Stream or skip? +2023

branson is a four-part documentary directed by Chris Smith about the life of Virgin Group co-founder Richard Branson. The show begins June 25, 2021, sixteen days before he is scheduled to fly into space on his Virgin Galactic rocket plane, the Unity. In the opening shots of the series, Branson talks to Smith as if something went wrong and he couldn’t make it back; At that thought, Branson gets emotional and needs more than a break. But then the series goes from there to explore the billionaire’s life and his many, many adventures.

Branson: Stream or skip?

opening shot: Richard Branson opens a patio door of his sprawling Necker Island home and then sits in front of a camera.

The essentials: Spread over Branson’s emotional words, the docuseries moves back and forth in time as the billionaire and his friends, family and business associates reflect on the busy life of the adventurer, environmentalist and business mogul.

Branson dropped out of school in 1966 at age 16 and began an apprenticeship University student magazine in 1968; It was one of the few British magazines aimed at teenagers and college students and was a respected magazine with a peak circulation of 100,000 copies per issue. To fund the magazine, he and business partner Nik Powell began selling records by mail order at a discount, which eventually morphed into Virgin Records stores in 1971.

This resulted in the label Virgin Records, whose first hit was Mike Oldfield tubular bellswhich was famously used in The Exorcist. The label grew in the ’70s and introduced the world to The Sex Pistols. The episode also covers the recording studios Branson built that attracted rock legends like Frank Zappa, Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones, how he bought Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands, some of the natural disasters that prompted him to rebuild how the record label took off in the ’80s and the early days of Virgin Atlantic, an airline that even his closest allies thought would bankrupt him.

Photo: HBO

What shows will it remind you of? branson is more or less pure biography in the sense of Val or something like that Diego Maradona.

Our opinion: Because Richard Branson had such a fascinating life, it’s easy to get caught up in the retelling of it branson. While he hasn’t escaped publicity entirely unscathed, Branson has certainly received much more positive press than his fellow billionaires Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and (of course) Elon Musk. But there have been negative implications for how he’s spent his billions, but we have a feeling those themes won’t come up in this series.

If you think there’s not enough about Branson’s life to fill four hours, forget all the times he attempted to break world records in sailing and ballooning in the ’80s and ’90s. And its businesses are so diverse that it takes time to go through the entire history of the various Virgin companies. And there is revealing information in how the Virgin stores were founded out of a need to fund money University student Magazine, or how Branson and Powell came up with the Virgin name for their growing business.

There seems to be some lip service to some of the more contentious issues surrounding Branson. We see news clips of people discussing how he has used various countries’ tax laws to avoid paying personal or corporate taxes and anger at how wasteful billionaires and their space toys seem to people who believe that the money can be used to improve society.

For the most part, though, it feels like we’re seeing four hours of mostly praise and maybe a few good-natured ribs from staff who think Branson tells his own story in a more grandiose way than it actually happened. How you enjoy it will depend on how you view Branson.

gender and skin: none.

farewell shot: Branson asks the film crew, “Anybody want a five-minute break and a cup of tea?” Talking about yourself for hours is exhausting, isn’t it?

sleeping star: We just couldn’t get over how relaxed Branson’s sister, Vanessa, was during her interview: She was barefoot and sat sideways with her legs over the armrest of her chair.

Most pilot line: Not much, but the early photographs of Branson as a teenager, without a goatee and wearing horn-rimmed glasses, make him look a lot like Austin Powers. Wonder if Mike Myers used him as an influence on the character’s appearance?

Our appeal: Stream it. If you get over it branson is mostly one-sided as a docuseries, you’ll be hooked on how Richard Branson built his empire and then used his money to embark on some pretty daring adventures.

Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and technology, but he doesn’t fool himself: He’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Slate, Salon,, VanityFair.comFast Company and elsewhere.

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