‘McCartney 3,2,1’ Guaranteed We Had at Least One Great Beatles Doc in 2021
[This post originally appeared as part of Recommendation Machine, IndieWire’s daily TV picks feature.]
Where to Watch “McCartney 3,2,1”: Hulu
“McCartney 3,2,1” was never meant to comprehensive and that’s probably one of the main reasons it works so well. A different doc series with Paul McCartney at its center might have taken a more rigid, structured approach. Maybe it would have gone in chronological order or gone by the album track listings of any of the iconic rock albums that McCartney’s been a part of as either a band member or solo artist.
Instead, it’s the casual nature of “McCartney 3,2,1” that makes it such a compelling living record of one man’s musical memories. The Hulu series doesn’t cut away from McCartney and prolific producer Rick Rubin as they sift through the master tracks of Beatles classics. It just stays on two people in a room as they each bring their perspective to a big slice of ‘60s music history.
That the whole thing is presented in black-and-white could easily come across as a showy affect. Yet, putting these live-action commentary tracks in monochrome is almost a subtle nod to this being just one version of that history. There’s a self-awareness to the idea that this isn’t a definitive project that makes it even more watchable.
As noted back in July when the show premiered, this is as much a chronicle of Rubin’s fandom as it is McCartney’s achievements. This is an interview that draws plenty of strength from the person guiding the questioning. He’s savvy about knowing when to point something out and let McCartney run with it. Rubin also takes some opportunities to dig a few layers deeper, even if it means letting a song’s other points of interest slip away. There’s a happy balance in the final product that allows room for both.
Director Zachary Heinzerling sprinkles in a handful of diversions to make sure this is isn’t one big listening party. The back-and-forths between Rubin and McCartney are strong enough that the cameras could just stay swirling around the pair of them at the board, with the former blissing out at stuff buried deep in the mix while the latter plays a handful of air instruments. It’s the little moments with McCartney talking about being inspired by a Fela Kuti show or hopping behind an actual piano or guitar that helps give a fuller picture of that half-century-old creative process.
That dovetails with the idea that some of the most memorable Beatles moments came after little or no rehearsal. Whether this series was made 10 or 20 or 30 years earlier — or even right after the period chronicled in “The Beatles: Get Back” — there’d still be something elusive about the answers to Rubin’s questions. “McCartney 3,2,1” blends the How and the Who and the Why behind a lot of these songs, even if the nature of that last category is inherently a little more slippery than the others.
This is McCartney on the verge of 80, giving a specific kind of in-depth interview about his time before, during, and after The Beatles. As with so many other Beatles-related projects, there are some inherent contradictions. Things will always be a little fuzzy about who added a lyric here or what led to a happy production mistake there. Still, there’s a clarity of storytelling in “McCartney 3,2,1” that makes it strong enough to stand on its own, even as it’s tied to the bigger overall tapestry of a supermassive cultural force.
Pair It With: Beatles-focused podcasts are certainly not in short supply. But for a starting point that has something for potential fans and longer-time listeners, you can’t go wrong with “Screw It, We’re Just Gonna Talk About the Beatles.” Hosted by a group of comedians, musicians, and friends, they have listen-along episodes for each of the Beatles albums, themed episodes going through more of the info around the band itself, and a gradually growing collection of bonus episodes on the post-breakup solo albums.
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