Spoilers ahead for the first eight episodes of The Circle:
Netflix’s new reality show The Circle initially seems like it’s going to be decent laundry-folding fair. You know those kinds of shows: you can play them in the background on a Saturday afternoon while doing something else that doesn’t require your full attention, you can leave the room, and you can stop whenever you want. I realized somewhere around 3 in the morning this past Sunday, as Netflix asked “Are you still watching?” and I screamed back “JUST TELL ME IF SHUBBY GETS AN INFLUENCER TICK AGAIN!” that The Circle is not laundry-folding fare.
I have attempted, with no success whatsoever, to explain the premise of the show to many people. It’s relatively simple but, surprisingly, incomprehensible. Here are some ways I have described The Circle.
- It’s Big Brother except they’re all isolated in their little rooms. So… Big Only Child… Big Time Out.
- MySpace Top Eight Live
- You know how sometimes people will do speech-to-text on their phones in public and it’s really embarrassing? That.
- Literally Black Mirror.
- A bunch of people yell at a flatscreen in an Airbnb. For a prize.
- It’s like if you filmed a bunch of freelancers and made them cancel each other.
The basic idea is this: contestants are sequestered in studio apartments with their only access to each other coming from The Circle, a social network they reach through flat screens. They can chat with each other in a group, or slide into the DMs. Occasionally The Circle, a faceless/voiceless force a hair away from dystopian horror, will make them play a game. Once a day, they must rank each other and the players with the two highest cumulative rankings are deemed Influencers. In most episodes, the Influencers then must make the Jellicle choice about who to Block from The Circle. When contestants are Blocked, they are no longer in the running to win $100,000 and a new contestant is introduced in their place. Because everything is contingent on chats and social media profiles, the likelihood of catfishing is high and the question at the heart of the series is does it benefit you more to be genuine or to play to the traits other people seem to want.
But mostly it’s about hot people in various states of undress yelling at the walls. And I am obsessed. And I have so many unanswered questions about the show since Netflix is releasing four of the twelve episodes every Wednesday, concluding this week. Let’s open a group chat and discuss.
Circle Message: Why do I love Joey so much?
Okay, this was the shock of shocks. Joey is a person who un-ironically and unprompted does a Bobby DeNiro impression. Joey almost never wears a shirt and is constantly slicking back his hair. Joey hits on all the women but doesn’t know what the eggplant emoji is. It was not in the cards for me and Joey to see eye-to-eye but, like Shubham, I’ve come to love him like a brother and would gladly participate in a pushup challenge if he asked me to. Honestly no one is more surprised by this than me. I think the turning point came when he showed off the photo of him with Lady Gaga and Adele, if we’re being honest. What can I say? I’m gay boots and easily persuaded. That said, there’s something endearing about Joey’s earnestness and enthusiasm. Yes, he screams literally everything and probably is the kind of person to buy a round of Jägermeister shots, but he also seems like a genuinely nice guy.
It’s particularly interesting to watch Joey react in moments of personal revelation, like when Miranda talked about her upbringing, or in moments when he’s confronted with other Alpha Male types. In both circumstances, you’d expect the stereotype of a guy like Joey to do all the wrong things, but each time he pivots, showing a sensitivity that’s very compelling.
I have two remaining questions about Joey, however: 1) why was his jacket wet on the back and shoulders after the trivia game? Did he pour Gatorade over himself to celebrate? 2) what’s the brussel sprouts recipe, king?
Circle Message: What’s with all the cooking and eating?
Let’s be clear: virtually nothing “happens” on The Circle. These people are prisoners of their homes, subject to the capricious whims of a “computer” and deprived of human contact. It’s a great explanation of what it’s like to work from home. And like that work-from-home life, the majority of time is spent eating. But the contestants on The Circle are making full gourmet meals and I need answers. Is this show produced by Delish? Adam/Alex put on his baggiest Ten Thousand Villages pants and made a whole pizza dough. From scratch! This is remarkable. It seems that the producers are sending them a steady supply of fresh produce but I call foul on this many 20-somethings being able to feed themselves without DoorDash.
In one of the shots in a later episode, you can catch a glimpse of a binder that reads “Cooking Instructions” and I need to know what’s inside there. Circle, where’s the the food blog?
Circle Message: Where did Mercedeze and Adam’s pictures come from?
Some of the catfishes, like Seaburn and Sean, chose to represent themselves using photos of people they know, but Alex and Karyn choose a collection of photos of people they claim are strangers. Who are these people? Are they very convincing Deep Fakes? Are they models? Are the contestants offered a catalog of lives they can inhabit?
The logic behind catfishing is sound, I suppose: if you want people to like you and admire you enough to vote for, you might be inclined to hide behind a conventionally attractive person’s face. But it’s a little perplexing that Alex has chosen the buff, Venice Beach-adjacent mask of Adam, a character he doesn’t quite seem to grasp. If I was on The Circle, I would catfish as Emma Stone. Everyone likes Emma Stone.
Circle Private Message @Rebecca: Bro, what are you doing?
Seaburn catfishes as his girlfriend Rebecca and I’m afraid, from his impersonation, that he has never actually met her. To his credit, “Rebecca” consistently ranks high in the ratings and is carrying on the most absurd pseudo-relationship with Adam, two people who seem to have no idea how humans talk. But Seaburn’s version of Rebecca is so odd it’s almost like a computer was programmed with only the words “nice” and “talks nicely.” This becomes apparent when he ends up in a group chat with the other women in The Circle and everyone starts discussing their periods. Seaburn, bro, please learn anything about female anatomy. I’m begging you.
One unanswered question I have here: is it cute or creepy that Seaburn refers to his version of Rebecca as “us” like he’s Gollum in Lord of the Rings?
Circle Private Message @Ed’s Beard: ????? ?
It brings me no joy to report that I am very compelled by Ed’s whole deal. I will say, as a former long-time Southeastern Pennsylvania resident, one of the highlights of the show was the very inside baseball moment when Conshohoken-dwelling Ed, Ed’s perfect and very tanned mom Tammy, and Sammie start enthusiastically bonding about Cabrini University. Go Iggles!
Circle Message: Where is Karyn and Chris’ spinoff?
After Mercedeze is revealed to be a catfish and Karyn, the person behind her, is Blocked, Karyn gets to drop in on one contestant in person. She chooses Chris, a gay, Christian, Texan with a huge personality. Their conversation is so thoughtful, vulnerable, and fun and I need to spend many more hours with them.
Circle Message: Am I Team Shubham for life?
Like Shubby himself, I didn’t think the earnest and naïve recent college grad had much chance in this contest. Against all odds, his genuine interactions and lack of guile have played incredibly well in The Circle and three times (so far) have resulted in him getting Influencer status. At this point, I want to be Shubham’s best friend (second to Joey, of course) and I’m really rooting for him go all the way. It’s clear, though, that he’s in for a heartbreak when he finds out Rebecca, his “sister” on the show is a man named Seaburn who looks surprisingly good in a onesie. So much drama coming down the pike for Shubby. Also, with Adam and Chris now in the mix, will Shubham’s earnestness be drowned out by muscle-y machismo?
Circle Message: When can I join?
Seriously. I need to get in The Circle. I don’t even need to win. I just want to eat well, yell at some walls, and not be online for a couple of weeks. Joey, hook me up, brah!