As the pandemic lingered, some TV shows rushed to get back.
Then there were shows like “Documentary Now,” the much-praised comedy. It finally returns (shown here) at 10 p.m. ET Wednesday (Oct. 19) on IFC (and then on AMC+), after almost vanishing.
“We certainly took advantage of the three-and-a-half years between seasons,” Seth Meyers told the Television Critics Association. “At this point, we were definitely the ‘Sopranos’ of IFC.”
And then some: “Sopranos” often had 15-month gaps between the end of one season and the start of another. “Documentary Now” had a 43-month gap after it third season.
Each previous one drew an Emmy nomination for best variety or sketch series. Each had six episodes (five half-hours and an hour-long two-parter) with take-offs on classic documentaries.
This season repeats that, with the hour-long one as the opener. “It’s a little bit of a Herzog greatest hits,” said producer-director Rhys Thomas.
Werner Herzog, now 80, has long been an art-film favorite. In 1972, he made “Aguirre, the Wrath of God,” with Klaus Kinski as the mad conquistador who led a doomed South American search for El Dorado. A decade later, his “Fitzcarraldo” profiled another obsessed man – this one determined to be a shipping magnate on the Amazon.
It was a troubled production, starting with Herzog’s demand that people actually haul a 320-ton ship over a hill. When the star (Jason Robards) was ill, Kinski was cast … and started fighting with Herzog, just as he had on two previous films.
That was shown in the documentary “Burden of Dreams” – and now becomes a comic pseudo-documentary. “Werner Herzog was on my show,” said Meyers, who does the 12:35 a.m. hour for NBC. “He went, ‘No one will ever watch that.’”
Well, the people who do watch it will have fun. John Mullaney’s clever script pretends to have a director simultaneously making two opposite shows – a documentary about a primitive society and a noisy situation-comedy pilot.
Fred Armisen (shown her), one of the show’s writer-producers, would play the visiting network-comedy guy, but who would play the director? The show tried Alexander Skarsgard, the Swedish-born star of TV (“True Blood,” “Big Little Lies”) and movies (“The Legend of Tarzan”).
“We made an insane request that he come to North Wales to play Herzog,” Thomas said. “And it didn’t take a ton of convincing.”
It usually doesn’t, because Hollywood types are fans. Helen Mirren took the hosting job, Meyers said, because she liked Armisen’s “Portlandia.” Others this season include Cate Blanchett, British comedy star Jamie Demetriou and famed Welshmen Tom Jones and John Rhys-Davies.
(Because the whole season was shot in Wales, the show concocted a Welsh film that, unlike other episodes, isn’t a take-off on an existing documentary.)
The show pretends to be in its 53rd season, but this is really the fourth – which is more than expected.
“We had an assumption that we’d do two seasons,” Meyers said. “And then it was so rewarding to do a third season that was a little less reliant on Bill (Hader) and Fred, because of their schedules.”
Then came Covid and the long pause, as busy people tried to re-align. Finally, Armisen said, there was an in-person session “just to see … what we write about. Then months of e-mails.”
Meyers ended up writing “My Monkey Grifter,” a witty take-off on “My Octopus Teacher,” last year’s Oscar-winner. That’s unlike the other filsm, said producer-director Alex Buono. “At least one of them will be something that everybody’s heard of.”
Maybe not everybody … but more than have seen a documentary about a 1982 Werner Herzog film.