The future of reality TV has arrived! It’s called The Circle, and it’s fuckin’ weird.
The Circle, which debuted on Netflix at the very beginning of 2020, is a reality television competition series, based off an English show of the same name. A sort of high-octane Big Brother-meets-Real World-meets-Catfish hybrid, the concept is pretty simple on the surface: a cast of eight young people from a variety of walks of life compete with each other to see who can be the most popular on a closed social media platform called the Circle.
The players include characters like Shubham, an incredibly naive Indian American UCLA grad who spends his free time reading massive volumes of Shakespeare plays; Antonio, a cocky “professional” basketball player; Chris, a beautiful and flamboyant Texan who is obsessed with makeup and God; and Joey, a hyper-obnoxious Jersey Shore reject type who eventually turns out to be a totally likeable and nice guy. But there’s more! The Circle also invites catfish to play the game, like Seaburn, who uses his IRL girlfriend’s photos to pose as Rebecca, and Karyn, a super cool gay New Yorker who poses as a much younger Mercedeze.
Here’s the catch: there are no personal interactions on The Circle. Each player spends the series confined to their one-bedroom apartments, sitting in front of a screen, curating their profiles, and chatting with the others. These people spend so much time in these little apartments that it starts to feel claustrophobic after a few episodes. There are even moments where they all get invited to a “party,” which is just them staring at the Circle screen getting drunk alone. The building the show is filmed in has a rooftop hot tub and a gym, but I can count on one hand the amount of times these people actually use them.
The catfish on the show aren’t the only things that aren’t quite what they seem. Nearly every time the camera pans to the city where The Circle is happening, we get sweeping views of the Chicago skyline, overhead shots of the Adler Planetarium, and the lakefront—all interesting choices when you consider the show is actually filmed in England.
The goal of each day’s “activities” on this show is to be promoted to “influencer,” which gives one the chance to take part in eliminating the least popular member of The Circle, which could be an anonymous vote between influencers or a cutthroat real-time takedown, depending on how much drama the producers are trying to inject that day.
Once a player is eliminated, they have a generally underwhelming face-to-face goodbye with one other player before they leave, and then are swiftly replaced with a new contestant. New additions include people like Miranda, a perfectly nice woman who everyone thinks is a catfish; Alex, a super annoying nerd who wears terrible pajama pants at all times and tries unsuccessfully to hit on other contestants with a catfish profile of a hot dude named Adam; and Ed, a guy who has the exact same voice affliction as Bam Margera and has the bizarre, half-baked scheme of trying to “trick” the other players by teaming up with his mom.
At the end of the day, The Circle is more of the junk food TV that’s been clogging airwaves and streaming services for over a decade now, but a stranger undercurrent lies within, a head-scratching look into the social interactions of young millennials and Gen Zers: the fact that these people are about to build actual trust and form genuine bonds simply with photos and words on a screen. It seems to be the way relationships and friendships have been working for years now, but seeing it play out directly in front of you is really weird and almost made me feel concerned at times.
The two players who are in the top spots on the finale are (spoiler alert!) the two players who were the most genuinely themselves throughout the competition. So if there’s any hope to pull from the ridiculousness that is The Circle, it’s that being a good person will still get you the furthest. v