The Runner-Up is Another First Place Doc for Esquire

Clay Aiken is the subject of Esquire's new documentary series The Runner-Up
The Runner-Up (Photo: Lightbox Entertainment / Esquire)

Clay Aiken ran for congress in 2014, and Esquire’s new documentary series The Runner-Up follows his campaign trail.

Remember last year when Clay Aiken, formerly of American Idol and the Celebrity Apprentice, ran for a congressional seat in North Carolina? It turns out his campaign granted access to award-winning documentary producers Simon and Jonathan Chinn (Man on WireAmerican High, and 30 Days), resulting in Esquire’s new docu-series The Runner-Up, which debuted Tuesday night.

The four-hour series, which will air in one-hour installments, tracks Aiken’s progress through a hotly contested primary up through election night in November 2014. Tuesday’s episode focused on the democratic primary, which took place May 6. The series doesn’t directly examine political machinery or the policy points of the candidates in play. Instead, this series seems to be examining the weird quirks of electoral politics, popularity, marketing, name recognition–the nuts and bolts of a campaign that have no individual impact on outcomes but must work in concert to achieve success.

For example, one of the first segments we see has Clay and his campaign manager canvassing a neighborhood to drum up support. From Clay describes in the scene, he is terrified of the prospect of having doors slam in his face. Meanwhile, the producers do some person-on-the-street interviews, showing that although locals recognize the name, many have not considered him as a political entity. This question is probably the most common conundrum for outside viewers of the election last year, but The Runner-Up highlights the issues that motivated Clay to pursue the office. This was not a ploy to keep his name in the papers or extend his 15 minutes post-Apprentice. Rather, he was deeply troubled by education “reforms” taking place in North Carolina and nationally.

The episode concluded with the bizarre turn of events capping the primary election. Aiken won the democratic primary over opponent (and experienced politician) Keith Crisco, but by a margin close enough to trigger a recount. Aiken was declared the winner the same day Crisco died in a slip and fall accident. Although the campaign continues, the episode closes with Clay considering the bizarre interactions that happen because of politics.

Although we know the outcome of the final election1the Runner-Up is already shaping up to be another fascinating documentary series produced for Esquire.

  1. spoiler: he isn’t Congressman Clay Aiken  

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Mike has been writing about TV online since 2008, when he started the blog WTF Little House on the Prairie? The blog was a project to practice writing about television analytically prior to getting an MA in Television-Radio-Film from Syracuse University, or as he likes to call it "TV Camp." After a lengthy stint at TVLatest, Mike wanted to launch a site that brought in classic TV, diamonds in the rough, and the shows everybody watches. E-mail: mike@whatelseison.tv