This Saturday (July 8) brings the premiere of HBO’s new sports doping mockumentary Tour de Pharmacy starring Andy Samberg. To whet your appetite, here’s a look back at some of the great mockumentary movies and series that have made this genre such a cringe-inducing delight.
1. This Is Spinal Tap
Directed by Rob Reiner and co-written by genre pioneer Christopher Guest, This Is Spinal Tap is probably the most iconic mockumentary of all-time. Though it’s 33 years old now, it remains a pitch-perfect parody of over-reverential rock biopics and po-faced but preposterous hard rock bands. To borrow one of its best-loved lines, This Is Spinal Tap really cranks the satire “to eleven.” You can look for more of Guest in items #2 and #4… we did mention that he is a pioneer of this genre above.
2. Waiting for Guffman
Directed and also co-written by Christopher Guest, this 1997 mockumentary film follows the staging of a community theater musical in the fictional locale of Blaine, Missouri. A clear influence on Ricky Gervais, it’s a clever and affectionate send up of small-town eccentricity filled with memorable characters like Corky St. Clair, a pretentious but not especially talented director played by Guest himself.
3. Drop Dead Gorgeous
Though it flopped when it opened in 1999, this beauty pageant spoof has since become a cult classic — Allison Janney, who appears in a key supporting role, says more people ask her about Drop Dead Gorgeous than The West Wing. The pageant world is obviously ripe for parodying, and an awesome cast featuring Kirstie Alley, Ellen Barkin, and Kirsten Dunst relish the deadpan one-liners. Denise Richards‘ “Jesus loves winners” scene is super-quotable to this day.
4. Best in Show
This Christopher Guest mockumentary, yep another one, pokes fun at the world of professional dog shows, but it’s acutely-observed without being cruel. Like all the best Guest films, it succeeds so beautifully because the director’s regular troupe of actors — which includes Fred Willard, Jane Lynch, and Eugene Levy — have crack comic timing and know how to improvise. Oh, and let’s not forget that the dogs themselves are genuinely adorable.
5. The Office
NBC’s remake starring Steve Carell was pretty great, but the original BBC sitcom created by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant is an all-time classic. Only 12 episodes were made between 2001 and 2003, but The Office‘s influence on TV comedy remains strong: Parks and Recreation and Modern Family are just two of the shows that refined its fly-on-the-wall style. Gervais revived the show’s anti-hero, socially stilted middle-manager David Brent (Gervais), for last year’s decent spin-off movie Life on the Road.
6. The Comeback
Lisa Kudrow will forever be known as Phoebe from Friends, but the faded sitcom star she plays in The Comeback is equally memorable. Desperate, selfish, and deluded, but fundamentally well-meaning, Valerie Cherish is a wickedly funny send-up of modern celebrity. Because it’s very meta even for a TV mockumentary, The Comeback felt ahead of its time when it debuted in 2005. So it was a welcome surprise when, nine years later, HBO revived the show for a belated second season.
Eleven years after it premiered, Sacha Baron Cohen‘s Golden Globe-winning comedy film still feels bold and provocative. The British actor-comedian plays Borat Sagdiyev, a fictitious Kazakh journalist whose apparent bumbling naivety has a way of exposing the misapprehensions and prejudices of real-life Americans. Sometimes painful to watch, but often hilarious, Borat remains the ultimate “shockumentary.”
8. Summer Heights High
Written by and starring Chris Lilley, Summer Heights High is a brilliant cult mockumentary series set in a suburban Australian high school. Lilley plays all four lead characters, featured in the below clip, including snobby female student Ja’mie (pronounced “Juh-MAY”) King, and though he looks nothing like a 17-year-old girl, his characterization is so strong that he gets away with it. As long as you’re not easily offended, this super-sharp show and its various spin-offs are often downright hilarious.
9. Twenty Twelve
A mockumentary sitcom in the mold of The Office, Twenty Twelve was a must-watch at the time because it was so deliciously topical; it follows a team of pretty inept public officials as they help to organize the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. The final episode aired on the BBC just three days before the games began, but Twenty Twelve is still funny now because its characters are so horribly believable. There’s surely someone like Siobhan Sharpe, the jargon-spewing PR “expert” played by Jessica Hynes, in every workplace. In fact, the Twenty Twelve gang are so on-the-money that they’ve been brought back for an ongoing follow-up series, W1A, in which they’re tasked with defining the BBC’s “core values.” W1A is the prefix for the postal code of the BBC’s London HQ.
10. 7 Days in Hell
HBO’s 2015 tennis mockumentary was directed by Jake Szymanski and written by Murray Miller, who’ve teamed up again to make Tour de Pharmacy. Andy Samberg and Kit Harington star as wildly different racket-thrashers who face off in what becomes the longest tennis match of all-time. 7 Days in Hell parodies the OTT scene-setting of many sports docs brilliantly, and it’s given a touch of class by cameos from real-life tennis legends Serena Williams, John McEnroe, and Chris Evert.
Which ones are your faves? Do you have any additions?!