The Best One-Off Mockumentary Episodes Of TV
Photo: NBC / Fox

The Best One-Off Mockumentary Episodes Of TV

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Vote up the best uses of the mockumentary gimmick.

TV shows often experiment with different forms of storytelling from time to time, whether it's a "very special episode" or trying out a new form. This is likely a fun experience for the actors who get to break from their usual routine and try something new.

Mockumentaries like The Office, Parks and Recreation, and Abbott Elementary are some of the most beloved sitcoms out there. It only makes sense that other shows would want to try out the format for themselves for a one-off episode. Mockumentary episodes also likely save the production some money, since a lot of the runtime can be taken up by cheap and easy-to-film talking head segments.

While not every show that tries out the mockumentary format are comedies, these episodes tend to take a slightly more comedic slant even in dramas. On the other hand, some dramas manage to use the in-universe explanation for their documentary episode to add a unique storytelling twist. The format lends itself to fresh, distinctive episodes - check out the best examples of great TV shows trying out the mockumentary style.

  • The Simpsons - 'Behind the Laughter'
    Photo: Fox

    In a parody of VH1's Behind the Music, The Simpsons season 11, episode 22, “Behind the Laughter,” takes a step outside of Springfield to give a look at the “real” family that plays the Simpsons on TV. The episode presents a hilarious and fittingly dark “backstory” of how The Simpsons came to be as if it were a live-action sitcom and takes a humorous look at the toll Homer's antics would realistically take on the “actor” playing him.

    This is a bit different from the typical mockumentary episode, because it takes place outside of the show's canon instead of just switching up the format of a typical episode. It's a funny premise, good enough that Family Guy went on to basically do the exact same episode some years later. This season finale even ends with a gag teasing the “next episode” of Behind the Laughter, supposedly featuring another famous cartoon character, Huckleberry Hound, coming out as gay.

    14 votes
  • 2
    10 VOTES

    Community - 'Pillows and Blankets'

    Community - 'Pillows and Blankets'
    Photo: NBC

    Community is well-known for using various styles of visual story-telling, whether featuring a stop-motion animated Christmas episode, or paying detailed homage to films like My Dinner with Andre. The show featured several different documentary-esque episodes, but the most distinct and memorable is Season 3, episode 14, “Pillows and Blankets.”

    The episode focuses on a war between Abed's (Danny Pudi) pillow fort and Troy's (Donald Glover) blanket fort, presented in the style of a Civil War documentary. The episode is full of still images using a Ken Burns zoom effect, and humorously presents text messages with the same weight as historical letters from a major conflict. Each other character finds a role in the “war,” such as Annie (Alison Brie) taking on the role of a nurse with grave seriousness despite no real injuries. As Community always does, this episode goes the extra mile to mimic every aspect of a history documentary to perfection - from the slow, dramatic opening credits, to the grandiose narration by Keith David, to the mournful fiddle music in the background, to custom animated graphics laid over a Greendale campus map showing the locations of battles between Blanketsburg and Pillowton.

    10 votes
  • The X-Files - 'X-Cops'
    Photo: Fox

    Season 7, episode 12 of The X-Files saw Mulder and Scully teaming up with another popular show from the time, Cops. In the episode, a few uniformed police officers filming an episode of Cops come across a mysterious entity and cross paths with the X-Files team, Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) as they investigate the occurrence.

    For fans familiar with both shows, it's a blast to watch this mashup between the typically grounded reality show and the heightened reality of the X-Files coming together. Crossovers between scripted and unscripted TV series aren't common, so X-Cops remains a unique point in TV history. The episode even begins with a special version of the Cops intro, with the theme song “Bad Boys” playing over special clips that include Mulder and Scully. Additionally, the episode was produced in the style of Cops and filmed entirely on videotape, giving it a distinct visual look. 

    7 votes
  • 4
    7 VOTES

    Monk - 'Mr. Monk's 100th Case'

    Monk Season 7, episode 7, was the show's 100th episode. To celebrate this milestone, they did a meta mockumentary episode wherein Adrian Monk (Tony Shalhoub) is honored on a TV news show called In Focus for helping solve his 100th case with the San Francisco Police Department. Unlike many mockumentary episodes, the main events of this episode take place after the case has been filmed; thus, scenes cut between between the filmed and edited program and the characters at a party watching it air.

    Some initial meta-humor comes from interviewer James Novak (played by Will & Grace star Eric McCormack) questioning Monk about some of his personal habits and quirks. However, the device is used to great effect for the mystery-genre show: as Monk views the program, he starts to realize that there is something wrong with the case, and he uses the DVR feature on the TV to revisit certain aspects of the investigation. It turns out Novak used the segment as a means to pin a murder he committed on a serial killer, planting evidence for Monk to find during filming that would mislead his investigation. It's a wonderful twist that simply wouldn't be possible without the mockumentary gimmick. 

    7 votes
  • It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia - 'Making Dennis Reynolds a Murderer'
    Photo: FXX

    It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia has a long-standing running gag about Dennis (Glenn Howerton) having a disturbing proclivity for violence. After countless one-off jokes, Season 12, episode 5 decided to confront the issue straight on with a mockumentary in the style of the true-crime series Making a Murderer, questioning whether Dennis may have been behind the death of his ex-wife, Maureen Ponderosa (Catherine Reitman).

    The episode is a satirical take on the way these types of documentaries construct their narratives, with the rest of the gang intentionally withholding evidence in an attempt to make Dennis look more guilty than he is. There are also hilarious moments like Frank (Danny DeVito) recreating Robert Durst's accidental confession from The Jinx in a much more straightforward manner. Plus, the episode leans heavily on the other long-standing gag of Maureen's desire to transform herself into an anthropomorphic cat, juxtaposing the serious documentary style with the typical zaniness of the characters.

    9 votes
  • 6
    4 VOTES

    M*A*S*H - 'The Interview'

    M*A*S*H - 'The Interview'
    Photo: CBS

    M*A*S*H pre-dates the widespread popularity of mockumentary sitcoms, so season 4 episode 25, “The Interview,” doesn't just feel like it's trying to do an Office impression like some modern versions of this trope do. Instead, it has a real-life journalist and war correspondent, Clete Roberts, interviewing each character at the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in South Korea in the style of a documentary feature. The episode is stylized in black and white, unlike the rest of the show, and features many talking-head style interviews.

    The episode perfectly captures each of the characters' unique personalities in their interview, making this a great intro episode to the show for anyone who doesn't want to watch from the beginning. It also encapsulates the show's impeccable balance of levity and realism, calling attention to the horrors of war while also embracing the humanity of individual troops and medical personnel. The non-traditional format also offers a good look at just how well the actors on M*A*S*H knew their characters.

    4 votes