SPARKS AND RECREATION: This Is What It Sounds Like When Bill Hader Gets High With Seth Rogan

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VARIETY: IFC is betting big on “Documentary Now!,” giving a second and third season to Fred Armisen, Bill Hader and Seth Meyers’ parody project ahead of its series premiere on Thursday. The “Saturday Night Live” alums created, wrote and and executive produced the seven-part series that offers a different look at some of the world’s best-known documentary films. It’s also co-created and executive produced by Rhys Thomas and exec produced by Broadway Video’s Andrew Singer. It employs familiar “SNL” names: Thomas and Alex Buono serve as the show’s directors, John Mulaney is consulting producer and Erik Kenward is supervising producer. Hosted by Helen Mirren, “Documentary Now!’s” subjects include “Grey Gardens” and “The Thin Blue Line.” The final episode for season one is a send-up of rock docs titled “Gentle & Soft: The Story of the Blue Jean Committee,” and will air as a two-part episode. MORE

The first episode, entitled “Sandy Passage,” certainly sets a high bar — a pitch-perfect, brilliantly performed send-up of Albert and David Maysles’ seminal Grey Gardens (1975). Armisen and Hader play “Big” Vivvy and “Little” Vivvy Van Kimpton, a reclusive mother and daughter modeled on the erratic Beales from Gardens. Of course it’s funny to see both male comics in drag. But even better is their uncannily exact replication of the Beales’ eccentric mannerisms, which sync up perfectly with co-directors Rhys Thomas and Alex Buono’s superb imitation of the Maysles’ pioneering, fly-on-the-wall shooting style.

It’s a scream watching Hader reenact Gardens’ infamous dance sequence or listening to Armisen raucously scold anyone within earshot. (“It’s because you stomp” “Big” Vivvy shouts documentary-now-tv-review-ifcafter “Little” Vivvy falls through the rotting floor above into the kitchen below.) Things take a much darker turn here than Gardens ever did, almost as if the makers of The Blair Witch Project took over filming halfway through. Yet even this out-of-left-field shift, which includes some intestine-ripping gore, makes some kind of twisted sense, and you’re ultimately grateful Armisen and Hader take the joke as far as they do.

The other two episodes made available for preview aren’t quite up to the level of “Sandy Passage,” but they’re still far from duds. First up is a parody of VICE video exposés entitled “Dronez: The Hunt for El Chingon,” in which Armisen and Hader play three separate pairs of hipster journalists (one pair gets killed off before each commercial break) who go in search of a Mexican drug lord. This mockery of “fearless” journalism is spot-on in pretty much every particular, from the antic editing tricks to the multiple facial hair atrocities. (Special guest star Jack Black boasts an especially abhorrent goatee.)

Then there’s “Kunuk Uncovered,” a dual-pronged pastiche of both late-’80s/early-’90s movie history docs and Robert Flaherty’s genre-defining silent masterpiece Nanook of the North (1922). Armisen plays the Eskimo subject “Kunuk” (not his actual name), star of a famous nonfiction film by explorer/ethnographer William H. Sebastian (John Slattery) that’s not as “real” as reported. Among the many gems in this installment: An identifying subtitle that reads “Former Eskimo Whore” and Kunuk’s on-set tantrum, complete with crackly, Victrola-recorded dialogue. MORE

VARIETY: While it’s easy to understand why a little network like IFC would be enamored with programs that features former “Saturday Night Live” stars, that’s a poor excuse for turning what would have been sketches from the show’s last 30 minutes into full-blown series. So after Will Ferrell’s adventures with “The Spoils of Babylon” and its sequel comes “Documentary Now!,” which should produce peals of laugher among, oh, 12 to 15 people. Fred Armisen and Bill Hader serve as producers (along with Seth Meyers) and performers, but despite the occasional chuckle, the jokes seem too inside for their own good. MORE

SLATE: In this sneak peak of Bill Hader, Seth Meyers, and Fred Armisen’s new IFC show, Documentary Now!, Hader and Armisen don their best Brooklyn garb to play VICE reporters—er, I mean, Dronez reporters. In the series’ second full episode, released online ahead of the show’s Aug. 20 premiere, Dronez promises to provide “the real news of today’s world,” as two reporters—a bespectacled Armisen and mustachioed Hader—travel down to Mexico to hunt down infamous drug lord El Chingon. Despite multiple warnings that they’ll never make it out alive. As they gawk their way through Ciudad Juárez, Hader and Armisen’s characters get more enlightened by the second—until they inevitably die and get replaced by uncannily similar reporters (also Hader and Armisen), who go on to ignore the advice of locals and rip off information from an embedded New York Times reporter. “We’re the only ones out here. New York Times isn’t doing this,” Hader’s third incarnation smirks as they approach El Chingon’s house in the foothills. “I think New York Times did do a piece out here,” Armisen admits. MORE