The main creative team behind Documentary Now! is all men, which means that they mostly choose documentaries with male subjects to spoof: The Kid Stays in the Picture, Salesman, History of the Eagles. The scarcity of episodes with a woman at the center is disappointing—I long for them to parody 20 Feet From Stardom—but it does result in quite a few instances of both Hader and Armisen openly dissecting and critiquing patriarchal systems from the inside. Making a documentary can be an act of intrusion and manipulation as much as it can be an act of responsibility and care, and Documentary Now! investigates just how thin that line can be.
In the show’s third season, its tone has shifted. For one thing, Bill Hader, who clearly loved the movies he lampooned, does not appear in these episodes; he is off making the second season of Barry, his HBO comedy series about a hitman who aspires to be an actor. Without him, the season has a harder edge: It doesn’t just gently rib its subjects, it eviscerates them.