Faking it: mockumentaries

With Emmy-nominated mockumentary Parks and Recreation debuting on OSN this month, Holly Sands take a closer look at this prime-time genre

Season one of Parks and Recreation, an Emmy-nominated mockumentary series from the US, will begin airing on OSN this month. Brought to life by some of the giant brains behind ever-popular workplace comedy The Office (US), the series follows Leslie Knope (Saturday Night Live’s Amy Poehler) in her role as deputy director of parks and recreation in the urban-planning department of a small (fictional) Indiana town, Pawnee. Here, she navigates the politics of local government and battles red tape with help (in the loosest sense of the word) from her unenthusiastic and completely hopeless colleagues.

What’s this mockumentary business, then?
The style first appeared in the late ’80s to early ’90s, in the shape of series like Reno 911! and The Day Today. Supposedly scripted – though very often improvised by quick-witted actors – mockumentaries are comedies filmed in the style of a documentary. Relentlessly poking fun at everything, from the dad who thinks he’s ‘hip’ and dances to tracks from High School Musical through to how people behave when they think they’re being filmed, no cringeworthy scenario is left untouched. As it’s often easier to identify with the characters than in traditional sitcoms, audiences will be left squirming in their seats as they see their own flaws magnified, or recognise themselves as that wise-cracking idiot from accounts.

What do the critics think?
Around the world, where Parks and Recreation has already aired, reviews have been mixed. One critic from the Boston Globe wrote, ‘Parks and Recreation has many distinctions, not least of all the hugely talented Poehler from Saturday Night Live, who promises to develop Leslie slowly, without the haste required in sketch comedy. The show has the potential to become a flip, witty political allegory.’ Meanwhile, the Chicago Tribune noted, ‘Though NBC is trying to make it clear that Parks is not an Office spin-off, Leslie is a lot like Dunder Mifflin’s Michael Scott: she’s a clueless, would-be do-gooder without much self-awareness.’ Ouch.

Who is it for?
Sure, it’s is likely to prove a big hit with anyone partial to a bit of David Brent, but this should get a warm reception from anyone growing tired of Fraiser repeats or left utterly unentertained by shows such as Gary Unmarried. Modern Family and The Office (US) have helped to boost the genre’s popularity in the past few years, bagging prime-time slots on various networks including our own OSN, which airs both throughout the week. If you haven’t seen these, there have been some great ones in the past.

…Such as?
Hugely popular in the US, Reno 911! was a parody of Fox’s COPS, a documentary following police officers on their duties in a small Nevada town. Mesmerisingly ludicrous in its mockery, one of the ‘officers’ in Reno wears hot pants to go about his work, while one particularly absurd episode sees the entire team attempting to arrest a rogue chicken for crossing the road. If this isn’t weird enough, there are also some utterly ridiculous examples, such as Wildboyz, a spoof nature show presented by Jackass’s Steve-O and Chris Pontius. Often dangerous, with some antics bordering on the insane, one episode featured Steve-O hooking his cheek onto the end of a fishing line, before jumping into shark-infested waters.
Parks and Recreation premieres on OSN Comedy on September 16 at 8pm

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