Is Netflix’s Mascots The Next Great Mockumentary?

By  · Published on August 3rd, 2016

Netflix is a prime distributor for Christopher Guest’s next film.

Have you seen Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping? You know, the mockumentary from SNL Digital Short all-stars The Lonely Island that lampoons the self-aggrandizing nature of social media stardom?

It’s alright. No one else has either. At least that’s what the numbers indicate. Despite critical success, an insane number of celebrity cameos, an in-character performance on the Voice, and a pretty excellent prank on Jimmy Fallon, the film grossed only $9.5 million on a $20 million+ budget.

We can speculate as to why this occurred. Spike Friedman at Forbes posits that it was an over reliance on viral marketing and an under reliance on traditional advertising in the weeks leading up to the film’s release. He also wonders if audiences are willing to go to the theater for stars like Andy Samberg that they are accustomed to seeing for free on TV. Others may wonder if the mockumentary format can still draw viewers to the extent it did for films like Borat, which earned over $261 million worldwide in 2006. But Popstar is not the only recent mockumentary release. Thor: Ragnarok director Taika Waititi and Flight of the Conchords co-creator Jemaine Clement had much more success with their 2014 film What We Do in The Shadows. On a $1.6 million budget, without the tie-ins and wide release of the star-studded Lonely Island flick, it was able to gross $6.3 million. Though it may be a smaller gross sum, its comparative profit is astounding. So not all is lost for the genre, but what does this mean for its future?

The cast (going clockwise from the center): Jane Lynch, Zach Woods, Sarah Baker, Don Lake, Tom Bennett, Parker Posey, Ed Begley Jr., Christopher Moynihan, and Chris O’Dowd

Fortunately, the next major mockumentary release has positioned itself to succeed and maybe even inspire others to pursue the genre. Mascots, the newest film of this kind from writer-director Christopher Guest of This is Spinal Tap fame, focuses on the “ultra-competitive world of sports mascots where they compete for the most prestigious award in their field” (it’s called the Gold Fluffy Award, by the way). The cast (pictured above) is a mixture of all-stars from Guest’s previous films and up-and-coming talents. Besides the regular gems Parker Posey, Jane Lynch, and Ed Begley Jr., one stand out from the crowd is Zach Woods, well-known for his role on Silicon Valley and his hilarious appearance in the 2016 Ghostbusters. For more information about the cast, check out this breakdown from Angie Han at /Film.

Besides its similarities in cast and set-up to the comedic masterpiece that is Best in Show, the movie has one major thing going for it: it’s a Netflix original film. Though it will premiere at, and hopefully receive loads of positive press from, the Toronto International Film Festival in September, the film’s status as a streaming release is savvy business decision for both Netflix and its producers.

There are a few reasons why this is the case. First, the majority of audiences won’t have to pay anything extra to view the movie. We live in a world where access to a Netflix account, whether by purchasing one or getting a friend’s login, is near ubiquitous. Instead of competing against Oscar nominees and big-budget blockbusters at the cinema, the film will stand out as a fresh option in a sea of old releases. Second, mockumentaries of this design are made for repeat viewing. The sheer breadth and depth of humor on display makes catching every joke on the first viewing near impossible, but audiences are unlikely to return to the theater for a few background jokes. As we’ve seen with shows like BoJack Horseman, the ability to pause, rewind, and rewatch programs on Netflix allows for a larger appreciation of the little gags that often go unnoticed. This will allow Mascots to thrive in a way it couldn’t in theaters. Third, and maybe the best factor in its prospective success, Netflix releases spread across social media like wildfire. Just look to Stranger Things over the last few weeks. It went from an unknown production to the next great internet sensation in a matter of days. Both through Netflix’s official channels and other web apps, people create gifs and memes for Netflix shows that would be unfeasible for movies in theaters. If you have any doubts, then look to these GIPHY searches for “Spinal Tap” and “Christopher Guest”. And, of course, Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, and other platforms help disseminate these absurd moments to different corners of the internet and generate vast amounts of buzz for the film.

If Mascots is anything close to as good as Guest’s previous mockumentaries, then Netflix has this one in the bag. It could even serve to rejuvenate the medium, proving to potential filmmakers that there are more effective means to distribute mockumentaries. Guest’s other works have had a longstanding impact on styles of comedy over the past two decades, but I just hope that the film is as great as I know it can be. Oh, and if you’re interested, check out the official date announcement trailer below.

Mascots releases on October 13th on Netflix.

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