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

IFC’s affectionate sendups of famous documentaries return after a three-year hiatus.

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By Mike Hale

Since “Documentary Now!” was last on the air in 2019, we have experienced a murderous pandemic and a corresponding rise in popularity for comedies that put a thin crust of conflict over a comforting stew of banality and audience flattery. (You shall know them by their Emmys.)

“Documentary Now!,” IFC’s quirky and loving simulation of a public-television documentary series, was offering comfort before we knew we needed it. But rather than pander, it inspires happiness simply through its unbounded affection for its material. (Also, it’s hard to pander when only a small fraction of your potential audience has seen the films you’re sending up.)

John Mulaney, a frequent writer for the series, summed up the show’s appeal when he referred to the making of the Season 3 episode “Original Cast Album: Co-op” (inspired by D.A. Pennebaker’s “Original Cast Album: Company”) as “that party we had.” The party resumes on Wednesday with the long delayed premiere of the show’s fourth season, which, in keeping with the slowly grinding nature of public TV, is referred to onscreen — by its solemn host, Helen Mirren — as Season 53.

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