Friends, if you’re not watching Netflix’s new reality show, The Circle, you are missing out.
What is The Circle, you might be asking yourself? On paper, it looks like the harbinger of the downfall of civilized society, but I promise you, it’s so much more than its premise, and that goes double for the American version, which I found to be a much kinder, sincere iteration of the franchise, which has expanded to French and Brazilian version in addition to the OG UK, the first series of which I watched while I there on vacation in 2018. I say this now, so you don’t immediately “nope” out of this show, because yes, I do love trash TV, and in particular, trash reality shows where rich, cosmetically-enhanced people scream at each other on network-sponsored luxury vacations that the average person could never afford. The Circle is not that, even if it sounds like it initially.
The Circle is a game show where participants live in isolation in an apartment building, each in their own separate one-bedroom unit, and are allowed to only communicate with other contestants (and no one else) via the show’s private social network, called the Circle. The ultimate goal of this is to win $100,000. The twist is — they are allowed to become anyone they want within in the Circle, including lying completely about yourself, which the other contestants call a “Catfish.” One of my favorite contestants, Seaburn, opts to be “Rebecca,” pretending to be his own real-life girlfriend, with the hopes of winning over the guys with her looks, and the girls with her personality. Another, Karyn, who is “a hundred, thousand, million percent lesbian” opted to be “Mercedeze” and in the process, shaved ten years off her age, altered her sexuality (to nab the guys by making them think they have a chance) and took “some chick’s” photos off the internet (although I don’t buy for a second that they didn’t get a release from the person whose photos Karyn is passing off as her own and yes, I spent some time yesterday doing reverse image searches to see if I could find her. The Circle inspires this kinds of attention.) You’ll note the most common fudging that most contestants do is they mark themselves as single, to win people over.
The contestants within the Circle occasionally have to rank everyone else by their profile, with the two people who have the top-rated profiles becoming Influencers, and ultimately having to “block” a contestant from the Circle, eliminating them from the show, which allows new players to come into the Circle and join the game. So far, there have been two eliminations in the first 4 episodes. The Circle is a bit different than Netflix’s usual release format, opting to release 4 episodes every Wednesday for the next two weeks. I am bereft I can’t binge it all in one go because I am all in on this one, friends.
Look, I get it. On the surface it seems that this is a show about the lies people tell on the internet, and the bullshit we all put forth in order to seem like someone we’re not, and we’re rewarding that horrible behavior by putting these people on TV and giving one of them $100,000 as a reward. This show is not that. I don’t know who cast The Circle but they deserve a damn raise. They managed to find a group of people, who, despite the premise, are completely human; and watching them form connections that appear to be genuine and sincere is unexpectedly heartwarming.
I went into this show wanting to hate a large majority of the contestants because these kind of shows are very tribal—you root for your people, and you want the others to fail miserably and make asses of themselves in the process for your entertainment. Most of the time, shows like these are more than happy to comply. The Circle does not fall for that cheap shit.
For instance, I very much wanted to hate Joey, who appears to have learned how to speak, dress, and act by watching Jersey Shore re-runs and Robert De Niro movies, and based on how loud he talks at all times, did this all in a wind tunnel because modulation is just not his thing.
Just look at this guy—you want to hate him, right?
You will not. I ended up loving Joey. He is great. His bromance with another contestant on the show is pure and good, and I love it.
How did this happen? Well, for starters, one of the first things he does when setting up his profile for the Circle is admit that his gym photos makes him look like a jackass, demonstrating self-awareness that I did not expect from anyone on this show because the Venn diagrams of people who are self-aware and reality show contestants are two completely separate circles. Yet on The Circle, every contestant on some level is not only self-aware, but more importantly, actively looking to be a part of a group where they feel like they belong. Compare that to the oft-repeated to the point it’s a cliche mantra of basically all reality shows: I’m not here to make friends.
The contestants on the show may not have initially been there to make friends, but guess what? They do, and without giving away too much, it’s incredibly heartwarming to watch these people come together to form various social group that would probably never happen in the real-world because how often do we look outside our own circle/bubble, to meet new people and form connections? The Circle is bringing people together, y’all. In fact, if you want to make a drinking game out of watching the show, take a drink every time someone asks, “How are you feeling?” You will get very drunk because these people are constantly checking in with each other to make sure they’re OK. I mean, sure, some of it is part of the gameplay, but not all of it.
There is very little back-stabbing. Very little shit-talking. For the first time in a reality show, I have completely agreed with the eliminations the influencers decided on, managing to see through the bullshit to hone in on the most insincere among the group. It’s pretty surprising.
In that regard, The Circle very much feels like the drunk cousin of Nailed It, another Netflix show known for it’s gentle laugh-with-not-at mentality. The Circle cusses (a lot, so you know, keep that in mind if you’re looking at this for family viewing) and the contestants definitely imbibe, but it’s shockingly inclusive, and people’s lifestyles and the way they present themselves are met with acceptance and understanding. It’s incredibly pure, even when it comes to the Catfishes on the show, who you end up rooting for, as well, despite the lies they based their profiles on. Karyn/ Mercedeze, in particular, breaks my heart a little, as she’ll frequently state that she believes the people on the other end of the screen wouldn’t be able to see past her appearance in order to understand who she really was, and frequently insists that the only real Catfish aspect of her profile is the pictures she uses. Seaburn looks like he’s constantly wanting to throw up every time he’s called on to contribute within the Circle, because the pressure and stress of the lie already seem like too much for him. I love him—despite the lie that dude is living his best life within the show and you can frequently see him hanging out in his onesie on the show, playing weird games by himself, and sleeps with a photo of his girlfriend on the pillow next to him.
If I haven’t sold on you on this show yet, I’m saving the best part of it for last. One of the contestants, Shubham, is a 23-year old virtual reality designer from California, who has never participated in social media before. He states in the first episode that he is on the show to be himself, and not buy into any of the perceived BS social media brings because he believes social media to be basically the worst thing ever. Friends, watching Shubham create connections within the Circle is pure joy. You watch this man, in real-time, become a part of a group and his slow realization that maybe social media isn’t complete bullshit at all times. That there are real people behind the screens, and they’re people he’d like to know. It’s truly great to see him connect, and have the group connect with him in return. I love Shubham, and I love that the group not only calls him by his real name (which is incredibly important) but give him an endearing nickname (Shooby!) as well, because nicknames are what friends give each other and it’s just so sweet to watch the slow acceptance of Shubham, who in the beginning is pretty terrible at the Circle, as part of the pack across the initial episodes.
This is the first time I want basically all contestants to win in a reality show, although Selena-loving makeup artist Chris is narrowly my favorite because the first thing he did when he got to his apartment was put up multiple, large posters of himself in his living room and that energy deserves to be rewarded.
You can watch the first four episodes of The Circle, now, on Netflix. The next four will be released on January 8th, and the final batch of four will stream on January 15th.
Header Image Source: YouTube/Netflix