REVIEW: ‘The Circle’ is a trashy, new kind of win for Netflix



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"The Circle" is a Netflix original reality competition show where a group of people are not allowed to interact with one another face-to-face. Photo Illustration by Izzy Myszak

Do not attempt to contact me in any way, shape or form this Wednesday. I will be out of commission until I complete my mission: watching the final four episodes of the Netflix original reality competition show “The Circle.”

The premise of “The Circle,” which is a little difficult to discern from promos, is that a group of people who are unable to actually interact in person communicate via a chat system called "The Circle." Occasionally, the players will rank each other – the top-two ranked players become “influencers” and vote on who to eliminate from the competition.

There’s a twist to the show — some of the players are catfishes, playing with fake pictures and trying to fool the rest of the players into liking their fake identities. Part of the fun is watching players completely fall for these lies while the viewers see for themselves that the sweet, shy girl in the game is actually a 29-year-old dude.

The winner, who will ultimately be decided via one final in-show ranking, will receive $100,000, so strategies range from just being yourself to mercilessly flirting with other players in an attempt to win loyalty.

It kind of seems like a fake game show that would be in the Netflix original show “Black Mirror,” but lacks the same self-righteousness that show has in its chiding audiences about the dangers of technology. Sure, social media can lead people to be fake, but “The Circle” shows it’s still fun and can lead to genuine relationships.

These relationships are of course the bulk of the show, as alliances and rivalries are built based on group chats and mini-games. Also, whoever cast this show is a genius. The players, who live in specially-provided apartments with no outside interaction for the length of the game, manage to be likeable on their own as we watch them dictate messages to send the other players.

It's a little awkward and telling as we watch the players dictate their messages. The shift between them debating what strategy works for the game and narrating their messages shows the disconnect between what we say and what we type — it’s also really funny to hear a grown man yell “CUPCAKE EMOJI, PIZZA EMOJI, THERE WE GO” at a screen, or see a horrified response to an attempted DM slide many can relate to.

My personal favorite cast members include ridiculously Italian mama’s boy Joey and social media skeptic Shubham, who strike up a truly adorable friendship in the game.

Getting people to talk about a reality game show these days is really hard if you’re not working with emotional support cow-caliber content like “The Bachelor.” But somehow, “The Circle” has done it. Netflix doesn’t reliably release watch statistics, but social media has been kind to “The Circle.” Which is, of course, pretty ironic as the show can be seen as criticizing social media’s whole deal.

The show’s model, where multiple episodes premiere on Netflix every Wednesday, is an interesting one for the age of streaming dominance. This mini-binge structure lets viewers dial in for longer viewing sessions and get more invested in the show, but the promise of new episodes keeps up the suspense. The final four are being dropped to Netflix this Wednesday, and I can’t wait.

But a lot of the episodes do have what feels like filler content. Part of me wants to say I wouldn’t mind having fewer episodes if they were more purposefully edited, but I’m lying to myself. It’s dumb and fun, and I love every minute of it even as I’m feeling my time could be better spent.

Alright, Netflix, you’ve won: I’m completely tuned in to “The Circle.”

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