The Defiant Ones is the weirdest thing I’ve seen on TV in some time. A four-part HBO docuseries about the fruitful business union of Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre, it starts out like typical showbiz puffery (let’s hire a bunch of people to say how great we are!), then it gets really good (as does most anything involving SoCal rock and hip-hop in the ’80s), before finishing off with a boring final hour in which Dre and Iovine all but fellate each other. Hardly essential viewing, it’s also not a waste of your time. In fact, if you need a place to vent all your summertime anger, The Defiant Ones is highly therapeutic.
I almost didn’t make it through the first 15 minutes. Unless you consider Apple’s multibillion-dollar deal with Beats Electronics, the headphones company co-founded by Dre and Iovine, to be a significant development in 21st-century history, The Defiant Ones doesn’t exactly kick off with a bang. There’s lots of hot air blowing from the likes of Bono and Will.i.am and Eminem, the latter of whom spouts crap like, “Jimmy Iovine is the levitator, Dr. Dre is the innovator.” Director Allen Hughes aims for profundity with slick editing and Ennio Morricone’s theme from The Untouchables. But nothing can ease the fact that Iovine is one of those senior-aged billionaires who still wears a baseball cap backwards—i.e. a profoundly annoying presence.
Things get interesting once the focus turns to Dre. Whether he’s fiddling with the tracks for Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You” inside his home studio or blasting Nirvana and Kraftwerk while lounging in his tropical compound, Dre comes off as utterly likeable—a music lover who just happened to get stinking rich doing what he loves. The section about his early DJ days is a trip. Recalling the moment when Dre seamlessly mixed the Motown classic “Please Mr. Postman” with a new beat (“Jive Rhythm Trax 122”), club owner Alonzo Williams says, “It was like some musical, magical sh*t. People were still groovin’. They were groovin’ confused, though!” Dre also apologizes for assaulting TV host Dee Barnes in 1991: “Any man who puts his hands on a female is out of his f*cking mind. And I was out of my f*cking mind at the time.”
It’s tough being a woman in Iovine’s world, too. As a budding engineer/producer, he puts up with Springsteen spending three weeks just to get a drum sound right. But when Stevie Nicks dares to express a thought, he jumps down her throat and says she’s acting like “group of lawyers.” Then he fills Nicks’ debut, Bella Donna, with platinum males (Tom Petty, Don Henley), convinced she’s going to come out with “this beautiful record with lace and veils and candles all over it, and no one’s gonna hear it.” (She was only the star of the biggest-selling band in the world, Jimmy.) Much worse, due to their secret romance, he makes her hide in the basement when Tom Petty comes over! Isn’t Iovine due for an apology of his own? Nope, all the women in his life—Patti Smith, Gwen Stefani, the wives—just wax about his genius and how it needs room to flower.
The last hour of The Defiant Ones loads up on blowhard malarkey—Dre is “the best that ever was,” he and Iovine built Beats “from nothing”— so much that your mind inevitably wanders onto other topics. Like, what is it that makes Dre so endearing and Iovine so grating? By show’s end, Dre is a changed man. Iovine, meanwhile, remains an eternal douche.