It is my position that “Juan Likes Rice and Chicken,” the Jiro Dreams of Sushi-inspired mockumentary from the second season of Documentary Now!, is one of the finest half hours of television of the past 5-10 years. It’s sweet and funny and silly and it tells a complete story in ways self-contained episodes rarely do. I watch it two to three times a year and I enjoy it every time. You don’t even need to see the original film to get it. There’s a universal story in there about fathers and sons and tradition. Sometimes I tear up a little at the end, which is a heck of an end to a ride that also involves a grown man who is terrified of chickens and a competing eatery that serves Skittles as a side dish and is called “Diego’s Fun Restaurant.” It’s on Netfix. Go watch it today.
I bring this up now for two reasons: One, because Documentary Now! is back for a third season; two, because I’ve been meaning to say it for a while now and this seemed like as good of an excuse as any. So there.
Things are a little different this season, though. The first two seasons were mostly a two-man on-screen operation, with SNL veterans Bill Hader and Fred Armisen inhabiting any number of characters that were loosely based on figures from notable real documentaries. Behind the scenes, other SNL veterans Seth Meyers and John Mulaney wrote some of the episodes, including a two-part Robert Evans parody (written by Mulaney, starring Hader) and the aforementioned “Juan Likes Rice and Chicken” (written by Meyers, starring Armisen). This season, well, people were busy. Hader was working on Barry, Meyers has his nightly talk show, etc. You know what that means, right? Guest stars.
(On the subject of guest stars, it is truly fascinating to me that the show has had Helen Mirren — the real Helen Mirren, not an actress playing her — introducing every episode as though it’s a real, classic documentary for all three seasons. Helen Mirren! It might be my favorite part of the show.)
Examples include: Owen Wilson and Michael Keaton in the season premiere’s two-part take on Wild, Wild Country; Cate Blanchett in the show’s take on Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present, which ends with such a bombastic visual gag that I gasped in my seat like I saw a ghost and, because I had my headphones in and no one knew what I was watching, worried the other people in the room with me; and a crew of comedy figures in the show’s spin on Original Cast Recording: Company, from Mulaney to Paula Pell to Hamilton’s Renee Elise Goldsberry to Richard Kind, who is a national treasure for this song from the episode, if nothing else.