so foundational to this show, but the cast assembled for “Batsh*t Valley” brings a lot of the same strengths to the table. Wilson’s impression of Rajneesh is scarily accurate.

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But much like Ma Anand Sheela became the standout presence in Wild Wild Country, a magnetic and compelling character that somewhat stole the show, Necar Zadegan as Ra-Sharir, the parody’s version of Sheela, becomes the standout early on. And I’d buy that that is very intentional on Documentary Now!’s part. Because this show doesn’t just mimic the form and topic of its source material but also its impact, the way that it’s received. The show just keeps on nailing those subtler aspects of its satire. It’s wild that this two-parter doesn’t just feel like the same joke over and over. It’s an arsenal of jokes.


Stray observations

  • Every single time someone says “orgy” or “orgies,” it’s funny, but mainly because that serious tone when talking about the sex parts of the cult isn’t even a departure from the tone or topics of the original!
  • In this instance, I’ve seen the original, so I’m curious to hear from folks who maybe haven’t. Does it work? I’m inclined to believe it would.
  • I absolutely lost it with pool noodling.
  • The orgasm jars are very disturbing and funny all at once, which can be said about a lot of this episode.
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