- Documentary Now! has returned, as brilliant as ever.
- Nothing gets in between me and my Shawn Mendes.
- David Arquette settles an decades-old mystery.
- Revisiting the 1999 Oscars ceremony.
- The funniest stand-up set of the week.
- Captain Marvel reactions are in.
Documentary Now! Honestly Has No Business Being This Good
Documentary Now! is a brilliant series in that it should be of interest to almost nobody, and the meticulous specificity with which it adheres to its miniscule target audience is exactly why it should appeal to everyone.
The IFC series, from Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, Seth Meyers, and Rhys Thomas, could have easily been a Saturday Night Live sketch spoofing documentaries. But it’s so much richer than that. Its arrival in 2015 was perfectly timed to the boom in watercooler docuseries and the cultural true-crime obsession. But while it does hit on that trend, like with the Wild Wild Country-esque Season 3 premiere, “Batsh*t Valley,” the series has always been more interested in mining cult documentaries that seem to encapsulate a particular moment in time both in our society and in filmmaking.
The more familiar you are with the documentaries, the funnier you’ll find the spoofs, be it the “Sandy Passage” take on Grey Gardens, the “Juan Likes Rice and Chicken” homage to Jiro Dreams of Sushi, or the “Final Transmission” parody of the Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense. But also, the less familiar you are with them, the funnier you’ll find them, too.
That’s because of the care and ambition taken to capture the spirit of the original documentaries in painstaking recreations that, without adding many overt “jokes,” manage to be both a laugh riot and a curious examination of art and humanity. (It sounds lofty, but it’s true.) To that end, the undertaking in what may be series’ finest episode, “Original Cast Album: Co-Op,” is truly wild.
It is a take on 1970’s Original Cast Album: Company which, as the title suggests, tracks the tumultuous marathon recording session of the Stephen Sondheim Broadway musical, Company. What’s remarkable about the film is that it gives no context as to whether the events we watch—from Sondheim’s preciousness to anxious stars to Elaine Stritch’s infamous meltdown recording “Ladies Who Launch”—are either normal or unusual. No other documentary like it has been made since. That’s what makes “Co-Op” so fun. It portrays all the curiosities as simple fact.
The layers of satire here are unreal, hitting on the filmmaking style of the documentary, the craft of working Broadway actors, the egos of musical theatre greats, and, with its own original songs, the style of a Sondheim score. The performances from John Mulaney, Richard Kind, Renee Elise Goldberry, and Paula Pell are spot-on. It’s all just so good.
Here is fair warning, though: Watching the “Co-Op” episode will start you on an endless loop of then urgently needing to watch the Company documentary, which then makes you want to watch the “Co-Op” episode immediately, and eventually 14 hours have passed and you are Elaine Stritch squawking the bridge down a half-tone at 3:45 in the morning.
I Finally Get Shawn Mendes Now
Me: I don’t get all the fascination with Shawn Mendes and Noah Centineo.
David Arquette Takes the Blame for Courteney Cox’s Bad Haircut
In Scream 3, Courteney Cox debuted what could perhaps be the worst hairstyle in the history of cinema. As the last two decades have unfolded, with nary a hairdo to rival such tragedy, Cox’s blunt, frayed bangs have evolved into legend. Courteney Cox circa 2000 was stunning, maybe one of the most gorgeous people on the planet. Courteney Cox circa 2000 in Scream 3 looked as if someone ran through her locks with a lawnmower under the directive to make the Friends star look like a balding space alien. Who did Courteney Cox hurt to deserve this?
David Arquette finally answered that question, responding to a popular meme mocking the hair—a photo captioned “if you ever feel like shit, just remember Courteney Cox’s hair in Scream 3”—and finally accepting the blame. “I have to take the fall for this,” he wrote. “I suggested a Bettie Page look. It just didn’t work. I take full responsibility.”
Does any of this really matter? Of course not! Am I obsessed with this story? Endlessly! I mean, look at that hair. Someone allowed one of the most famous people in the world go on a movie set and be recorded on film looking like that. It’s been nearly 20 years, and, as a culture, we’re still not over it. And maybe we never will be! But at a time when facts and accountability are so important, at least we finally have answers.
