What makes documentaries enjoyable is the way you are able to peer into the lives of people as they experience ups and downs on this planet we all share. On the other hand, a good mockumentary serves as an exaggerated, fictionalized version of reality. When it succeeds, you almost get the feeling that it’s real, no matter how ridiculous it might seem. Got time on your hands? I guess it really depends on whether you’re reading this during the Covid-19 Pandemic (or even subsequent Covid Pandemics!) or a wonderful, glorious world in which you are no longer cooped up in your home trying to avoid deadly viruses. Either way, you should definitely set some time to check these seven amazing mockumentary shows and movies.
1. This is Spinal Tap
One of the most influential comedies of the past 40 years, This is Spinal Tap essentially created the genre of the mockumentary. It tells the story of a fictional British heavy metal band trio and a documentary filmmaker Marty Di Bergi (played by Rob Reiner, who was also making his directorial debut) who follows them during their American tour. One of the most remarkable things about the movie is that virtually all of the dialogue was improvised, and whenever possible they used the first take of their shots in order to capture the natural reactions of the actors. In total, more than 100 hours of footage was shot, requiring three editors to pare it down to an 82- minute movie.
2. Parks and Recreation
This underappreciated comedy was never a rating hit, but was critically acclaimed and had enough of a cult following to make it through 7 seasons. It stars SNL alum Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope, an employee at a small, fictional Indiana town’s Park and Recreations Department. It features a large ensemble cast, with each actor absolutely perfect for their role. My personal favorite is the grumpy, meat-loving Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman). You also get a chance to see Chris Pratt back in his chubby days!
3. The Comedians
The premise is brilliant: Baby Boomer comedian Billy Crystal and Gen-Xer Josh Gad play fictionalized versions of themselves as they take us behind the scenes of their fictional sketch comedy show. It’s abundantly clear that the characters they play lack chemistry have no interest in working together, with their generational divide and the related ideas about humor being used as a source of tension. Unfortunately, reviews were mixed and the 2015 show only lasted one season before being canceled.
4. 7 Days in Hell
This 43-minute HBO original tennis mockumentary features Andy Samberg as Aaron Williams, the American “Bad Boy of Tennis” and Jake Szymanski, a British child prodigy who was forced into taking up tennis by his overbearing mother. The main source of inspiration for this movie was the 2010 Wimbledon single’s match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut, which at 11 hours and 5 minutes remains the longest tennis match in history.
5. The Office
One of the most pointless debates you can have is: Which incarnation of The Office is better – the original one made in the UK or the subsequent American version? The truth is, aside from sharing the same premise of having a camera crew document the lives of office workers at a company that manufactures paper, there’s really little reason to bother comparing the two. They both work well for their respective audiences, with David Brent (Ricky Gervais) as the hilariously arrogant but insecure boss and Michael Scott (Steve Carell) as a manager who is clueless but has good intentions. Fun fact: versions of this show were also made in Germany, France, Sweden, Chile, and several other countries.
6. Documentary Now
Produced by SNL’s Loren Michaels and starring several former SNL cast members, the concept of this mockumentary is brilliant: most episodes parody a well-known documentary (such as Nanook Revisited, which was about a Native American tribe in Alaska) or a genre of documentaries (i.e, people wrongfully convicted of murder, hunting for a Mexican druglord so he can be interviewed). Loved by TV critics, the show has been nominated for six Primetime Emmy Awards, including four in 2019 alone, although it has yet to win any.
7. Reno 911
This parody of the long-running TV show Cops follows the ridiculously inept (but fictional) Reno Sheriff Department as they patrol the streets and encounter an ever-changing cast of eccentric characters including homeless people, and politicians. Although each episode is built around a general idea, the cast members — all of whom have spent years as members of various comedy tropes — improvise most of their dialogue.