Mockumentary is relatively new in the realm of TV series, with most of the best series originating in the 21st century. It didn’t take long for examples of the sub-genre to become some of the most popular and inventive series you’ll find anywhere.
From shows about Pennsylvania paper companies to those featuring Staten Island’s undead, mock documentaries have proven one of the funniest ways to tell stories. Creators have used the form to poke fun at reality TV, true crime, horror, and even documentaries themselves. Here are our picks for the absolute best mockumentary TV shows.
More interested in mockumentary cinema? Check out our list of the best mockumentary movies. Looking to laugh but you don’t need all the story? Maybe scroll through our picks for the best stand-up comedy on Netflix.
If we didn’t mention it, you’d write us off before we even started, and you’d be right to do so. More than a mockumentary, The Office has become a cultural touchstone. Hardcore fans can make whole conversations out of nothing but trademark phrases like “that’s what she said” and “bears, beets, Battlestar Galactica.”
Starting off in its first season as mostly just an American clone of the British series of the same name, The Office improves in its second season when the story starts going in a new direction and, most notably, Michael Scott (Steve Carell) begins adopting some more sympathetic qualities. It probably never needed to survive a single episode past Carell’s departure from the series, but most of it still survives as some of the funniest television you’ll ever be lucky enough to see.
Created by: Greg Daniels, Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant
Cast: Steve Carell, Jenna Fischer, John Krasinski
Number of seasons: 9
In the 2014 mockumentary film What We Do in the Shadows, two Wellington police officers arrive at the home of a trio of vampires but are hypnotized into noticing nothing out of the ordinary. The scene that unfolds held such promise that the same actors reprise the roles in the spinoff series Wellington Paranormal.
Egged on by their superior officer, Sergeant Maaka (Maaka Pohatu) — a Fox Mulder wannabe who has a “secret” office everyone knows about — Officers Minogue (Mike Minogue) and O’Leary (Karen O’Leary) are sent on all the cases with a paranormal flavor. Delivering their dialogue in the same military efficient cadence you’d expect to hear in any episode of Cops, O’Leary and Minogue investigate disco ghosts, zombie cops, and randy sea monsters.
Created by: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
Cast: Mike Minogue, Karen O’Leary, Maaka Pohatu
Number of seasons: 4
Some mockumentary series walk the line between straight comedy and mock documentary, and the popular sitcom Modern Family is a good example. The premise of the show doesn’t include any film crew following around the series’ hilarious extended family, and yet its confessional-style scenes — in which the characters address the camera directly — suggest otherwise.
Regardless, Modern Family owes its success chiefly to its stunningly impressive list of funny actors, helping the sitcom survive for 11 seasons and winning it 22 Emmys. Whether the stories are about Phil (Ty Burrell) and Claire’s (Julie Bowen) kids walking in on them in the middle of sex, Jay (Ed O’Neill) and Gloria (Sofia Vergara) locking horns over the name of a newborn, or Claire waiting for her flight in an airport — in the brilliant season 6 episode Connection Lost — Modern Family is funnier than network TV usually has any right to be.
Created by: Stephen Levitan, Christopher Lloyd
Cast: Ed O’Neill, Sofia Vergara, Julie Bowen
Number of seasons: 11
Summer Heights High
Not as well-known in the U.S., Summer Heights High brilliantly lampoons high school life in Australia. As he’s been known to do in other series, series creator Chris Lilley plays multiple hilarious roles. He’s the snobbish private school exchange student Ja’mie, the 13-year-old troublemaker Jonah, and the narcissistic Mr. G — a drama teacher who is convinced he is universally beloved by his students when the opposite is closer to the truth.
Created by: Chris Lilley
Cast: Chris Lilley, Asolima Tauti, Iro Utaifeau
Number of seasons: 1
Parks & Recreation
Just like Modern Family, we never find out who is filming the city employees of Pawnee, Indiana. Regardless, the picture the phantom crew paints us is of a weirdly unforgettable town and the quirky citizens who keep it running.
For understandable reasons, Parks & Recreations is often treated like a sister series to The Office, but Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope is no Michael Scott. Sure, they’re both hilarious, and they both have extreme reactions to sweets, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end. Excelling in a job in which overachievement is strongly discouraged, Leslie is an often bumbling but still pure-hearted crusader in a town that, at turns, can feel as quaint as Mayberry or as scary as the island from The Wicker Man. She’s joined by a wonderful cast of characters, like the apathetic April (Aubrey Plaza), the germaphobic but terminally positive Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe), and, perhaps the most iconic character from the series, Nick Offerman’s mercilessly anti-government Ron Swanson.
Created by: Greg Daniels, Michael Schur
Cast: Amy Poehler, Nick Offerman, Rashida Jones
Number of seasons: 7
What We Do in the Shadows
Spinning out of the hilarious 2014 film of the same name is FX’s hilarious horror mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows. Just like the film, the show follows the exploits of vampires living together, though it gives us a brand new group of the undead and changes the setting from New Zealand to Staten Island. This time, we get a better look at the daily struggles of being a vampire’s human familiar via Guillermo (Harvey Guillén), whose hopes of being turned into a creature of the night by his master — the clueless Nandor (Kayvan Novak) — are always dashed. We also meet a new kind of vampire: Psychic vampire Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch). Instead of fangs or claws, Colin sucks energy from his victims through tedious conversation, annoying social media posts, and other more familiar means. Season 3 of the show premieres on September 2 on FX and Hulu.
