This four-hour documentary series takes an all-access look at one of the most unique political campaigns of the past election year – the Congressional run of American Idol runner-up Clay Aiken. The series examines what it takes to run a campaign from the perspective of a candidate who is both a newcomer to the American political scene, and also a well-known celebrity. Throughout, Aiken struggles with his desire to be seen as a viable candidate and his need to convince voters (and America) to take him seriously.
Runtime: 60 minutes
The Runner-Up - The Kite Runner - Netflix
The Kite Runner is the first novel by Afghan-American author Khaled Hosseini. Published in 2003 by Riverhead Books, it tells the story of Amir, a young boy from the Wazir Akbar Khan district of Kabul, whose closest friend is Hassan. The story is set against a backdrop of tumultuous events, from the fall of Afghanistan's monarchy through the Soviet military intervention, the exodus of refugees to Pakistan and the United States, and the rise of the Taliban regime. Hosseini has commented that he considers The Kite Runner to be a father–son story, emphasizing the familial aspects of the narrative, an element that he continued to use in his later works. Themes of guilt and redemption feature prominently in the novel, with a pivotal scene depicting an act of violence against Hassan that Amir fails to prevent. The latter half of the book centers on Amir's attempts to atone for this transgression by rescuing Hassan's son over two decades later. The Kite Runner became a bestseller after being printed in paperback and was popularized in book clubs. It was a number one New York Times bestseller for over two years, with over seven million copies sold in the United States. Reviews were generally positive, though parts of the plot drew significant controversy in Afghanistan. A number of adaptations were created following publication, including a 2007 film of the same name, several stage performances, and a graphic novel.
The Runner-Up - General - Netflix
Meghan O'Rouke, Slate Magazine's culture critic and advisory editor, ultimately found The Kite Runner mediocre, writing, “This is a novel simultaneously striving to deliver a large-scale informative portrait and to stage a small-scale redemptive drama, but its therapeutic allegory of recovery can only undermine its realist ambitions. People experience their lives against the backdrop of their culture, and while Hosseini wisely steers clear of merely exoticizing Afghanistan as a monolithically foreign place, he does so much work to make his novel emotionally accessible to the American reader that there is almost no room, in the end, for us to consider for long what might differentiate Afghans and Americans.” Sarah Smith from The Guardian thought the novel started out well but began to falter towards the end. She felt that Hosseini was too focused on fully redeeming the protagonist in Part III and in doing so created too many unrealistic coincidences that allowed Amir the opportunity to undo his past wrongs.
In the first two years following its publication, over 70,000 hardback copies of The Kite Runner were sold along with 1,250,000 paperback copies. Though the book sold well in hardback, “Kite Runner's popularity didn't really begin to soar until  when the paperback edition came out, which is when book clubs began picking it up.” It started appearing on best seller lists in September 2004 and became a number one New York Times best seller in March 2005, maintaining its place on the list for two years. By the publication of Khaled Hosseini's third novel in 2013, over seven million copies had been sold in the United States. The book received the South African Boeke Prize in 2004. It was voted the Reading Group Book of the Year for 2006 and 2007 and headed a list of 60 titles submitted by entrants to the Penguin/Orange Reading Group prize (UK). Critically, the book was well-received, albeit controversial. Erika Milvy from Salon praised it as “beautifully written, startling and heart wrenching”. Tony Sims from Wired Magazine wrote that the book “reveals the beauty and agony of a tormented nation as it tells the story of an improbable friendship between two boys from opposite ends of society, and of the troubled but enduring relationship between a father and a son”. Amelia Hill of The Guardian opinionated, “The Kite Runner is the shattering first novel by Khaled Hosseini” that “is simultaneously devastating and inspiring.” A similarly favorable review was printed in Publishers Weekly. Marketing director Melissa Mytinger remarked, “It's simply an excellent story. Much of it based in a world we don't know, a world we're barely beginning to know. Well-written, published at the 'right time' by an author who is both charming and thoughtful in his personal appearances for the book.” Indian-American actor Aasif Mandvi agreed that the book was “amazing storytelling. ... It's about human beings. It's about redemption, and redemption is a powerful theme.” First Lady Laura Bush commended the story as “really great”. Said Tayeb Jawad, the 19th Afghan ambassador to the United States, publicly endorsed The Kite Runner, saying that the book would help the American public to better understand Afghan society and culture. Edward Hower from The New York Times analyzed the portrayal of Afghanistan before and after the Taliban:
Hosseini's depiction of pre-revolutionary Afghanistan is rich in warmth and humor but also tense with the friction between the nation's different ethnic groups. Amir's father, or Baba, personifies all that is reckless, courageous and arrogant in his dominant Pashtun tribe ... The novel's canvas turns dark when Hosseini describes the suffering of his country under the tyranny of the Taliban, whom Amir encounters when he finally returns home, hoping to help Hassan and his family. The final third of the book is full of haunting images: a man, desperate to feed his children, trying to sell his artificial leg in the market; an adulterous couple stoned to death in a stadium during the halftime of a football match; a rouged young boy forced into prostitution, dancing the sort of steps once performed by an organ grinder's monkey.
The Runner-Up - References - Netflix