American Playboy: The Hugh Hefner Story

TV review by
Melissa Camacho, Common Sense Media
American Playboy: The Hugh Hefner Story TV Poster Image
Interesting tale of iconic magazine's rise has nudity.

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The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

Playboy is a magazine, a business, and a brand. The sexual revolution, the civil rights movement, the feminist movement, Vietnam all are addressed, but social awareness is often overshadowed by misogyny.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Hugh Hefner is a publisher, businessperson, playboy. 


Arrests happen; news footage of violent protests, assassinations discussed. Suicide, murder discussed in some episodes.


Lots of female nudity; brief images of sexual activity. Infidelity a theme. 


Some cursing, including "s--t" and "f--k."


The Playboy logo prominently featured; magazines such as Esquire and Penthouse visible. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Lots of drinking, cigarette and pipe smoking. Marijuana, amphetamines, cocaine visible; drug dealing, addiction discussed. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that American Playboy: The Hugh Hefner Story is an adult-oriented docudrama that chronicles the rise and success of Playboy Enterprises. It contains lots of female nudity, drinking, and cigarette and pipe smoking, as well as some cursing. Drug use is visible in archival footage, and drug dealing is a theme in one episode. Infidelity, suicide, murder, and the assassinations of prominent figures such as JFK and Martin Luther King Jr. are themes in some episodes. Civil rights, feminism, and other major social issues also are addressed. All of this is offered in context, but it's not meant for kids. 

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What's the story?

AMERICAN PLAYBOY: THE HUGH HEFNER STORY is a docudrama that chronicles the rise of Playboy magazine and its founder, Hugh Hefner. The series offers a historical narrative by combining photographs, interviews with Hefner and others, and other archived footage with dramatizations starring Matt Whelan as the famed magazine publisher. From telling the true story about how Marilyn Monroe's picture ended up in the first issue to discussing why the magazine's popular pinup-style centerfolds became more explicit over the years, it highlights the creative and entrepreneurial decisions that continue to make the brand a global success. It also reveals the multiple legal, financial, and personal struggles Hefner faced during his career. Throughout it all, it underscores how and why the Playboy brand is an iconic and controversial part of American popular culture.

Is it any good?

This compelling series offers an interesting account of how Hugh Hefner's DIY business grew into an international enterprise thanks to his business savvy and understanding of popular culture. His work is contextualized as a successful attempt at redefining masculinity in the magazine industry. It also reveals how Playboy, which constantly tried to challenge the status quo, has historically sought to address serious social issues, including racial discrimination, the Vietnam conflict, and  womens reproductive rights. 

However, American Playboy: The Hugh Hefner Story celebrates the fact that much of Playboy's success, and the controversies surrounding it, is due to how Hefner positioned women in a male, heterosexual world. Some of the more interesting archived footage is eclipsed by the images of the magazine's celebrated centerfolds, as well as the dramatic reenactment of Hefner's life. All of this is offered in context but makes it more entertaining than informative. Nonetheless, adults interested in the topic will find it worth watching. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what made Playboy the success that it is. Is it only because it features pictures of naked women? What other things led to the company's success? 

  • American Playboy: The Hugh Hefner Story presents Playboy magazine as a business that sells sexual fantasy and sophistication, rather than simply selling pornography. Do you agree? Why?

  • How does sexual content in magazines and other media affect audiences? At what age is it appropriate to begin reading or watching this material? 

TV details

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