At this point in the seemingly never-ending slog that is the presidential campaign cycle, it's fair to say that we've reached a saturation point in terms of election coverage — and we still have about four more months to go. But if you're the type of political junkie who can't get enough campaign coverage, or if you're looking for one definitive source to tune in to, check out Showtime's The Circus: Inside the Greatest Political Show on Earth (Sunday, 8/7c).
Created by Bloomberg Politics managing editors Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, as well as political strategist Mark McKinnon, The Circus follows the trio as they, in turn, follow candidates along the campaign trail. The series premiered in January, and the 12 episodes that have aired thus far (13, if you count the "finale," which was a recap of the previous 12) chronicled the Democratic and Republican primary races. The series returns Sunday, kicking off episodes that will lead up to the general election.
The series was conceived before anyone, least of all the creators, could have predicted how the 2016 primary season could have played out. But what a fitting name for this election, which really does feel like a political sideshow — even more so than in previous years — with Donald Trump acting as ringmaster. It will be interesting to see the approach to the next set of episodes, now that Trump and Hillary Clinton — the two candidates who offered The Circus the least face time in its initial run — have emerged as the two presumptive nominees.
Anyone who's read Game Change or Double Down, the books co-authored by Halperin and Heilemann about the 2008 and 2012 elections, respectively, know that the duo are great storytellers. (Granted, especially with the '08 election, they had a lot of juicy material to work with.) But The Circus also showcases their ability to distill even the most complicated political processes into easily digestible and highly entertaining nuggets, with additional strategic insight by McKinnon, whose resume includes stints as a media advisor to George W. Bush and John McCain.
Halperin, Heilemann and McKinnon have great chemistry, riffing on the ins and outs of the campaign while often congenially disagreeing with one another. They're also not afraid to eat the occasional helping of crow. (More than once in the first 12 episodes, they marked Trump as being down for the count.)
Unlike coverage on Fox News or MSNBC, The Circus offers truly objective analysis of the campaigns. It also shows a more human side of the candidates, painting a clear picture of how grueling life is on the campaign trial, as well as providing rare glimpses of off-the-cuff or behind-the-scenes moments. It's a safe bet, for instance, that The Circus is the only program to showcase John Kasich's penchant for really bad dad jokes — a characteristic that's apparently notorious among members of the political media, but rarely seen in typical election coverage — or the tender relationship between Bernie Sanders and his wife Jane.
And though The Circus airs weekly rather than on a 24/7 news network, episodes are produced close to real time, finalized only about 24 to 48 hours before they air on Sunday evenings, so the topics are timely and current.
Let's face it: We're going to be inundated with election coverage for the next four months. If you're sick of feeling a sense of rage or despair from the mainstream political media, give The Circus a try. Chances are you'll come away feeling both informed and entertained.
The Circus airs Sundays at 8/7c on Showtime. Will you watch?
(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS, the parent company of Showtime.)