The last thing one might expect a PBS two-part documentary on former president Bill Clinton to open with is Clinton’s December 11, 1998, Rose Garden apology to the American people for his words and deeds throughout his sex scandal investigation. That is precisely how Clinton, to be broadcast February 20, 2012, from 9:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. (Eastern) and February 21, 2012, from 8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. (check local listings), begins, followed by a focus on his history of “loss and recovery.”
Part 1 is “The Comeback Kid,” and Part 2 is “The Survivor.” Those titles alone sufficiently suggest the history each episode covers. Writer/director Barak Goodman manages to highlight Clinton’s successes, balancing them with failures that indicated either a lack of judgment or a self-destructive streak.
Clinton fans will find this four-hour documentary a rich source of American History as affected by Bill Clinton, peacemaker and budget balancer. Clinton haters will find four hours with Clinton interminable, perhaps even unbearable—reminding them of a pot-smoking (though non-inhaling), draft-dodging, hen-pecked adulterer who set the groundwork for the financial ruin of the United States. Those haters who have mellowed to be merely disapproving or disappointed will learn that a presidency tinged with scandals could also have been tinged with great things.
American Experience executive producer Mark Samels observed, “William Jefferson Clinton is a lightning rod in American history…it’s hard to find anyone who is neutral about the man or his presidency. The complex dynamic between his public accomplishments and his personal foibles makes him endlessly fascinating…Bill Clinton, both charismatic and confounding, certainly had a profound effect on the country…” Clinton examines both the accomplishments and foibles that contributed to that “profound effect.”
An incredible roster of White House insiders (such as Dee Dee Myers, Leon Panetta, James Carville, and Harold Ickes), journalists and authors (including Christiane Amanpour, Peter Baker, and Jonathan Alter), historians, and politicians participated in the making of Clinton.