Hot on the heels of his tepid Netflix spy show, FUBAR, the streamer has delivered a three-hour miniseries centering its star, the legendary Arnold Schwarzenegger. Arnold splits itself into three parts, each focused on a different area of the Austrian Oak’s career: bodybuilder, movie star, and politician. Throughout it all, Arnold provides mildly candid, but mostly self-serving, color commentary, buffered by a few choice anecdotes and some very tepid self-reflection. Fans will probably find the entire production amusing but remedial; everyone else will probably experience a vaguely hagiographic but under-nourishing soup of celebration. Formally, there’s nothing special going on, with Arnold mostly a talking head alongside pop-ins from the likes of Jim Cameron and Stallone (all of whom serve to, uh, pump Arnold up), accompanied by generous helpings of B-roll and movie clips.
Arnold and Arnold spin the usual yarns about his poor upbringing in Austria and how that informed his endless — and endlessly discussed — drive to succeed in every endeavor. On the other hand, it mostly waves away talk about his father Gustav’s abusive behavior and history as a Nazi. Once we move to California and start bodybuilding, Schwarzenegger’s tremendous ego is mostly played for laughs, something our hero dismisses with the German term “smäh,” which he claims nearly means “bullshit,” but more likely stands for something more nuanced. Nevertheless, his reputation as a bully is mostly played off as a byproduct of his competitive nature rather than a more substantive character flaw.
Arnold’s middle act thankfully doesn’t go movie-by-movie through the lineup, which is both admirable and will no doubt be frustrating to certain fans who want, say, a little more juice about True Lies or Red Heat or another of Arnold’s movies. We probably didn’t need the millionth retelling of where “I’ll be back” came from in The Terminator, but did you really think you wouldn’t get one? Anyway, once the third episode — concerning the Governorship of California — starts to roll, Arnold doesn’t completely shy away from its subject’s faults, quite genuinely admitting to his awful behavior with women and failure as a husband (his acknowledgment of the son he fathered with a housekeeper is welcome, but it comes right up against a weird anecdote about complimenting his then-girlfriend Maria Shriver’s ass to her mother).
Still, these concessions feel a bit performative in the face of all this adoration. Do we need Schwarzenegger to engage in some serious on-camera soul-searching? Is it necessary for us to experience some honest contrition? That remains undetermined. What’s certain is that this entire endeavor leans more toward a self-serving platitude than an actual reckoning with legacy, but for fans that’s likely to be a variable mileage issue.
Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 23.
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