Why We Need More Mockumentary-Style Shows Like The Office & Modern Family

Spoilers

Some folks prefer to spend their TV hours soaking up procedural dramas.

Others prefer a soapy historical fiction (no, I haven’t seen Bridgerton season 3 yet, so no spoilers).

As for me, I will die on the hill that the mockumentary-style sitcom is the best genre on television.

There’s no way to discuss every masterpiece, so we’ll focus on a few examples of mockumentary shows.

Why do they work?

Let me count the ways. First, it’s the absence of the fourth wall for me.

There’s something special about creating a universe with characters and ever-so-slightly unrealistic situations and making your audience feel like they’re part of it.

Take The Office, for example. When Jim looks directly into the camera after Michael or someone says something absurd, we get to be in on the joke.

Instead of being spectators stuck on the other side of the screen, it’s like we’re transported into the bullpen, nodding in understanding as Jim stares down the lens.

Jim Looks at Camera - The Office Season 3 Episode 2

Are you feeling included? Me too.

There’s also the element of “reality” that we experience with shows like these.

Are the shenanigans on virtually every episode of Parks and Recreation realistic?

No, not at all. But that’s sort of the magic of it.

Since we’re viewing everything from the perspective of someone watching a documentary, we get to pretend for 22 minutes that everything we see is actually happening.

The mockumentary format adds a flair of believability to situations that would have seemed far more ridiculous in a multi-camera setup.

Jean-Ralphio - P&R - Parks and Recreation

Something you’ll notice about these shows is that many double as workplace comedies. Reno 911, The Office, Parks and Recreation, Abbott Elementary — you get the picture.

Anyone who has ever worked in an environment surrounded by others knows that specific challenges come with that.

Is it possible to have close-knit relationships with coworkers, as seen in the “found family” of the Parks and Rec crew?

Sure. But it’s also pretty likely that folks in proximity with each other that often are going to butt heads.

So when we see that played out with colleagues sharing their frustrations to a camera, it feels like they’re talking to us — and many of us can relate.

When Barbara from Abbott Elementary tells the camera how frustrated she is with Ava, it feels familiar, like a workplace gossip session by the water cooler.

Barbara Smiles Behind Her Desk - Abbott Elementary Season 3 Episode 7

Sometimes, shows in other genres try to get in on the fun, too.

Back in what seems like a hundred years ago, Grey’s Anatomy dipped a toe in the mockumentary waters when they had a film crew come to observe the doctors following the mass shooting.

Even when the format was used unexpectedly, it still worked.

It gave a new sense of humanity to the characters on the show.

We saw “unscripted” moments, like when doctors cursed or broke down in vulnerable ways.

It was a brilliant way to give the actors a little more creative freedom in how their characters would have been coping after a tragedy. It is another example of why the mockumentary angle is so great.

Documentary Style

Modern Family is one of the most obvious mockumentary sitcoms out there, and don’t worry, I’m not leaving it out.

This one is special because it combines everything we’ve already covered.

There’s the relatability aspect — almost everyone can relate to family drama, so seeing it played out in a mockumentary is nearly validating.

This one also comes with shenanigans — absurd ones.

But with the camera crew present, it always feels like one of those “You can’t make this stuff up!” moments.

Even though the writers did, of course, make this stuff up.

Cam and Lily - Modern Family Season 11 Episode 17

The setup is typically similar to a sitcom, as seen on The Office, Parks and Recreation, and Modern Family.

But occasionally, the universe gives us something special in the mockumentary genre.

Fans of The Real Housewives were in for a shock when Hulu gave us a parody mockumentary series that, while short-lived, read reality TV for filth.

The Hotwives of Orlando (or The Hotwives of Las Vegas, as season two was known) took the mockumentary genre in a Reno-911-esque direction, directly parodying existing content and blowing us away with comedy.

Tragically, the show ended after just two seasons, but we’ll never forget our favorite (fake) housewives.

The Hotwives of Orlando

Ultimately, it’s easy to see why the mockumentary genre is so well-loved.

It doesn’t have to be based in reality to be enjoyable.

What We Do In the Shadows is a shining example of how even fantasy worlds filled with vampires and endless impressive cameos are sometimes best presented as if they were totally and completely real.

I don’t know any vampires in real life (that I know of), but this wildly popular series created by Jemaine Clement makes it seem like any of my neighbors could easily be creatures of the night.

Shows involving the audience are superior; there’s no way to change my mind.

You know you’ve got something special when you can include your viewers in the entire experience, forego the disembodied canned laughter, and deliver relatable and hilarious storylines that happen in real-time.

Beat the Werewolf - What We Do In The Shadows Season 1 Episode 3

What do you think?

What is your favorite thing about mockumentary-style shows?

If you hate them, I’d love to hear your (wrong) opinion in the comments (just kidding). If you love them, tell me why!

If you haven’t, watch What We Do in the Shadows on Hulu because everyone needs to see it.

Haley Whitmire White is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. You can follow her on X.

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