If you’ve ever wanted to live in a dystopian nightmare that mixes Orwell’s 1984 and Black Mirror with Mean Girls, Jersey Shore, The Real World, and MTV’s Catfish, then The Circle is everything you’ve been looking for. Eight contestants are picked to live in their own swanky apartments, decked out to the nines, but they are never allowed to meet. They interact solely through a voice-activated social media interface called “The Circle,” where they can chat, rate each other, upload profiles, and scheme behind each other’s backs in an effort to win $100,000.
Honestly, this premise is weirding us out big time, but then we started watching the show and—of course—we’re addicted now.
The Circle contestants are a diverse cross-section of Americana (good on you, casting department); there’s no-nonsense Sammie who works with the disabled and is proudly bi (yaaaas, girl). There is Rochester’s own Antonio who thinks he is Paulie D’s jacked-up little brother and lives off protein powder. There’s Seaburn who is Catfishing everyone by pretending to be his own girlfriend Rebecca (what?), there’s loud and proud Chris from Dallas who dresses like the most fabulous Kardashian and then there’s Indian-American Shubham with a heart of gold and zero malicious bones in his body. We would watch them interact all day, except… they never actually meet. What is this hellscape?
If you could be anyone, who would you be to win?
The Circle is now streaming pic.twitter.com/Ely8yZb4HS
— Netflix US (@netflix) January 1, 2020
Next-level social media surveillance
The whole concept of the show, hosted by comedian Michelle Buteau whom you may recognize from Always Be My Maybe, raises so many questions about catfishing, social media and the toxicity of instant, and anonymous, gratification but it’s also a dang addicting little piece of reality TV. As The Circle interface had these 15-seconds-of-famers answer such questions as “Do you pee in the shower?” or “Is sending a naked picture okay?” fans following along on social media were losing their minds. Viewers were having to-the-death debates about their weeing habits, to the extent that alliances à la Survivor were formed within the first few hours.
Of course, comparisons were being made with Big Brother, as The Circle appears to be somewhat fashioned from that model, and viewers couldn’t help but debate which one was more binge-worthy. And as one viewer pointed out, the cast of The Circle was actually on Twitter actively following the hashtag and replying to tweets. Dang, talk about surveillance.
Not the movie The Circle
Side note: if you’re sitting there going, “Wasn’t this thing a movie?” you’re totally right (sort of). You’re thinking of the 2017 Emma Watson/Tom Hanks movie also called The Circle, based on the 2013 novel of the same name by Dave Eggers. That story also takes place in a weird dystopian tech-fueled world where people are subjected to intense video surveillance. Are the two related? Hard to tell. While no one from the show has said so, it’s kind of hard to believe they didn’t draw any inspiration considering they literally share the same name. Stay tuned.
The show also got into some interesting social commentary, too when private chats formed amongst the girls (aka the “Skinny Girls Chat”), which had contestant Sammie rolling her eyes at the superficial nonsense, while viewers were like, “It me.” Sammie also wasn’t having any of the heteronormativity from supermodel contestant Alana. Alana asked the chat if they thought Chris was cute, to which Sammie, deadpanned, “Baby girl, he gay.” Okay, we’re calling it now: Sammie is our straight-shooting winner and we’re out here for her. Vote everyone else off the island and give that girl the Jeopardy daily double.
Oh and BTW, Netflix re-cut a free 30-minute version of the first ep (they’re normally a full hour) to get you hooked. It’s working.