It’s such a shame about Hillary Clinton. Right? Sure, she’s a feminist trailblazer and the world might be in a better state if she had been president. Yet imagine having a party. A normal one. In your living room. After the pubs close, say. Not one where you’ve been expecting to talk about global affairs or the state of American democracy. Just something boozy and a bit wild, where people want to talk too loudly and smoke naughty fags outside the back door. Shush, yes, I know you’ve just started an impromptu karaoke rendition of Abba’s “Dancing Queen,” but isn’t that somebody at the door? Oh look. It’s Hillary Clinton. No Bill tonight, eh? Sure, come on in. Gosh, this is awkward. Just an herbal tea? Oh. Where’s everybody gone?
It’s not her fault. Probably. She just presents, in a way, a bit like William H Macy in The Cooler, or perhaps the energy vampire in What We Do in the Shadows, just kinda sucking the zest out of things. “Hey, kids, I’m fun!” she’ll say, and it will be purest Dr Evil trying a robot dance. You know I’m right.
This is the problem, basically, with Gutsy, the new documentary series on Apple TV+ that she presents with Chelsea, her daughter. My Sunday colleague Camilla Long confessed recently that she couldn’t read “Gutsy” as anything other than “Gusty” and now I can’t either, but Hillary and Chelsea are not natural gusters. The series is about trailblazing women, and the first episode is about comedians. It’s called “Gutsy Women Have the Last Laugh.”
There are big names here, from Amy Schumer to Wanda Sykes on down. That’s what’s good about it. What’s bad about it is how often it feels as though a pair of aliens have come down to Earth and said: “Tell me of this thing you call humor.” It’s the televisual incarnation of somebody brightly saying, “That’s so funny!,” when they absolutely don’t get the joke. At times, no kidding, it would be marginally less uncomfortable if it were fronted by David Miliband.
“Hey, kids, I’m fun!” she’ll say, and it will be purest Dr Evil trying a robot dance.
Chelsea, actually, is the more interesting of the two. She floats along behind, often silent, the obvious victim of a lifetime of never once being the main attraction. When she talks, though, it is always worthwhile. Her mother’s comments are more often than not platitudinous — “It’s about being a woman! Who is putting herself out there!” — but Chelsea has a stricken, thoughtful sadness to her. She admits, at one point, that she finds comedy difficult, the legacy of seeing herself ridiculed as a child on every American’s favorite, Saturday Night Live. “A group of adults all sat in a room and decided this was a good idea,” she says, gently, and it’s quietly devastating.
Sometimes the generational divide between the two of them does threaten to become interesting. Chelsea is much more instinctively cancelly, for example, although it’s worth remembering that she’s in her forties now, and hardly the voice of youth. The comedy, even from the stand-ups, is very safe. Schumer trots out her line about the patriarchy having left humanity with no cure for endometriosis, but chewable Viagra. Laurie Kilmartin manages perhaps the only jokes as yet in existence about transgender women and Anne Frank (not at the same time) that are both genuinely funny and can be safely laughed at by Hillary Clinton.
Oddly — or perhaps not oddly — the good bits are the most serious ones. At one point, in a French café, there’s a fantastic discussion about clowning between the veteran clown professor Philippe Gaulier (not a woman, but he does have a gut) and the young American clown Natalie Palamides in which they dwell on the vital magic of things going excruciatingly wrong. It’s just not clear that the Clintons serve much function by being there too.
Anyway, there are another seven episodes, featuring everybody from Kim Kardashian and Megan Thee Stallion to Dr Jane Goodall. Doubtless there will be guts and gusts aplenty because you can’t really go wrong with a roll call like that. Which, I suppose, just goes to show how easy it is to book a program when everybody is scared that saying no might prompt you to take them out with a drone strike.
Hugo Rifkind is a columnist for The Times of London. He hosts a roundup of the week’s news and culture on Times Radio every Saturday