Television Review: “The Curse of Von Dutch: A Brand to Die For” — Past Its Expiration Date

By Sarah Osman

As it chronicles the rise and fall of the titular Von Dutch brand, the series tries to exploit nostalgia and true crime at the same time.

For those of us who grew up during the early 2000s, we are more than familiar with the Von Dutch brand. The bright trucker hats adorned the noggins of nearly every celebrity. Looking back on these hats, it’s inexplicable why they were so popular, but then most of the trends that became the rage in the early 2000s were strange. Today, many of us have begun to look back on this confounding time in pop culture and wonder — what the hell happened? And why was any of it okay?

Hulu’s latest docuseries, The Curse of Von Dutch: A Brand to Die For, would have us believe that something very sinister lurked behind the appeal of those treasured trucker hats. As it chronicles the rise and fall of the titular Von Dutch brand, the narrative tries to exploit nostalgia and true crime at the same time. The irony becomes abundantly clear almost immediately — much like the fashion trends of the early aughts, the combo simply doesn’t work.

The three-episode miniseries charts the nasty side of Von Dutch, which goes beyond the typical corporate intrigue: at its start the series tells us that one of the co-founders was tried for first degree murder. That’s a bit much, even for the fashion world, and the series doesn’t stop there — the brand was embroiled in drugs, gangs, fights, and more drugs. While all of this heaped up skullduggery should make for entertaining TV, The Curse of Von Dutch goes nowhere.

Part of the problem is that too much is taken on. On the one hand, the series wallows in early 200s nostalgia — Crazy Town’s “Butterfly” is the opening tune. But the series never delves into why these hats caught on. That would lead to other interesting cultural questions — why did the early 2000s spawn so many bizarre fads? What in the world explains the transformation of Reality TV stars into celebrities? Why did we all love Paris Hilton so much?

Besides backing away from probing the enigmas of marketing, the series tries to be a murder mystery, and that fizzles out because the details of the murder are far too grizzly. The continual teasing of the murder also comes off as  gratuitous. The series The Curse of Chippendales also delved into murder, but the drama treated its “curse” and each of its subjects — including the unfortunate murder victim — with deep respect and nuance. The Curse of Von Dutch has empathy for nothing — besides the bottom line.

The biggest failure here is that the series breaks the cardinal rule of filmmaking: don’t make it boring. The Curse of Von Dutch has just about 90 minutes worth of compelling conflict — it would have been much more effective as a movie. As it is, the proceedings drag on. Seemingly random stories in the first episode turn out to be important later on, but by the time they are referred to you don’t remember much about them — they sit buried under a pile of other stories. Do we need an  episode dedicated to the founding of Von Dutch, watching three men fight over which one really created the company? It would have made for far juicier drama (and been more pertinent to the eventual murder) if we had been given more details about the ways the members of the trio screwed each other over.

Many true life documentaries today try to limit the number of reenactments. The preferred choice is to focus on interviews and footage of the actual events. The Curse of Von Dutch also breaks this admirable rule and introduces a reenactment every five minutes. The result is that it makes the series feel as if it is a Civil War documentary, the kind one would find on the History Channel.

Ultimately, the “curse” of Von Dutch isn’t clear. But so what? Like the fads of the 2000s, the series turns into a joke soon after you have watched it.

Sarah Mina Osman is a writer residing in Wilmington, North Carolina. In addition to writing for The Arts Fuse, she has written for Watercooler HQ, The Huffington Post, HelloGiggles, Young Hollywood, and Matador Network, among other sites. Her work was included in the anthology Fury: Women’s Lived Experiences in the Trump Era. She is currently a first year fiction MFA candidate at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. When she’s not writing, she’s dancing, watching movies, traveling, or eating. She has a deep appreciation for sloths and tacos. You can keep up with her on Twitter and Instagram: @SarahMinaOsman

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