Documentary Now Season 2 Episode 4
“When people come over and they see a globe, they’re immediately going to know that they’re in the presence of someone worldly.”
“Globesman” is a bit more of a subdued, subtle installment of Documentary Now!, but one that’s still brimming with humor and absurd, unique characters. This week looks at the staggering journey of door-to-door globes salesmen. The piece is set in the ’60s and leans into the signifiers of this past era and touches on Albert and David Maysles 1968 documentary, Salesman.
If nothing else, Documentary Now! is an extremely meticulous show. There are so many jokes going on at once that deal with production design and style that are surely getting overlooked on the initial watch. “Globesman” is one of the better examples of this, as the ‘60s setting allows for a number of careful, specific touches to be made, like the mild echo in the episode’s audio track due to the era’s inferior audio equipment. These are all completely unnecessary touches, but the fact that the series goes so far in faithfully recreating the product that they’re aping is exactly why this show is so great. I’ve frequently been smirking this season at how close these fictitious directors’ names have been to their documentary counterparts, but the “Salus Films” production logo in place of the popular “Janus Films” image makes me laugh in a way that only a film nerd can.
“Globesman” is yet another documentary that serves the purpose of exploring the minutiae of a certain overlooked niche of society and the corresponding depth and beauty that can be found in such a place. So much of this episode relishes in the various salesmen’s tactics and their ups and downs in this grueling business, but plenty of time is also given to the families that they’re trying to sell to, highlighting middle America in the process. We get to be made privy to all sorts of weirdly personal moments as these salesmen move from house to house. It’s strangely poetic.
Some of my favorite moments are when we’re shown the big business and training sequences that revolve around globe selling. They’re such a delight, with everyone treating something that’s so silly as if it’s heart attack-serious. Moments are spent going over the rigorous script that globesmen must have memorized as they troubleshoot the possible scenarios that could come up on a sale. You’d think that these people are defusing bombs, not selling shoddy geographical aids. The dregs of society that line the training hall, eagerly taking in these hot globe tips while chain-smoking make for some poignant visuals.
This material in “Globesman” also leads to seriously exploring topics like salesmen taking over new territory, lamenting those that used to fill this space before passing away (death seems to be much of a firing force for these people than any HR department), and not causing any rifts between these ridiculous globe cliques, lest a turf war of seniors get ignited. The episode never breaks the illusion of how important all of this is.
There are other flourishes like O’Halloran optimistically singing in his car on his way to his next house, only to be bullied by children moments later. O’Halloran is knocked down but he stands as high as the notes that he was singing earlier. The documentary makes a meal of these scenes, valuing these more muted moments than the larger ones.
The doc, while highlighting this determined, unusual group of individuals, is also saying a lot on competitive rivalries, businesses going under and experiencing defeat, and how to stay afloat in a dying trade. It’s haunting to watch the rest of the globesmen fade into the background like dying gazelles in a herd as these lone individuals continue to champion their craft. It’s all that they know how to do.
Armisen and Hader portray Tommy O’Halloran and Pete Reynolds from Amalgamated Globes, with Armisen being the gem of this episode. The conversational way in which he pours over the basics of a globe is beautiful. He gets up and close and personal with his prospective clients. He handles and plays with their children. In his mind, a globe salesman is just another member of the family who goes along selling knowledge and opportunity to others for $49.95. O’Halloran’s cringe-inducing interactions with the families that he encounters are all priceless.
As the doc continues O’Halloran gets slowly dragged down into a tailspin that has him constantly lamenting that he might have seen more success as a fireman, like his father. Hader’s Reynolds on the other hand taps into more of an older, traditional globesman that banks off of promises and the reliability of his product rather than charm, like O’Halloran. Armisen and Hader are also joined by Tony Forsmark in this episode as Bob “The Lummox” Campbell, a fellow beleaguered globesman. Dunn is perfect in this as another tragically optimistic soul that’s given his life over to a sphere.
We’re now past the halfway point of Documentary Now!’s sophomore season, with next week’s riff on the Talking Heads and then a two-part doc remaining, it seems fair to begin assessing the season as a whole. “Globesman” might not be my favorite installment of the year, but it’s still an incredibly accomplished one that acts as another impressive notch in this sublime season. The first half of the year has been a delight, now let’s ride the season out on just as strong of a note.