‘Documentary Now!’ Returns to Take Us Deep Into ‘The Bunker’

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The Bunker Documentary Now!

It’s seemed as if the spoof genre has been dead for a long time. Modern spoofs seem to prioritize mocking specific moments from a hodgepodge of various movies without the effort to find humor in replicating the feel and tropes of a genre – I’m looking at you, Friedberg and Seltzer. That’s why I’m grateful for Documentary Now!, the comedy series created by Bill Hader, Fred Armisen, Seth Meyers, and Rhys Thomas. Documentary Now! is a cinephile’s dream, offering week after week of brilliant spoofs of the greatest documentaries ever made. The brilliance of Documentary Now! lies in the fact that you don’t have to be familiar with whatever movie their spoofing for it be funny, but knowing what they’re riffing on makes each episode all the more better.

In the first episode of its second season, Documentary Now! takes on the campaign documentary by D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus, The War Room. For those unfamiliar, The War Room was a 1993 documentary that followed key campaign strategists James Carville and George Stephanopoulos as they guided Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton all the way to the White House. It’s a fly on the wall look at the era’s political operations, and the origin stories for two figures that would become mainstays on the American political scene to this very day. (It’s currently available to stream on Hulu.)

The Bunker follows Bill Hader as James Carville’s stand-in Teddy Redbones and Fred Armisen is in the George Stephanopoulos roles as Alvin Panagoulious. Hader is scene stealing as the southern fried campaign strategist tasked with turning a former city council member Ben Herndon (Van Epperson), certainly not a candidate with the same charisma of a young Bill Clinton, to the governor’s mansion in Ohio. Orchestrating campaign ads, giving impassioned motivational speeches, and working the press, Hader’s Teddy Redbones perfectly captures the spirit of Carville’s bluster with added touch of exaggeration. (Look no further than the massive mural of Roy Orbison on the hood of Redbone’s car for an example of this glorious exaggeration.) Conversely, Armisen plays his Stephanopoulos cipher much more quietly, though adding the distasteful habit of numerically ranking women.

These strategists are simply trying to guide a doofus to the governor’s office. The duo employs nasty campaign ads and have a loose relationship with the truth, but they’re driven to win more than guided by ideological fervor. One particularly funny sequence has them driving around town placing racially insensitive lawn jockeys besides campaign signs of their opponent. That’s just a small sampling of the lengths that Redbones and Panagoulious are willing to go in order to win in writer John Mulaney’s manic take on Carville and Stephanopoulos.

Now The Bunker doesn’t follow The War Room to a tee. Their candidate isn’t besieged with accusations and dirty tricks like Clinton was in ’92, but directors Rhys Thomas and Alex Buono capture the spirit of the source material. The Bunker opens with practically a shot-for-shot recreation of The War Room’s opening sequence, right down to a dog being draped with campaign signs. Right down to the aspect ratio and grainy film stock that alternates with video, Buono, who also serves as director of photography, perfectly recreates the look of The War Room, making this an all-encompassing homage and spoof of a documentary classic.

The Bunker is a brilliant start for the second season of Documentary Now!, not that there was much concern that the show would slip following a brilliant first season. This is a show that lampoons an entire genre of filmmaking by spoofing some of its most iconic movies with technical accuracy and comedic gumption. Simply, The Bunker is another great episode of a truly great show.

Documentary Now! airs on Wednesdays at 10pm only on IFC.

The Bunker
  • Overall Score
5

Summary

A riff on the classic campaign documentary The War Room, The Bunker is another amazing episode of Documentary Now! that captures the spirit of its source material, and is anchored by a manic comedic performance as Bill Hader channels the bluster of James Carville.

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