TV Review: ‘The Circus: Inside the Greatest Political Show on Earth’

The Circus Review 2016 Campaign Series

Showtime and Bloomberg Politics have combined to attempt a near-real-time dive into the 2016 presidential campaign, “The Circus: Inside the Greatest Political Show on Earth.” But the half-hour that premiered on Jan. 17 looks mostly like a title in search of a series, offering insider access, true, but little that goes beyond the endless election analysis that one can find strewn across cable news, including the program that “Game Change” authors Mark Halperin and John Heilemann host for Bloomberg and MSNBC. So chalk this up as a respectable but ultimately rather tired attempt to lure rubes inside the tent.

Halperin and Heilemann team up with political strategist Mark McKinnon, and they certainly enjoy up-close-and-personal encounters with the candidates, following Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders as they barnstorm across Iowa in advance of its caucuses. “Evangelicals can smell real evangelicals,” McKinnon muses about Cruz’s ability to peddle himself to that important constituency.

Still, for all the slightly off-guard snippets, “The Circus” — produced close to air, to create a sense of urgency — lacks any real focus. Part of it is a behind-the-scenes look at these reporters on the campaign trail, and there’s certainly a self-aggrandizing aspect to that, with Halperin talking about asking questions that nobody else is, then proceeding to show himself basically content to regurgitate the horserace aspects of the campaign. But then there are extended stretches of, say, Donald Trump delivering a speech at a Florida rally, which one could have easily seen on any of the cable networks.

Perhaps foremost, “The Circus” makes the classic campaign mistake of over-promising — described by Showtime as a “trailblazing real-time political documentary series” — and under-delivering. Because given the saturation coverage of the current election cycle, even a show assembled as close to air as this one risks feeling a trifle stale by the time Sunday night rolls around.

Indeed, if anything “The Circus” represents merely another example of exalting the process of politics — the long bus trips, time spent time away from home and strategizing — without offering much that’s new or compelling in terms of substance. An interview with Sanders, for example, winds up being more about how he competes with Hillary Clinton than where he offers alternatives in terms of policy or core values — hardly a prescription for something that cries out for this sort of premium cable showcase.

Halperin and Heilemann have certainly demonstrated themselves to be both plugged-in reporters and savvy self-promoters, including Bloomberg and MSNBC’s shared carriage of their show “With All Due Respect.” Yet while “The Circus” might be sporadically colorful, at a time when the inside-baseball of politics has become daily grist for the hungry media and its own spectator sport, with all due respect, it’s anything but a game-changer.

TV Review: 'The Circus: Inside the Greatest Political Show on Earth'

(Series; Showtime, Sun. Jan. 17, 8 p.m.)


Produced by Left/Right and Bloomberg Politics.


Executive Producers, Mark Halperin, John Heilemann, Mark McKinnon, Banks Tarver, Ken Druckerman, Scott Boggins; co-executive producers, Ted Bourne, Mary Robertson; producers, Kenny Vargas, Craig Jenest, Laurye Bradford, George Jakovic, Sarah Johansen, Matt Maxson, Jeffrey Plunkett, Jake Rogal; camera, Andrew Dunn, Cameron Glendenning, Thomas Stukas. 30 MIN.

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  1. Tony Seel says:

    I’ve watched 17 episodes and I can say that I have found it fascinating and engaging. I look forward to new episodes every week.

  2. jay R says:

    Circus is so left wing it makes me sick. When the show’s so called reporters talk to a dem the play up beat or no sound bed and ask leading questions to make them interesting which is a mission impossible. The show Trump’s son was interviewed at Ruth Chris the reporter smirked at he answered while ominous music played underneath his response. The bias was clear as the Hillary shill lobbed one grenade after the other. i suggest adding an objective report as least to reduce the time those left gang of 3 talk.

    • Robert Boutiere says:

      Despite an obvious bias during the campaign, they did show both sides and the coverage was fascinating. The second season however, is more propaganda than documentary. The show ‘Resistance’ was a puff piece on how neo-com college students and Soros funded mobs are “going to take back democracy”. These people are anti-democracy, anti-free speech, and in fact ARE the fascists they complain about. The show pumped up Elizabeth ‘Pocahontus’ Warren with no mention of her major ‘deplorables’ type gaff on The View that week. They showed the ‘unity’ rally with Sanders and DNC head Perez, with no mention Perez was booed off the stage by petulant young radicals. The special election in Georgia was painted a Dem victory despite their guy outspending the GOP frontrunner $10.3 M to $75 K. Only for both to face off again. Then let’s go interview Planned Parenthood. Yeah, some real objectivity there. And to top it off, Circus repeated the fake news story about the President signing a kid’s cap and then throwing it into the crowd. They focused several minutes on the WH Easter egg roll instead of the obvious…. even if you disagree with his policies, Trump is handling the Presidency well. None of the disasters HRC predicted are happening. And in fact, he’s starting to make Obama look like the feckless wrong-headed leader he really was.

    • Dave says:

      Couldn’t agree with you more jay R. Show started off ok but become so left wing bias I couldn’t watch anymore. Would love to see the media show fair coverage for once and let people decide instead of trying to push their own agendas or at least just come out and say they are bias so i don’t waste my time.

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