The 20th Anniversary of Shakespeare in Love’s Best Picture Win
One of my favorite traditions of recent awards seasons is Vanity Fair’s recaps of the Oscars telecast that aired 20 years before. This year, writer Richard Lawson did a meticulous and quippy look back through the 1999 ceremony, which Whoopi Goldberg hosted and Shakespeare in Love famously surprised by winning Best Picture over Saving Private Ryan.
It also happens to be the first Oscars telecast that I distinctly remember sitting down and watching from beginning to end, unnecessarily invested in every single moment, from Judi Dench’s Best Supporting Actress speech to the cuckoo Debbie Allen contemporary dance routine. In other words, a monster was created that night. And now he has a newsletter.
But what struck me while reading through the Vanity Fair recap is how relevant the specifics of the telecast are in terms of the disastrous lead-up to this Sunday’s Oscars ceremony and the catastrophic decisions producers and the Academy have made. It’s fitting that rumors swirled this week that Whoopi Goldberg’s recent sick leave from The View was actually a cover-up for being the surprise host of this year’s telecast—ABC shot that down—because revisiting her emceeing in 1999 reminds us exactly why the show needs a host and, more, why Goldberg was so good at it.
She had bits and stunts, but they were all in homage to the nominees. (She entered, for example, in full Queen Elizabeth makeup and costume from Shakespeare in Love, joking that she was “the African queen.”) Her monologue—lots of Clinton/Lewinsky jokes and roasting of the actors in attendance—set an appropriate tone of punchiness and reverence, and just as the show seemed to lose its way over the course of its four-hour running time, she always returned to rein it back in.
And on the subject of that running time, with producers making so many boneheaded decisions this year all in the name of keeping the ceremony to three hours, Goldberg delivered a line to remember: “This will be a long show, so we don’t want to read about how damn long it was. We know it’s long. Tough.”
Thank god the show was long! Think of all that unfolded. Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston performed their duet of “When You Believe” from The Prince of Egypt. Celine Dion and Andrea Boccelli sang together. Aerosmith played! There was the aforementioned Debbie Allen interpretative dancing to the scores from Pleasantville, The Thin Red Line, and Life Is Beautiful. I mean...Life Is Beautiful! Remember Roberto Benigni? He was a thing. So was Jim Carrey rightfully joking about being snubbed for The Truman Show, and Val Kilmer unable to control a horse while paying tribute to Roy Rogers. And there was controversy, with Elia Kazan getting an honorary Oscar and many celebrities in the audience refusing to clap for him.
And that’s all before Gwyneth Paltrow was crowned Hollywood’s Cinderella with her beautiful, emotional Best Actress acceptance speech in that iconic pastel pink dress, and, uh, Harvey Weinstein took to the stage to accept Best Picture. So much has changed in the last 20 years, as evidenced by that last detail. But what we should want or expect from the Oscars, despite what producers say each year in all their panicked tinkering with the ceremony, has not.
I would watch a telecast just like that one this year with the same delight, boredom, excitement, rage, and joy as I did then.
Bowen Yang’s Hilarious 2 Dope Queens Set
“The person who coined the term ‘meteoric rise’ don’t know how meteors work. Those things fall, bitch.” Bowen Yang is very funny! Watch a clip from his stand-up set on Friday’s episode of 2 Dope Queens here.
The First Reactions to Captain Marvel Are Very Positive
It has come to my attention that people really like Marvel movies. Hmm. Who knew? So it should be of interest to those people that there are those who have apparently seen Captain Marvel, and they liked it. It is weird! There is a cat! Thanos is fucked! (I don’t know what that means!)
What to see this week:
PEN15: The whole season of this middle school traumedy is on Hulu and it is painful/hilarious/brutal/full of gel pens and angst.
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World: The conclusion of the underrated animated trilogy heads to the Hidden World, where you can discover more dragons and also me weeping!
The Oscars: Sure, why not?
What to skip this week:
Proven Innocent: Couldn’t make it through the first five minutes.
Whiskey Cavalier: It’s “Meh,” the show!
The Enemy Within: Show of hands: How many knew these three network dramas actually existed?