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With a strong focus in using archival video when possible, and using actors to fill in the blanks, American Playboy – The Hugh Hefner Story, finds a rather interesting way to liven up the documentary genre.
For decades, especially before the internet was accessible to anyone with a dial-up or cable connection, Playboy was the source of any desires you had for porn. Yet, Playboy, and its founder Hugh Hefner (Matt Whelan), are much more than marketers of sex and sexuality. It may have been the focus, but it is the demystifying of sex, making it less taboo, which was the real goal. That and recreating what Hugh Hefner saw as the heyday of Esquire magazine.
In part one, we learn what sparked the ideas for Playboy and how Hugh laid down the foundation for one of the most well-known names in the porn business.
Combination of Actors & Archive Footage
No matter the subject matter, there are always sub-topics or stories which don’t always have pictures and videos to flesh things out. Due to that, we often see animation used, like in He Named Me Malala or, in the case of this docu-series, actors. But, what is likable about the first part of this series is that it seems the actors are only used sparingly. They are there mostly to play out Hugh’s narration and not to fully take over the story. And even when they actually have lines, they aren’t long and drawn out to the point they full on seem like embellishments. If anything, they are just breaking up the pattern of us just hearing Hugh, and those close to him, recount his life.
On The Fence
It Skips Over Some Things But Seems Informative
With this being on Amazon, they have this X-Ray feature which notes additional information the viewer may not know. One of the things it notes was that Hugh is a veteran. That whole piece of his story, however, is missing. Yet, even with that omission, as we are told about the lack of affection his parents gave, him being shy growing up, and the effects Esquire magazine had on him, you more so feel like you are being told what is needed to understand him, and how the magazine came to be vs. everything and the kitchen sink.
It Feels Sort of Dated & Bias
With most of the interviews coming from 90s archives, and many coming from those who seem close to Hugh, on top of feeling dated the first episode makes it seems we are in for a biased view of him and the empire. For while, so it seems, later on, there will be detractors and critics, the first episode really pushes the idea that Hugh was simply a revolutionary of sorts. One which didn’t topple a government, as most revolutionaries do, but more so was a general part of the sexual revolution.
Overall: Mixed (Stick Around)
While I have nothing really negative to say about this docu-series, I do feel that unless you are really interested in Playboy or Hugh Hefner, you won’t find a real reason to watch the rest of the episodes. For on top of it seeming Amazon just bought access to a bunch of 90s interviews, it isn’t like the acting of this docu-series really pushes things to the next level.
Much less, being that the interview footage relies so much on Hugh, his family, and friends, it almost seems too self-serving to take seriously. For while it will lead you to understand his cultural impact and significance, it loses its authenticity because it seems almost like his children made this as a birthday present or retirement video. That is, rather than a docu-series to “discover the captivating story about the man behind the bunny.”
Hence the Mixed label. For while I may watch the rest of American Playboy – The Hugh Hefner Story, since Hugh is an interesting character to me, the premiere isn’t crafted in such a way which brings Hugh, or his empire, out of its niche market.