While the Michael Hirschorn era at Vh1 will likely be best remembered for bringing pop culture talking heads (I Love The..., Best Week Ever), washed-up celebs (Surreal Life) and horny musicians (Flavor Of Love, Rock Of Love) into millions of homes, there is one program from his tenure that was just as critically acclaimed as it was popular. Back in the summer of 2006, a four-part documentary called The Drug Years aired to rave reviews — Variety called it a "fascinating insight into the growth of the counterculture and ... its eventual hangover" — and arguably became the first series in the channel's history that was equally appealing to pop culture enthusiasts and intellectuals. Now, after nearly two years worth of research and production, the same creative team that put The Drug Years together has returned with a brand new four-part doc entitled Sex: The Revolution. Defamer recently sat down with series writer Martin Torgoff and executive producer Brad Abramson to talk about the series that, as Torgoff explains, puts its focus on "how the sexual revolution fed into the dynamic of what became the Culture Wars in the United States."
The series, which began airing on Monday night, puts its focus on the years between the advent of the birth control pill in 1960 and the time of the Reagan administration's first public acknowledgment of the AIDS crisis in 1987. Much like TDY, the show's narrative sweep is driven by interviews with key observers of the sexual revolution, including influential participants (Hugh Hefner, Susan Brownmiller, Helen Gurley Brown) and savvy cultural critics (David Allyn, Gay Talese). And although the timeframe the doc covers mirrors that of TDY, it diverges from the way that series was structured in that each episode does not revolve around the activities of a particular decade. As the series' Executive Producer Brad Abramson told Defamer, "There's so many more threads here. The Drug Years was more of a straight ahead story. Here, we have the story of sexual liberation, the story of gay rights and feminism, and the challenge was how we could do all that stuff and keep it together."
"Sex is one of those subjects where people have wildly divergent notions of what the 'important' stories are, relative to other stories," Torgoff added. While that may be true, the series is successful at tackling a broad swath of topics in a manner that is both smart and entertaining. It traces the evolution of Americans' attitudes toward sex from '50s era sexual repression through the "free love" Sixties and concludes with the hedonistic "Me Decade" that was the 1970s and its aftermath. But while the story is largely driven by talking heads, the manner in which the episodes are scored using both music and wonderous archival footage helps this doc remain compelling throughout its four-hour runtime.
And while the series concludes in the Reagan era, the creators of the series readily acknowledge that our culture continues to grapple with issues pertaining to sex to this day. And while the media's fascination with sex has not slowed, the manner in which the stories are covered certainly have. "In terms of coverage, it feels a lot more cynical and hypocritical these days," Abramson explained. "Be it Dateline or whoever, they will do a story on the latest outrage while they are laughing all the way to the bank. It allows them to 'tut-tut' and have some distance."
Some critics have argued that the show presents a biased and left-skewing perspective on the sexual revolution, the creators are quick to point out that it's not for a lack of trying. As Torgoff told us, "For the record, let me just say, that we contacted numbers of the most prominent conservative pundits and commentators in this nation — like James Dobson of Focus On The Family — and they did not want to participate. I think that they have their own agenda and are not interested in engaging in a debate on the subject."
That said, plenty did come to talk. In particular, Hugh Hefner gave one of the more extensive (and, frankly, more lucid) interviews he has given in a number of years in this series. And we can't forget Danny Glover, whose anecdotes about the Haight-Ashbury scene will forever change the way you think about Sergeant Roger Murtaugh.
And although you may have already missed the first two installments of the series, the series continues through Thursday night (and, because it's Vh1, you know you'll end up watching a four-hour marathon while you're hung over on a Saturday afternoon in the not too distant future). If you loved The Drug Years as much as we did, we have zero doubts that you'll be disappointed in this doc that's equal parts entertaining and educational.