When you hear the term “docuseries,” several things likely come to mind: true crime, deep dives into celebrity life, investigations into industry scandals. Many people love these kinds of shows, and they often end up in Netflix’s top ten. So, naturally, Netflix decided to throw that all out the window and make a docuseries that nobody asked for, and that fewer people have probably even heard of: “Pepsi, Where’s My Jet?”
Truth be told, “Pepsi, Where’s My Jet?” was a lighthearted break amid a world recovering from the Dahmer series. In case you aren’t a soft drink scandal aficionado, “Pepsi, Where’s My Jet?” breaks down the court case Leonard v. PepsiCo Inc. (yes, this is a real thing) as told from the perspective of John Leonard and several PepsiCo lawyers. As the story goes, 20-year-old John Leonard saw a Pepsi ad claiming to give away a military-grade fighter jet for the price of 7 million “Pepsi points”; however, after actually accumulating that many points and presenting it to the company, Leonard was turned down. With the help of his good friend and investor Todd Hoffman, Leonard brought up a case against PepsiCo to get the jet. Unfortunately, Leonard was unsuccessful and remains jet-less to this day.
Netflix docuseries are often only as good as their origin story, but in the case of “Pepsi, Where’s My Jet?” the creative production and storytelling techniques make for an even more enjoyable watch. The basis of the series is so bizarre that it would surely be engaging without the extra creative effort, but the stylistic choices enhance the viewing experience further.
For one, when giving context about the case, many videos of old Pepsi ads are shown. The bright colors and flashy images that are so quintessentially ’90s liven up the screen and take you back in time. This immersive quality comes to life as the series even features Cindy Crawford, who did one of Pepsi’s most well-known ads in the ’90s, giving a couple of confessionals. Maybe it’s just the nostalgia talking, or that the ’90s have been making a comeback in the trend cycle over recent years, but there is a definite “cool factor” at play that takes these past snippets from mere historical context to an aesthetic statement.
However, the newest form of creative production Netflix used in this docuseries was having actors play young John Leonard (Michael Davis, “Physical”) and Todd Hoffman (Jason Fielders, “Little Big: Generation Cancellation”) while dubbing real John Leonard and Todd Hoffman over them. For example, scenes of college-aged Leonard thinking through his plan to get the jet depicted a young actor in time-accurate clothing with time-accurate technology and memorabilia. Conversations Leonard and Hoffman had over the phone were recreated with other actors who looked era-appropriate and whose voices were dubbed over by present-day Leonard and Hoffman. Having scenes with actors and pivoting away from the typical confessional-style format seen in documentaries was refreshing and helped clarify the story. It also helped to maintain an accurate portrayal of 20-year-old Leonard, and it made his wacky idea of getting the fighter jet make a little more sense since it was constantly seen through the eyes of someone young (and typically more daring and adventurous.)
With new and creative storytelling techniques, “Pepsi, Where’s My Jet?” does an excellent job of telling a story that strikes the perfect balance between completely implausible and crazy-enough-it-just-might-work. Hopefully, Netflix can continue exploring more engaging docuseries styles and get us farther away from the boring confessionals that have become synonymous with the genre.
Daily Arts Writer Jenna Jaehnig can be reached at email@example.com.