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Apple TV+’s Gutsy is nothing if not wholesome. Hillary Clinton and Chelsea Clinton are plainly aiming for inspiration and edification with their docuseries interviewing heroes and luminaries from all walks of life, and they tend to find it whether they’re speaking with academics, activists or firefighters. The causes they highlight are largely unobjectionable, at least if your politics roughly align with the Clintons’; their subjects plainly admirable; their stories insistently empowering.
For a certain type of viewer — say, a devoted Clinton fan or a budding feminist in search of role models — it might make for a decent primer on the broad spectrum of issues affecting Americans today, from motherhood to environmentalism to the fight for LGBTQ rights. And its omnivorous interests and impressive access ensure that just about any viewer will be likely to find some segment they’ll connect with over its eight 40-minute episodes. However, in its restless, relentless quest for uplift, the series turns away from complexity, depth or even much in the way of personality. While Gutsy‘s good intentions make it hard to dislike, its shallowness also makes it difficult to love.
Executive producers: Hillary Clinton, Chelsea Clinton, Johnny Webb, Siobhan Sinnerton, Roma Khanna, Ken Druckerman, Banks Tarver, Anna Chai
First, to get this out of the way: If you have strong opinions against the Clintons, Gutsy is not likely to (or really even trying to) change your mind. The series serves less as a pitch for the Clintons than as an opportunity for the Clintons to platform other individuals and issues they’ve deemed worthwhile. (And no, Bill Clinton does not appear, in case you were wondering.) Even pro-Clinton viewers, however, might find themselves stumbling over the first obvious issue with Gutsy: namely, that whatever else you think of them as private individuals or public figures, the Clintons are lackluster as TV hosts.
Each episode weaves together a handful of interviews centered around a specific theme — “Gutsy Women Have Rebel Hearts,” “Gutsy Women Are Forces of Nature,” etc. — usually conducted around some hands-on activity. Voiceover narration by one of the Clintons or seemingly scripted “casual” conversations between the two of them serve as segues in between. Once in a while, these transitions yield unexpected moments of warmth and levity. I’ll admit it, I snorted at the unforgivably cheesy “de-brie” joke Hillary cracks in front of a Parisian fromagerie during an installment on women and comedy.
But although both Hillary and Chelsea have spent decades in the spotlight, neither seems quite at ease with the purposefully casual vibe of the docuseries, or all that eager to reveal any more of themselves than they already have. Arguably, it’s tough to blame them for their guardedness. The carefully curated anecdotes shared by the Clintons here include Chelsea’s memories of watching Saturday Night Live mock her appearance as a child, and Hillary’s of Brazilian lingerie ads that used suggestive upskirt shots of her from a state visit in her capacity as First Lady. (Hence her famous affinity for pantsuits.) They have reason to feel plenty exposed already. Nevertheless, it makes for unsatisfying TV when the two central figures are made to look so irreproachable they’re downright distant.
There’s less justification for scripted transitions written with all the panache of a grade-school book report. (Take a shot every time someone says “gutsy” on this series, and you’ll have a very strong buzz going by the end of your binge.) “I think it was one of the most fun afternoons that we’ve had. And we learned so much. We laughed a lot,” Hillary remarks of a visit to late-night host Amber Ruffin’s home in episode six. By that point, we’ve already seen the footage, so we know it really did look fun and educational, and that the Clintons genuinely did seem to be having a blast with a table read of a pantsuit-centric sketch crafted for them by Ruffin and her writers. But you wouldn’t know it from the tediousness of the words used to describe the event.
The Clintons fare better in the sit-downs themselves, apparently more comfortable listening while others make their case. The subjects attracting the most buzz are bound to be the big names: A-list celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Megan Thee Stallion, and cultural leaders like Dolores Huerta and Gloria Steinem. But it’s often the slightly lesser-known individuals who yield the most compelling conversations — like GLITS founder Ceyenne Doroshow, who speaks movingly of serving as a mother to a growing network of young trans people, or inventor Alice Min Soo Chun, who offers an inside look into the unglamorous process of creating a prototype. No doubt it’s in large part because we haven’t already heard everything they have to say.
In the best segments, the interviewee and the activity come together to deliver a multifaceted (though still bite-sized) taste of the topic at hand. In “Gutsy Women Stand Up,” activist and academic Kimberlé Crenshaw offers the Clintons a mini-tour of a Met Museum exhibit about Seneca Village as a way into a discussion of her work in critical race theory. It’s an excellent use of Crenshaw’s few minutes onscreen, offering just enough that a viewer might be moved to stop by the exhibit themselves, or look up more of Crenshaw’s writing.
But that alchemy frequently remains out of reach. It’s cute, I guess, to see the Clintons take a tango lesson with Goldie Hawn and Kate Hudson while chatting about mother-daughter relationships — but all that interaction ultimately imparts are vague platitudes about how “being a mom is one of the gutsiest things you can do.” (There’s that word again.)
Gutsy‘s list of heroes is certainly impressive, and the issues they raise worth ruminating on. If the series brings more recognition to some of these women and the work they do, perhaps it’s a worthwhile endeavor for that reason alone. But it can be a frustrating watch for anyone actually engaged enough with these ideas and concerned to be curious about their nuances. There’s very little crosstalk between the high-profile names (comedian Negin Farsad, journalist Jemele Hill, gun control activist Shannon Watts) gathered for a brunch to discuss battling harassment and vitriol in “Gutsy Women Refuse Hate,” for example, nor much exploration of how the community-based Yurok tribal justice system highlighted in “Gutsy Women Seek Justice” might be at odds with the more traditional approaches to policing featured elsewhere in the episode.
To do so might be to court contention and controversy, and Gutsy is stubbornly focused on spreading good vibes as far and wide as it can. The approach does have its merits. It makes for a quick and reliable dose of empowerment, and a solid compendium of brilliant, determined, accomplished people to look up again later. But it also keeps the show from ever feeling as deep as it could, or as complicated as all the individuals featured in it surely are. It prevents Gutsy, in other words, from living up to its own title.
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