It feels passé, in fall 2022, to make a girlboss joke—and yet, with their new Apple TV+ project Gutsy, Chelsea and Hillary Clinton have basically done just that. Premiering Friday, the series claims to celebrate “the world’s boldest and bravest women—from household names to unsung heroes.” At times, it succeeds. Too often, however, it feels like those “household names” are engaged in a little brand management.
Gutsy derives its title from The Book of Gutsy Women, a tome the Clintons released in 2019 celebrating the women who inspire them most. The series, which centers each episode around a distinct theme, is similarly interested in promoting powerful women’s legacies. Some of the show’s subjects, like the Yurok Wellness Court founder, Yurok Judge Abby Abinanti, offer fascinating insights into social justice and community organizing work. Megan Thee Stallion stops by in Episode 2 for a casual painting session during which she and the Clintons discuss the episode’s theme—“Gutsy Women Refuse Hate.” (Yes, all of the titles are phrased as admonitions.)
The show is mostly breezy, if anodyne. You’ve likely heard about most of the women and stories featured before, but here they’re translated through easygoing group discussions and activities. (Sometimes it’s a brunch; sometimes it’s Chelsea Clinton overcoming her understandable historic skepticism toward comedians by attending a show; and sometimes it’s Hillary and Chelsea Clinton flying to France to study clowning.)
Every now and again, however, someone will say something tone deaf or hypocritical enough to snap everything into perspective. Few moments ring more hollow than Hillary Clinton nodding along as one of her subjects, attorney Brittany K. Barnett, discusses her mother’s crack-cocaine addiction and the need for prison reform. The series makes sure to put Ronald Reagan’s face on the screen but makes no mention of the Clintons’ own militant war on drugs.
The Clintons would be the first to tell you that a large segment of any TV-watching audience would likely hate any series they made, no matter what it contained. The show’s first episode observes just how broadly and deeply the public’s hatred for the family impacted Chelsea—who became a national punchline on stages as big as SNL. On some level, it feels excessive to harp on a harmless show that’s all smiles and bright lighting and good intentions. But by steadfastly refusing to grapple with what it really means to be a powerful woman, Gutsy limits itself to a two-dimensional, utterly toothless understanding of its subjects.
What does it really mean to be a “gutsy” woman? In this series’ understanding, gutsiness implies not only doing good work but building a reputation around it—a platform. Rarely, however, does the show bother interrogating from where that power really derives.
For instance: What does it mean that Kim Kardashian—a business titan who’s built both her platform and fortune by elevating harmful, exclusionary beauty standards that demand women invest small fortunes in their appearance—is a “Gutsy” woman featured in Episode 3, the show’s “Justice” episode? (The episode later finds Kardashian going toe-to-toe with Hillary Clinton in a game of law school trivia.)
It’s not that Kardashian shouldn’t appear on the show; she attended law school specifically to get a degree to further her clemency work, which becomes the central focus of her discussion with Clinton. (As the reality star points out, her biracial children can statistically expect a very different kind of “justice” than she would when confronted by police.) But what do we do with the oppressive standards she promotes, her alleged crypto scam, that lawsuit from her allegedly underpaid workers, and all of the other behavior that seems to defy a black-and-white portrait of the original influencer as a bastion of female empowerment?
At this point, politicians have become a fixture of our TV entertainment landscape—in Clinton’s case, from SNL to Broad City. As fun as it might be to watch the former presidential candidate and Chelsea tell knock-knock jokes in France, it’s hard not to wish they’d given their audience—and themselves—more challenging material.