Welcome to the Weekend Binge. Every week, we’ll suggest a binge-able title designed to keep you from getting too stir crazy. Check back throughout the weekend for even more gloriously queer entertainment.
The Recap: The Clinton Affair
Former President Bill Clinton turned 75 this week (August 19), and as such–not to mention our anticipation for American Crime Story: Impeachment–we’ve decided on a jaunt down memory lane to the height of his presidency, and his biggest moment of overexposure. As it were.
The Clinton Affair debuted on network A&E back in 2018 as a six-part series detailing the events leading up to Bill Clinton’s impeachment, and as a chronicle of a series of scandals (and non-scandals) that put his administration in peril. The series is notable for its vast participation of key figures from the Clinton years, including Paula Jones (she accused Clinton of sexual harassment), Ken Starr (a special prosecutor), Michael Isikoff (a reporter investigating the Clintons), and perhaps most notably, Monica Lewinksy (a former White House intern who had an affair with the president…does she really need an introduction?). The Clinton Affair marks Lewinsky’s first on-camera interview in more than a decade, and features the former punchline as a beautiful, thoughtful woman, reflecting on the indiscretions of her youth. It’s a candid conversation and a breathtaking reinvention of a woman once body and slut-shamed as an intelligent, glamorous, courageous survivor.
The Clinton Affair offers its own share of 90s nostalgia as well, though not exactly the comforting kind. Blue dresses, damned spots, cigars, indictments, recorded conversations, subpoenas, the definition of “is”–how these tidbits still echo in the mind more than 20 years on. Apart from the revealing interviews featured in the series, the show also does an excellent job of connecting the dots from one scandal to the next: Ken Starr, originally appointed to investigate the shady real estate dealings of Whitewater, eventually ended up deposing Clinton in a totally unrelated civil lawsuit, which led to his impeachment for purgery.
[An aside: Starr also was the lawyer that argued to nullify all the same-sex marriages in California following the passage of Prop 8 in 2008. Charming guy.]
In perhaps a most revealing twist, two figures emerge at the center of it all: Starr, the ultra-religious fanatic who seemed unaware of his own witch-hunt obsession, and Linda Tripp, the “friend” of Lewinsky who began taping her phone calls and who ultimately coordinated with Starr’s team to entrap Clinton. Tripp, in particular, somehow believed that Clinton had personally targeted her for reassignment from the White House to the Pentagon (complete with a BIG pay raise), and vowed to destroy him for it. She also fueled several other attacks on Clinton both in the media and with Starr’s team before crossing paths with Lewinsky.
Don’t get us wrong, Clinton himself doesn’t exactly come off great in The Clinton Affair. His philandering and shady dealings will prompt even the most supportive viewers to narrow their eyes. At the same time, it’s virtually impossible to look at the show and not think of Hillary Clinton‘s allegations of a “vast, right-wing conspiracy” to undermine Bill’s presidency. A conspiracy to that effect did unquestionably exist; its efficacy remains one of the open questions of the series. It does become clear that Ken Starr launched a witch hunt so ravenous it would give Cotton Mather–the puritan behind the Salem Witch Trials–pause. Starr wanted to destroy the Clintons at all costs…all in the name of moral purity.
The Clinton Affair paints a sordid portrait of 1990s American politics on both sides of the aisle, and does a fine job of making a meandering path to impeachment much easier to follow. It also raises deeper moral questions about the nature of political scandals. Viewed through a lens of history that includes the warmongering cronyism of George W. Bush and the sedition & treason of Donald Trump, we have to wonder: why was all this a big deal?
Streams on A&E, Hulu, Amazon & YouTube.