The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Is this feminism? What to make of the new shows from Hillary and Meghan.

A television show from the former secretary of state and a podcast from the duchess of Sussex are filled with light. But they are not necessarily enlightening.

Hillary Clinton and Chelsea Clinton talk with Glennon Doyle and Abby Wambach on the show “Gutsy.” (Christina Belle/Apple TV Plus)

There’s a feeling I know, and you might know it, too. It’s like the spring-loaded dread that accompanies the final notes of “Pop Goes the Weasel.” It’s like the vague sense of unease when it’s been too long since your toddler made an appearance, and the cat and the finger paints are missing, too.

It’s the feeling you get when you remember that Hillary Clinton is still out there, making what she can of her legacy — and whatever she’s made is going to flash into the headlines before too long. And when it does, you will feel the desire to defend her against gross attacks while also cringing at whatever she’s gotten up to now.

The latest bit of Clinton content, I lukewarmly inform you, is “Gutsy,” a new show premiering Sept. 9 on Apple TV Plus. In it, the former secretary of state teams up with her daughter, Chelsea, to explore. . . something. . . about women. Gutsy women. Women like Abby Wambach, and Amber Ruffin, and Amy Schumer, and Wanda Sykes, and Gloria Steinem, and Megan Thee Stallion, and Kim Kardashian, and Mariska Hargitay, and Kate Hudson, and a minister, a former neo-Nazi, an anti-gun activist, refugees, widows, a jewelry maker. They also pop into a clown school in Paris and hike trails in New York over the course of the eight-part series, which is loosely organized around themes. “Gutsy women have the last laugh” is the name of a comedy-themed episode. One about love and relationships is called “Gutsy women have rebel hearts.” For some reason, more than one episode lands the Clintons in a bowling alley.

Look, there is nothing new I can tell you about Hillary Clinton or how to think of her. You either want to hear more about why she stayed in her marriage (episode four) or you don’t. You’ll either think the whole series is an oatmeal-flavored boondoggle for mother-daughter bonding or you won’t.

But did you know that “Gutsy” is the second show to premiere in the past month featuring a famous woman interviewing other famous women? In August, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, premiered a Spotify podcast called “Archetypes.” The first episode explored ambition, with Meghan interviewing Serena Williams — a coup for the show, considering that the tennis legend had just announced her retirement. The second explored what it means to be a diva with Mariah Carey.

The Clintons’ series and Meghan’s podcast are intertwined in ways that seem synergistic, if not inevitable. Serena Williams is praised in “Gutsy” (though not interviewed, at least not in any of the four episodes I screened). Margaret Cho is identified as an icon in “Gutsy,” and will also reportedly be an upcoming guest on “Archetypes.” Both shows feature a variation of the phrase “if a man did that” — as, again and again, Hillary and Chelsea and Meghan discover that comedy is more difficult for women, and fame is trickier for women, and moms are more judged than dads. If any of this is news to you, then I wish you a swift recovery from your head wound.

I blame Beyoncé, really, for her trailblazing 2014 awards-show appearance in front of a 20-foot-tall sign reading “FEMINIST.” She planted the idea that millions of listeners might excitedly flock to a project in which famous women teach basic feminism to the masses. They will not. They will flock to Beyoncé.

And that’s what it really comes down to with projects like this. If you want to learn about how women are misjudged, mistreated and misunderstood, who do you want to learn it from? Is your answer Hillary Clinton? The chip on this woman’s shoulder is 100 percent warranted — gutsy women still lose elections — but it’s still there. It’s hard for her not to turn conversations into narratives of her own past traumas. In the comedy episode, which features an absolutely killer lineup of brilliant guests, the theme that Clinton is drawn back to isn’t her guests’ brilliance but her own family’s victimization at the hands of cruel funny people.

To put it another way: You know you have something to learn from Amy Schumer. So you could turn to the meticulous and meaty New Yorker profile of the comedian published last week by the incisive writer Ariel Levy, in which Schumer unpacks how and why her audience has become increasingly female. Or, you could watch Hillary and Chelsea — who approach comedy much as the Coneheads approached Earth — take Amy Schumer to an elegant teahouse, order coffee instead, then crack each other up with patriotic knock-knock jokes (Why doesn’t America ever knock? Because freedom rings.) before name-dropping Madeleine Albright.

The duchess fares better. Meghan is an actress, after all, and she can step into the role of regular person just as she once stepped into the role of princess. It’s fun to listen to her and Serena Williams chat about their close friendship — intimately and invitingly, as if you, too, could be their friend. That is, until you are smacked by the tennis racket of reality, and remember they both have more money than God and occupy the same rarefied plane as the Clintons.

Who are these pink-pussy-hatted exercises for? The viewers who would be drawn to such explicitly feminist shows surely already know the basics that Hillary Clinton has come to teach them. So is “Gutsy” for women who want to open a central vein to the sisterhood? Women who want to gawk at Abby Wambach and Glennon Doyle’s serene kitchen while pretending they’re doing so in the name of female empowerment? Men?

There’s nothing wrong with either of these projects. They are a reminder that women can be funny, smart, brave, resourceful and silly, and that’s all fine. But neither would ever have been greenlit if they were proposed by anyone other than three of the most famous women on the planet. And I couldn’t help but wish they’d used their prodigious fame to deliver something more than a tour through their Rolodexes. It would have been nice to hear the word “gutsy” and feel like it referred to a fresh, unexpected angle on what it means to be a woman in America in 2022, and not to the anxious feeling in my intestines when I learned Hillary Clinton had stepped back into the spotlight.