The Clinton legend looms large. They’re perhaps the most well-known American family, having been in the public eye for decades now. As a viewing public, we know so much about them and the type of political junky who will be drawn to “Gutsy” with a curiosity to know more about the Clinton women will probably be disappointed.
The show offers quality time with Hillary and Chelsea but no insights into their souls. And why should it? “Gutsy” isn’t an exposé into their lives but rather a chance to relax inside their worldview. Its top-level message is bland women-empowerment—nothing radical—as the show follows the mother-daughter duo, visiting with old friends and meeting new ones.
It is perhaps unwise for politicians to make this type of show—as a viewer, I couldn’t hope but want the reality-TV moment of peaking behind the curtain at our hosts. It never arrived. Yes, during the episode on love, Hillary talks about Bill’s famed affair but no, in the episode on reforming criminal justice, no one so much as mentions the famed 1994 crime bill (of “super predator” fame). Indeed, Chelsea and Hillary face no hard questions throughout the show even as they’re clearly game for any sort of adventure whether it’s repelling down a mountain, showing how bad they are at bowling, or taking a class in “clown.”
Clinton haters won’t and shouldn’t watch—“Gutsy” largely exists to portray the Clintons’ vision of themselves as evolving do-gooders who’ve been through the wringer. This formula is evident from the first episode, “Gutsy Women Have the Last Laugh.” During it, Hillary and Chelsea meet with a variety of comics who use their platform for social good. Chelsea is still smarting from the bullying she underwent as the first daughter, to the point where she declares herself not a fan of the comedy profession in general. Yet, there she is, making friends with comedians, showing that those old wounds do not define her.
So the first step to appreciating “Gutsy” is conceding its thesis on who Chelsea and Hillary are and moving past it as much as possible. As such, Clinton agnostics and fans will find plenty to enjoy in the show’s cornucopia of American women. Here, we see a pluralistic view of the country, celebrating femmes of all races, ages, class backgrounds, and sexualities. This type of rainbow representation in Hollywood can feel forced and it certainly feels intentional here—but it would be disingenuous to fault a show starring and executive produced by the Clintons for having a political outlook.
The thing with “Gutsy” is that it really does revel in its subjects’ accomplishments, not just in its famous pair at the center. The show features women who have done amazing things and is careful to curate an expansive and powerful definition of what that amazing or ‘gutsy’ is. Hillary and Chelsea meet with a mix of high- and low-brow figures ranging from faith leader Rev. Whittney Ijanaten to Kim Kardashian to Nurse Practioner Belinda Ellis who details how Covid was more harrowing than the time she spent nursing in war zones.
Pushing it even further, “Gutsy” pairs “Ru Paul Drag Race” season 13 winner Symone (aka Reggie Gavin) with two of the Little Rock Nine, Minnijean Brown-Trickey and Carlotta Walls LaNier, in the penultimate episode, “Gutsy Women Take Leaps.” It’s supposed to be about women who make big, tough decisions but it’s really about Arkansas, what it’s meant to the Clintons, its place in the nation’s history, and where it is now. The interviews are stirring if the conceit is a bit contrived, still it serves the show’s formula well. Plus any series that can successfully feature Dolores Huerta, the storied labor activist and mother of eleven (now grandmother to fourteen, great grandmother to four) and Megan Thee Stallion discussing how she handles haters (partly through painting) deserves some credit.
It’s a tough balancing act to pull off—celebrating the full diversity of womanhood without reducing half the population to a type, not just checking boxes around diversity but really understanding it. Thanks to eight, 40-plus minute episodes “Gutsy” has diversity within its diversity, showing, for example, Black women as activists, comics, thinkers, and mothers. The result is a compelling docuseries that rises above its elements, defining aspirational womanhood as smart, strong, and human.
Whole season screened for review. The show premieres on Apple TV+ on September 9th.