Human Playground Season 1 Review

Episode guide

Break the pain barrier
An ancient ritual
Rites of passage
In pursuit of perfection
God’s playground
Big deal

Achieving what we believe to be impossible is something difficult to describe. When I finished my first half marathon, I burst into tears, overwhelmed with emotion. For others, watching something like the London Marathon is enough to inspire and impress. But why do we subject our bodies to such excruciating pain? Why are so many of us seeking what we believe is impossible?

Netflix’s latest sports documentary, Human Playground, explores all sides of this issue across different extreme sports, from perilous snorkeling and ice diving to racing car drifting and sumo wrestling. Each chapter is approximately 40 minutes long and, with narration by Idris Elba, spotlights different athletes from all walks of life.

The first episode discusses the barrier of pain and what it means to cross it to the other side. From running an ultramarathon to swimming in the ice, the camera gives full access to some pretty uncomfortable moments for these men and women, dealing with the full extent of pain.

Another episode stands in stark contrast to this and is aptly titled “In Pursuit of Perfection”. One of the most spectacular shots of the entire documentary series is here, with a surfer managing to ride a massive wave and doing it perfectly.

Alongside these juxtaposed episodes are chapters examining how we incorporate games into tribal rites of passage or rituals, while the final episode changes things up and examines the commercial side of extreme sports and our insatiable need to be seduced and stimulated by these efforts.

Over the 6 episodes there is a real effort to incorporate sports and athletes from around the world which is great to see. So often you see these docu-series popping up on streaming services and they’re mostly geared towards Americans (looking at you AppleTV.)

Although the United States produces some incredible athletes, with over 200 countries around the world, it’s nice to find a documentary series like this that actively seeks out many people from all walks of life to interview and participate.

The chapters themselves are basically split into 4 of 5 different parts, with us introduced to different athletes. They are asked about their past, their hopes and dreams for the future, before following their journey through the deadly world of their chosen sport and what they seek to accomplish. Once their effort is successful (or not, depending on the episode), it’s the turn of the country and the next athlete.

The format works pretty well and there’s definitely a lot to like with this one. The visuals are fantastic and the interviews insightful, managing to really get into the headspace of these men and women as they set out to tackle the impossible. It’s hard not to come away inspired by some of the exploits.

If you’re looking for a world-class sports documentary with some jaw-dropping shots, Human Playground is well worth a watch.

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Harold B. McConnell