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The Netflix Reality Cinematic Universe Is Upon Us

By Alison Lanier | TV | March 3, 2023 |

By Alison Lanier | TV | March 3, 2023 |


The ouroboros bites its own tail. The circle closes. And the Netflix Reality Cinematic Universe rears its head and comes to life.

It was perhaps inevitable that Netflix would realize the potential in all their reality content to use the leftovers—that is, the swirling maelstrom of characters, conflicts, dramas, and connections—to create even more, all-mighty Content.

The prophecy was fulfilled by Netflix’s new dating show, Perfect Match. Concocted from the depths of reality TV tropes, Perfect Match is unique in a few ways. One of which being that the show is populated by contestants and personalities from Netflix’s other reality TV shows. Francesca from Too Hot To Handle appears as her usual supervillain persona. Joey, the winner of season one of The Circle, also appears, having apparently already dated around in the pool of Netflix TV personalities and seeding drama ready to meet him. Love Is Blind alum Shane appears, in better form than he was on his initial show but still has not benefited by being in emotional turmoil on a controlled reality TV narrative. (I know, shocking.) The list goes on.

A number of these personalities have connections from other shows, be they bromances or romances or blowups, and from existing within the ecosystem of Netflix events, promotions, and social media circles. The webs of interpersonal complications are murder-board-worthy. From a game design perspective, it’s incredibly smart: rather than the slow burn of stirring and establishing drama, the backstories are already established and overlapping, propelling the story into mid-season-worthy drama from the word go.

But wait, there’s more: this is a Survivor-style competition show. The most compatible of the couples—defined, naturally, by cutesy trivia games played in bathing suits on a scenic beach—gets to choose which new men and women join the cast as well as who they go off on blind dates with. Every contestant has to be in an established couple to stay in the villa/house/mansion/whatever—established by going upstairs to share a room together. Fail to couple up, and you’re out. This means an enemy in a compatible couple could bring in a contestant who has history with another player, intentionally breaking up the couple and effectively ejecting their nemesis via relationship sabotage. Yeah, it’s as wild and lawless and alcohol-fueled as it sounds.

Of course, the actual dating and connection aspect of the show is as shallow and performative as any other reality excursion. Emotions flare and tears are jerked, but at the end of the day, this is just another intense dating melting pot where bonding by necessity becomes the center of the plot.

More interesting than the show itself—though it’s plenty entertaining as hot trash if you’re in search of that kind of thing—is the indication of how Netflix might go about creating more tribute to the Content gods, as its arsenal of reality personalities expands. Many of the contestants have already been tending to their professional path as public personalities, performers who can be summoned for reliably watchable content on any given streaming service. I’d love, for instance, to know what kind of agreement Francesca has with the folks at Netflix to keep her antics soundly on their platform rather than a competitor’s.

This is a pattern long-established in the Bachelor Nation corner of reality TV, establishing a cast of beautiful, eligible people as a business model and trotting them out at predetermined intervals can keep a franchise alive for two—count ‘em, two—decades thus far. I mean, it’s basically the entire premise of Bachelor in Paradise: put the pretty/established characters in a jar, shake it, and see what they do.

It’s honestly a fascinating corner of television from a media theorist perspective—the tactical development of recurring public personalities not only within their own shows but across the platform. Is it a good thing? Well, as a recovering academic, I don’t have to answer that question. Is it fun trash? Yes indeed.