Do you like Reese Witherspoon? Obviously that’s a rhetorical question — everybody likes Reese Witherspoon. Through all of her incarnations — ingenue, indie film darling, A-list movie star, prestige cable luminary, lifestyle guru, film and TV producer — Witherspoon has maintained an aura of approachable Southern charm without ever suppressing her ambition and intelligence. And like a savvy businesswoman, she knows the best way to give her new Hello Sunshine Video on Demand channel a shot at success is by starring in its first show, Shine on with Reese.
“I’m doing a show highlighting powerful, ambitious women in different fields,” says Witherspoon in Shine’s bubbly opening credits. So far the aforementioned “different fields” all fall under the umbrella of show business: The first three guests are Dolly Parton, Ava DuVernay, and P!nk, all women Witherspoon seems to know personally. The three episodes made available for review have a sort of “polished casual” feel, as Witherspoon travels to meet her subjects in their home or office, talking with them over a hot cup of tea or while riding in the passenger seat of their Range Rover.
As an interviewer, Witherspoon is relaxed and chatty, willing to guide the conversation but not afraid to interject with her own observations, some of which are refreshingly unfiltered. When P!nk recalls the time a comedian tweeted that she should cover up her post-baby body on stage, Witherspoon shoots back, “Anybody who bitches about women post-baby, I’m like, ‘Next time you push a baby out your d—hole, you can comment on what my body looks like.’” One of Shine’s charms is the way it gives viewers a glimpse at the human woman behind the persona known as “Reese Witherspoon” — whether she’s talking about being voted foreman during jury duty (“I just want to be clear with people: I did not go to Harvard Law School, that was a movie”), or fangirling over Parton’s costume closet. Her reaction to the latter, by the way, is cinematic.
It’s clear that Witherspoon wants Shine to offer more than just the novelty of watching two famous people be friendly and famous in each other’s presence. These are self-made women in male-dominated fields talking about the obstacles and personal inhibitions they’ve had to grapple with on their way to capital-F fame. At 22-minutes apiece, Shine’s episodes aren’t long enough for Witherspoon to uncover anything revelatory about her subjects, but hearing Parton recall the gumption it took to ask her music partner Porter Wagoner for equal pay in the early ‘70s — well, that never gets old. Nor do Shine’s interviews get bogged down with Important Issues; after a thoughtful conversation with DuVernay about the importance of having diversity in film crews, Witherspoon segues suddenly to the most important topic there is: “Talk to me about… how you met Oprah.”
Now it’s time for the unfortunate but necessary mental and financial calculus that accompanies all new entertainment entries in our “Everything Is a Platform” era. Current DirecTV subscribers can watch Shine for no additional charge — everybody else will have to sign up for DirecTV Now. (The first episode is streaming for free here.) For Reese Witherspoon superfans with a little disposable income, Shine is probably worth the expense ($10 for the first three months). For the rest of you, feel free to wait until the best clips make their way to YouTube. Even though we all love Reese Witherspoon, some of us simply aren’t ready to pay for the privilege. B