There’s no question Hulu’s Hillary is historically valuable.
Featuring in-depth interviews with the eponymous politician, husband Bill Clinton, and daughter Chelsea Clinton — as well as talks with staff members, friends, and seasoned journalists —the four-episode docuseries records important events. Hillary Clinton provides crucial perspective on her life and legacy that will undoubtedly help shape our understanding of the major role she played in U.S. governance and politics. It preserves critical data sure to be examined by future generations.
Hillary fails to land as strongly as its remarkable assets promise.
The series’ release in 2020, however, seems misguided. Not because it corresponds to an election year, but because its confusing messaging seems to somehow come both too early and too late.
Gifted over 2,000 hours of behind-the-scenes footage from the Clinton campaign and granted unprecedented access to Clinton herself, Hillary fails to land as strongly as its remarkable assets promise. Told non-linearly, the series ping-pongs between a biographical look at Clinton’s life and her final presidential run in a manner that would be resonant if it weren’t so confusing.
Director Nanette Burstein relies heavily on viewers having existing knowledge of Clinton’s history, blazing through meaty topics like the Whitewater controversy, Benghazi investigations, and 2016 email debacle with varying degrees of explanation. Of course, everyone knows Clinton. But whether they understand the particulars of these events is less certain.
If you’re not well-versed on Clinton, Hillary won’t help you get a firm grasp. It draws messy parallels with confusing thematic similarities — how exactly does Bill’s gubernatorial race fit into Hillary’s face-off with Bernie Sanders? — that fly by too fast to deliver a powerful perspective.
And if you are a Clinton expert, the series’ framing will leave you disappointed with its lack of insight not only into Clinton’s life but into what her legacy says about America’s future.
If this is a snapshot of the current political landscape, it seems at best half developed.
On the one hand, Hillary feels about two years too late. Rehashing the positives and negatives of her fight against Donald Trump could have been cathartic for supporters, or at the very least timely. Unfortunately, too much has happened since and the reflection plays like a stale recap.
Whether or not you voted for Clinton, this SparkNotes take on her campaign doesn’t do it or her justice. Yes, it confirms some things we thought we knew as fact, but none are strong enough to include as examples here. Things that would have packed a punch then hardly make contact now.
On the other hand, Hillary feels far too early. Neither Clinton nor Burstein seem to have harnessed the perspective on Clinton’s campaign or history needed to situate them within a broader context. Despite Clinton’s considerable step back from public life, the 72-year-old icon remains a gargantuan figure in modern politics. She can’t help but protect her image any more than Burstein can help frame her in a flattering light.
Had Hillary been held for even a few years, with the results of Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign on record, it is possible we would understand not just more about Clinton but more about voters writ large. If this is intended as a snapshot of the current political landscape, it seems half developed.
That said, there are standout moments audiences will appreciate receiving now. In episode 1, Clinton speaks on her relationship with presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders in seriously unflattering terms. It’s a brief moment that will (and has) perked ears among 2020 voters.
The framing doesn’t match the weight of the subject.
In episode 3, Burstein devotes considerable time to the Monica Lewinsky scandal that allows both Hillary and Bill to provide some additional thoughts on the historic controversy. With social justice advocates re-litigating the issue in the #MeToo era, the couples’ comments are worth having. (Notably, Lewinsky is not interviewed.)
And as far as people-watching goes, Hillary contains some unusually personal moments. We see Clinton prepare for her famed 2015 Saturday Night Live appearance with impersonator Kate McKinnon. We watch her sassily react to a staffer’s inquiry about her shoes before a public appearance. We witness a small piece of her extraordinary friendship with former President Barack Obama.
Like I said, it’s all valuable documentation. But its framing doesn’t match the weight of the subject.
For politicos eager to look back on 2016, Hillary provides plenty to discuss. For audiences seeking well-rounded reflection, it misses the mark. The best we can hope for Burstein’s work is that it be considered now, digested later — contributing to a future project that will capture Clinton better.
Hillary is now streaming on Hulu.
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