On January 1, 2019–in the hazy aftermath of another holiday season–Netflix debuted a brand-new reality competition series called The Circle.
Now, I know this is not the exact kind of programming that we typically cover here at The Plotaholics, but I was hungover, and when I logged into Netflix, The Circle was there for me. The trailer played automatically, and there was something about it that made me click <play>.
The Circle is produced by Netflix for the U.S. (with other international versions coming in the future) through a partnership between Studio Lambert and Motion Content Group. The series is adapted from a British original (like so much of our best TV) that ran on Channel 4 in the UK.
The premise is…interesting (maybe). Eight strangers live in an apartment building. They can never have face-to-face contact with each other as long as they are in the game. All of their interactions take place in The Circle–a psuedo-social media website. The players are allowed to be themselves or whoever they want.
The goal is to gain influence and be the most popular person in the circle. Every once in a while (every other day, so far), the players rank each other from favorite player to least favorite player. The top two become “influencers” and decide which player deserves to be “blocked,” thus ending their time in The Circle and their chance at $100,000.
So far (four episodes at the time of writing), whenever someone is blocked, a new player is added to the circle, so instead of winning by being the last player standing, victory seems to come by actually winning influence.
It should go without saying that the people in The Circle are playing the game using a variety of strategies. There are people who are trying to prove that social media is superficial. These players, more often than not, assume the “catfish” role, playing as someone they believe is more likely to garner influence than they would if they were themselves.
There are others who are trying to demonstrate that honesty and transparency are the best policies. These players seem to have no real strategy. They talk to everyone and do very little to mislead the other players. They are (seemingly) just themselves.
Finally, there are the traditional reality-show villains–those people who actively strive to manipulate the game. How these players are different from the catfish is subtle, but it’s a difference that definitely exists.
There are two aspects of this show that are incredibly interesting (to me). First, the fact that the players are always alone means that they go about their daily routines while playing the game. We watch them brush their teeth, make lunch, have a drink, or workout–filling the time between Circle interactions or multi-tasking during those interactions. This is a pretty clear mirror being held up to how many of us interact with each other on a regular basis.
Second, the players narrate their choices. This is where the social experiment aspect of the series shines. Not only do we see players choose their profile pictures and write their bios, we are able to hear their specific reasoning for the choices they make. Some people seem to play with the only goal of winning while others seem to play with other goals in mind–sincerity or genuine connection in spite of the circumstances.
Finally, if you worried The Circles was not going to turn into a horny thirst-trap, I have good news for you: The Circle is definitely horny, and many of the players are quite parched. The thirst is real here, and I honestly am not even a little bit ashamed of how much I liked this show. The introductions to the players tend to drag at the beginning, but push through those first moments, and you’re in for an interesting and fun ride.
The Circle is a three week event on Netflix with new episodes premiering on Wednesdays. Episodes 1-4 are now streaming.