Created by: Jemaine Clement
Cast: Kayvan Novak, Matt Berry, Natasa Demetriou
Number of seasons: 3
A somewhat earlier precursor to The Office and Parks and Recreation, the Cops parody Reno 911! includes a number of alums from sketch comedy shows The State and Viva Variety. The actors of Reno 911! are led by Thomas Lennon as Lieutenant Jim Dangle, known for — among other things — wearing shorter and tighter shorts than just about any law enforcement officer you’re bound to see anywhere. Along with the regular crew of actors are wonderful recurring petty criminals, like Nick Swardson’s always rollerskating Terry and Patton Oswalt’s Boozehammer of Galen, who is usually found at the local Renaissance Fair drunk and harassing women. If you’re OK with a show that often relies on darker and more controversial humor than you’re bound to see on more recent TV shows, Reno 911! is definitely worth a watch.
Created by: Robert Ben Garant, Keri Kenney, Thomas Lennon
Cast: Thomas Lennon, Cedric Yarbrough, Robert Ben Garant
Number of seasons: 7
While Arrested Development isn’t pure mockumentary — i.e., there’s no fictional crew following around the characters — the cult hit masters the feel of mock documentary with handheld cameras and reality TV-style storytelling.
Arrested Development is all about the Bluth family, whose dysfunction reaches superhuman levels and only gets worse when the family patriarch George Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor) is arrested for fraud and embezzlement, and most of his assets are seized. Separated from their wealth, Bluths like the Criss Angel wanna-be Gob (Will Arnett), the pampered Lindsay (Portia de Rossi), and the quivering man-child Buster (Tony Hale) have only one hope: That their eternal straight-man brother, Michael (Jason Bateman), will ignore the abuse he’s endured at their hands — including, but far from limited to, their poorly conceived imitations of chickens — and will fix all their problems.
While the series’ long-awaited Netflix revival fails to live up to the brilliance of the first three seasons, the laughs you’ll get from those seasons are worth the investment all on their own.
Created by: Michael Hurwitz
Cast: Jason Bateman, Michael Cera, Portia de Rossi, Will Arnett, David Cross, Jeffrey Tambor
Number of seasons: 5
Fishing with John
Fishing with John is arguably not only one of the most singular entries on this list, but it’s unlike anything you might find on television. An arthouse actor and jazz musician, John Lurie hosts the show, bringing celebrity friends with him to different corners of the world to fish, even though fishing isn’t something Lurie knows how to do very well. A weird and funny send-up of nature programs, Fishing with John is narrated by Rob Wells, who often adds insane “details” to the show’s narrative that are blatantly false. For example, in the episode in which Lurie and Tom Waits go fishing in Jamaica, Wells narrates, “Having destroyed their car, John Lurie and Tom Waits must now travel across the island by canoe.”
Created by: John Lurie
Cast: John Lurie, Jim Jarmusch, Tom Waits
Number of seasons: 1
If you’ve ever seen the Community season 5 episode, Basic Intergluteal Numismatics — in which the crime drama genre is parodied over the mystery of the so-called “Ass Crack Bandit” — imagine that expanded into an entire series, and you have Netflix’s American Vandal.
Both seasons of the too-soon-canceled mockumentary follow high school sleuths Peter (Tyler Alvarez) and Sam (Griffin Gluck) as they use their detective skills to solve such earth-shattering mysteries as the identity of the student who spray-painted lewd images on the sides of 27 faculty cars.
Created by: Dan Perrault, Tony Yacenda
Cast: Tyler Alvarez, Griffin Gluck, Jimmy Tatro
Number of seasons: 2
IFC’s Documentary Now! is so dedicated to the form of mockumentary that it gives viewers a brand new subject to laugh at in every installment. Dame Helen Mirren introduces every episode as herself, playing at the show being much older than it is — 50 seasons when it premiered in 2015.
Unlike the other series on this list, Documentary Now! often parodies specific popular documentaries. For example, the first episode is Sandy Passage, a blatant and hilarious take on the 1975 classic Grey Gardens, which portrays the tragic decline of a mother and daughter who were both cousins to Jackie Kennedy Onassis. Other examples include a two-parter following a rock band that sends up 2013’s The History of the Eagles, and Juan Likes Rice & Chicken that pokes fun at 2011’s Jiro Dreams of Sushi.
While Mirren and co-creators Fred Armisen and Bill Hader are in the majority of the episodes, there’s also a wealth of great guest stars throughout the series, including Jack Black, Cate Blanchett, John Mulaney, and many more.
Created by: Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, Seth Meyers, Rhys Thomas
Cast: Helen Mirren, Fred Armisen, Bill Hader
Number of seasons: 3
Trailer Park Boys
The single longest-running mock documentary series on this list, the Canadian-made Trailer Park Boys follows the exploits of a trio of residents of the Sunnyvale Trailer Park in Nova Scotia. Together, the bespectacled cat lover Bubbles (Mike Smith), the hostile and foul-mouthed Ricky (Robb Wells), and the pseudo-intellectual leader Julian (John Paul Tremblay) plan ridiculous, petty crimes and get-rich-quick schemes. Always trying to catch the trio in the act is the drunk park supervisor Jim Lahey (John Dunsworth) and his chronically shirtless assistant and romantic partner Randy (Patrick Roach).
Created by: Mike Clattenburg
Cast: John Paul Tremblay, Rob Wells, Mike Smith
Number of seasons: 12