We’ve gotten our first look at season 3 of Documentary Now!, and it puts a song in the heart of the show.
At Vulture Festival, fans were treated to a screening of a forthcoming episode, a spoof of the D.A. Pennebaker doc about the cast recording of the Stephen Sondheim Broadway show “Company.” (Pennebaker has seen this episode, and reportedly asked a question at the screening: “Has Stephen seen this yet?” He has not, but they’re sure he will…and that they’ll hear about it.) This famously intense doc is brought to life through an analogous musical, “Co-Op.” Written by Seth Meyers and John Mulaney (episode star Taran Killam calls it “the most Mulaney thing to exist”), it plays on the movie’s intensity for big laughs with the help of Paula Pell, James Urbaniak, and Mulaney himself (who was not present for the panel). Killam, Pell, and Urbaniak brought the screening to LA for its first West Coast showing, and were joined by the show’s creators Rhys Thomas and director Alex Buono.
The scale of this episode was something new for the show’s team. Filmed in Portland, OR over the course of a week, the cast (which also included Broadway stars Renee Elise Goldsberry and School of Rock’s Alex Brightman, as well as character actor Richard Kind) had to learn the episode’s five original songs in record time. The pace was a welcome one to Pell, whose prior time in theater helped her prepare. Nevertheless, she admitted “at times, I forgot we were doing a comedy!” Pell’s character is a sendup of Elaine Stritch of Company’s original cast, a role her mother once played in regional theater, so it had a sweet “full circle” feeling to her.
In addition to being the most ambitious musical episode of the show, an audience member correctly noted that it’s the first Documentary Now! we’ve seen that doesn’t feature show co-creators Fred Armisen or Bill Hader. Thomas and Buono warned, this will be more common now. Between Hader’s schedule on Barry and the other projects Armisen is working on, this season will give us less of them and more of other stars—many who may surprise you. Season 3 will feature appearances from Cate Blanchett and Michael Keaton, and others who Buono admitted “surprise you to find out they’re fans.”
To that end, thankfully the panel didn’t end without discussion of the show’s “host,” Helen Mirren. “We had always talked about getting someone Helen Mirren like,” Buono said. “It had never occurred to any of us to ask her!” Thomas added. She comes in toward the end to film the series bumpers, with a curiosity of “Okay boys, what’d we make this year?”
Viewers will get to find out what Buono and Thomas made this past year when Documentary Now! premieres, February 20th on IFC.