I promise that I will return to my regular law-blogging after this post. And you can trust me. After all, how does an attorney say, “Fuck you?”
But I digress. Recently, I have commented on the veritable plethora of amazing shows out there. Which is hardly a novel observation. There are, in fact, so many good shows that you can randomly stumble on tons of compelling shows on your local streaming service that you have never heard of, yet thoroughly enjoy. And yet, I am pleased to tell you that it is still entirely possible for The Powers The Be to make a show so incredibly misguided, so terrible in every aspect, that you will be compelled to hate-watch it while asking such fundamental questions such as, “Who possibly approved this?” “Who thought this was a good idea?” “Why on earth did they decide to film it this way?” “Is it possible to completely drain a fascinating story of drama?” And, of course, “Will I ever get this time back?”
When you stare into the Abyss long enough, American Playboy: The Hugh Hefner Story stares back at you.
I’d warn you that there are some spoilers ahead, but like milk left out in the Sahara for five weeks, this show can’t be spoiled.
So what’s good about American Playboy? Boobs.
What’s bad? Everything else.
We’ll start with the good. Yes, as befitting a story about Playboy magazine, there are breasts. There are the archived pictures of the original breasts. There are recreations of the scenes with new breasts. And you will find, repeatedly, that the protagonist of the story solves problems with breasts. So much so that you can form a drinking game out of it, or, at the least, a fun call-and-response with friends. “Hey, how do you think Hugh will solve this problem? Do you think it might be ... breasts?” Of course, since you are reading this on the internet, you may be aware that there are alternative avenues to see breasts in the modern age, if that is your desire.
Now, the bad. Let’s start with the entire premise of the show. It is neither a drama, nor a documentary, but is, instead, a weird hybrid of both. It’s a combination of archival footage (some of which is actually pretty good), talking head interviews, and terrible, terrible dramatic reconstructions with voiceover. It would be as if someone wanted to combine milkshakes and medicine, because they wanted all the brainfreeze of a milkshake, combined with the great taste of medicine.
You cannot overstate how bad the dramatic reconstructions are. Mostly because the vast majority of them serve no purpose. One common example is the “Hi guy,” scene. They will have a quick scene, where some character says, “Hi” or something quick. And then the voiceover and/or footage will tell you about that character ... and that character will have no other meaningful role in the series.
Or the sheer number of dangling plot threads. Early on, we are told (literally, told, with a very stupid dramatic reenactment in the background) that Hefner’s first wife had an affair before they were married. As Keanu Reeves would say ... WOAH! That’s some drama. How did that affect Hef? Does that explain his distance in the marriage? His compulsive womanizing? His inability to be close to be people? I HAVE NO IDEA! It’s never mentioned again.
And then there’s just the stupid. Hefner was married for ten years- including during the founding of Playboy, and numerous affairs during the time he was married. So, every now and then, during the first four episodes, we go to a dramatic re-enactment of his first wife looking sad, followed by talking heads saying, “Hef was just very dedicated to his job. Not a real family man.” A running joke while watching this is that they just re-use the same “Sad B-Roll of Fake Wife” footage.
But most importantly, why is this show? Why? The show is as subtle as a sledgehammer dating an egg. Which, again, makes it fun to hate watch- eliciting comments such as, “Hey, this is where Hef solves civil rights, right?” Or, “Hey, I bet Hef figures out advertising is good!” And the usual, “Hef figures it out ... with breasts!” But the mind-numbing monotony of the scenes quickly overwhelms you. To pick out two-
Hef solves the centerfold problem that NO ONE ELSE can figure out in a dramatic reenactment by staring at a piece of folded up paper. Everyone agrees that Hef is a genius.
Hef’s commitment to civil rights is shown by a dramatic reenactment where a TV producer tells him that Southern stations won’t show his television programs with black entertainers, one member of his staff says, “We need the southern stations,” the actor playing Hef furrows his brow, and says, “Naw, we’re going to do it,” and everyone nods their head. If I was trying to drain all the drama out of a scene, that is exactly how I would have filmed it. It’s like filming the Red Wedding in Game of Thrones, except the baddies start the scene by saying, “Hey guys, we’re going to kill you,” and Robb Stark replies, “Yeah, I can see that. Okay, kill me then. Make sure you kill everyone, including my wife.”
So you’d assume the show (which was done with the assistance of the Playboy mothership) is just a hagiography of the founder. But even on that count, you’d be wrong. There’s a particular telling scene at the end of the fifth episode. In that scene, dealing with the Playboy Bunnies (the women who served drinks at the Playboy Clubs), you have a succession of talking heads, including former Bunnies, discussing that, contrary to popular belief, this was an empowering position. Mmmmkay. Anyway, they made a lot more money, they were treated well, the head of each club (for personnel) was a woman, and they had strict rules for their protection. Dignity and money ... proto-feminism! YES! How does it end? With Hefner explaining that the exception to the “no dating rule” was, of course Hef, illustrated by Hef leading a line of Bunnies upstairs.... EW! Maybe Hef was that witty and charming, or maybe some of the Bunnies legitimately feared for their employment. Ya think? Point being, other than the sheer gagginess of that juxtaposition, it was completely unexplored. It was made even worse because Hef had already been shown to have slept with almost every female subordinate he had come across. Oh, and it was referred to as a “perk” of being the boss. Is there some sort of tension between being pro-women, and sleeping with your female employees as if they were your property as a “perk”? That’s something for other, better, shows.
So it is with most things on this show. At one point, in the fourth episode, they mention Hefner has a wine cellar despite not drinking. WHAT? Wait, so that’s why they showed him with a Coca-Cola in so many scenes? And then they don’t mention it again? And ... why doesn’t he drink? Why did one of the first scenes in the entire program show him writing down things that interest him, like cocktails?
If you enjoy boobs and hate-watching, followed by a shower, maybe this show is for you. If you have begun to question the amount of television you are watching, avoid this like the plague. In the end, however, if you do watch this (don’t), you will find that you end up mocking just about everything in this show, while finding that you can come up with thousands of ideas for a better show they could have made. Seriously, I would watch a show about the art director of Playboy (one of those “Hi guys”). I would watch a show about the Playboy Television special (the first show had Lenny Bruce and Nat King Cole, and was a legitimate civil rights issue). I would watch a show that legitimately explored the issues in Hefner’s psychology. There is so much awesomeness hinted at in this show; the true tragedy is that this show makes drama seem completely uninteresting.