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Pop Culture Happy Hour: 'Documentary Now!' And Life Onscreen

Fred Armisen and Bill Hader parody <em>The War Room</em> in the new season of <em>Documentary Now!</em>
Rhys Thomas
Fred Armisen and Bill Hader parody The War Room in the new season of Documentary Now!

[In case you haven't heard,Pop Culture Happy Hour is embarking on a West Coast tour! San Francisco and Los Angeles are already sold out — though we've just added an appearance (with Guy Branum!) at the Now Hear This podcast festival in Anaheim on Oct. 29 — but we'll also be in Seattle on Oct. 17 and Portland on Oct. 19 with our dear pal Audie Cornish. Oh, and we're fielding requests for pop-culture advice, so fill out this form to send us your questions. We might just answer them onstage...]

This week on Pop Culture Happy Hour, Linda Holmes, Glen Weldon and I are joined by close-to-home podcast royalty in the form of the great and good Sam Sanders, host of the NPR Politics Podcast. And, since Sam spends his waking days (and more than a few sleepless nights) focused on this year's elections, we figured we'd find something at least a little bit politics-adjacent for him to discuss.

So we start with "The Bunker," the season premiere of the IFC comedy series Documentary Now! Starring Fred Armisen and Bill Hader, the show assembles a string of extremely specific (and, at times, wildly esoteric) documentary parodies. "The Bunker" is especially Sam-friendly, given that it tackles the 1993 documentary The War Room, which featured the likes of James Carville and George Stephanopoulos as they helped Bill Clinton get elected. After a brief discussion of "The Bunker," we fan out into a far-reaching talk about Documentary Now! itself — our favorite and least favorite episodes, the importance of specificity in comedy, the rigor that goes into transcending mere parody — as well as a farther-reaching talk about the complicated intersections of politics and humor.

Then, inspired by all the doc talk, we take on a challenge: Each of us picks and watches a documentary about a topic we don't know very well, then brings it to the group to critique it and share our thoughts. I pick a food-themed doc that's about to be lampooned on Documentary Now! Glen takes the whole "a topic we don't know very well" thing to heart and learns more about sports. Sam examines a fascinating-sounding film that covers the aftermath of a disappearance. And Linda takes a kid-friendly look at a favorite toy.

We close, as always, with What's Making Us Happy this week. I'm excited about yet another great new TV series. Glen sings the praises of a wonderful gathering that's all about creativity and the power of enthusiasm. (Oh, and speaking of esoteric subjects for parody, he also loves this parody of this corn-syrup commercial.) Sam praises a new mixtape by a rapper he was slow to embrace. And Linda, after a discussion of our upcoming tour, also looks back at the gathering Glen loved — particularly several live comedy shows featuring Jo Firestone and an assortment of great stand-ups.

Find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter: the show, Linda, me, Glen, Sam, producer Jessica, and producer emeritus/music director/pal-for-life Mike.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)