In the months after Donald Trump became president and a flush of liberal rage manifested in impassioned Women’s Marches across the country, Hillary Clinton took a sizeable step back from public life. Having been a flashpoint of both controversy and sympathy for her entire adult life, Clinton found herself having to forge a new kind of identity — one that wouldn’t be tied to any kind of political office, but could still use support from those Democrats whose first reaction to Trump’s inauguration was to crochet pink “pussyhats” and march as a unified pink wave of righteous fury.
“Gutsy,” Clinton’s new and self-consciously #feminist show produced with her daughter, Chelsea, helps the former candidate do exactly that, tapping everyone from Gloria Steinem to Megan Thee Stallion to explore what it means to be a “gutsy” woman. But watching the show’s eight curated episodes, all of which premiere September 9 on Apple TV+, feels like stepping back in feminism to Clinton’s campaign selling “NASTY WOMAN” T-shirts or Women’s March protesters lifting “IF HILLARY HAD BEEN ELECTED, WE’D BE AT BRUNCH RIGHT NOW” signs. Even with titles like “Gutsy Women Refuse Hate” and “Gutsy Women Have Rebel Hearts,” “Gutsy” bears the appearance of taking on The Hard Questions without doing much to move its conversations forward. Determined to find a silver lining in every cloud, and less furious with the world than annoyed at being misconceived, the Clintons spend much of their time in this series seeking out people who feel the same rather than challenging their own worldviews — or their likely viewers’ — at all.
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Based on the Clintons’ “The Book of Gutsy Women: Favorite Stories of Courage and Resilience,” each chapter of the show enlists an increasingly confusing mix of celebrities and more local activists to speak on everything from comedy to marriage to hate crimes. A sitdown with Kim Kardashian in the “Gutsy Women Seek Justice” episode is ostensibly meant to raise awareness about the death penalty’s human cost, but is hard to take too seriously when Kardashian tells a story about trying to stop an execution by tweeting about it — at least, until she had to leave her phone to do a photoshoot for her shapewear line. She and the Clintons then make sure to say that they all believe in the necessity of prison in general, despite “Gutsy” previously showing wrenching testimony from formerly incarcerated women about just how broken the penal system truly is.
The balance between topics and interview subjects varies wildly; the first episode, for one, jumps from tea with Amy Schumer to bowling with Wanda Sykes to a Parisian mime school and back again, refusing to let any of the segments either breathe or deepen in any meaningful way. Quickly enough, the gulf between how excited the hosts were to have these experiences versus how dull it was to watch them grew too large for this viewer to cross.
Sometimes, a segment’s brief seems to be educating the Clintons, as when they visit less famous people’s homes, churches, and workplaces. Other times, they try to inform the audience of American history, including Hillary Clinton taking a moment on an Arkansan road trip to break down the basics of Brown vs. The Board of Education — a scene that raises the question, “who is this for, exactly?” (The “gutsy” women to whom the show is marketed would know this extremely well-known history already, so maybe it’s actually for their kids….?)
As hosts, the Clintons pepper segments with sprinkles of their own extremely famous histories. A typical example of this comes in the premiere, when they assemble a roundtable of comedians to talk about where “the line” is through the lens of how much the former first daughter still disdains “Saturday Night Live” for mocking her as a child. In a more compelling interaction during the “Rebel Hearts” episode, however, Hillary Clinton tells a curious pastor that her decision to stay with her husband Bill, “a fundamentally good person,” was the “bravest” path she could have taken at the time. Then, when pastor wonders whether the president would’ve come clean were they not in the public eye, Clinton doesn’t hesitate a second before saying, “no.” For all the series’ emphasis on giving us The Clintons: Unfiltered, this feels like one of the rare moments when that descriptor seems accurate.
More often, “Gutsy” reverts to a safer model that highlights and flatters the Clintons, not least by stopping short of rustling up any real discomfort between them and the subjects at hand. The context of the elder Clinton’s career and its effect on Chelsea’s upbringing matters, of course, but only as far as they’ll allow it. They’ll sit down, for instance, with Afghan refugees and mention Clinton’s work to evacuate the country as Secretary of State, but not the hawkish policies she otherwise supported whose ripple effects contributed to where Afghanistan is today. They’ll invite a Palestinian comic to the roundtable and listen to her insight on owning her identity, but leave Clinton’s support for Israel’s annexation of Palestine out of it. For all its appearance of pushing for reform in this country, it’s far less comfortable pushing boundaries than finding inspiring stories within them.
Maybe I’m asking too much of “Gutsy.” The series’ commitment to bringing in people from all walks of life results in some genuinely moving moments, and when the Clintons don’t default to active listening politician mode, they do seem to be enjoying themselves. (Hillary Clinton doesn’t make an amazing mime, but she sures gives it a spirited go, anyway.) Beyond the preexisting demographic of those who mourned their post-election brunch plans, though, it’s hard to imagine who might gain much from this exercise besides the Clintons themselves.
“Gutsy” premieres Friday, September 9 on Apple TV+.
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