Netflix’s social media reality show begins with a stupendous twist that the rest of the show simply cannot match.
Netflix’s The Circle, the reality show hosted by Michelle Buteau, has kept us entertained throughout the pandemic. We’ve streamed in to see strangers quarantined in an apartment building, all competing on the show’s social media platform to become the top influencer and win a 100K prize. It’s part reality show, part social experiment, letting the audience look at authentic players and “catfish” profiles, serving as a mirror to society’s own obsessions with social media platforms.
The Circle‘s first season was full of love, with bro-Joey winning the game by being everyone’s friend. Season 2 had cutthroat drama with DeLeesa winning as catfish “Trevor.” Season 3 of The Circle has some high-energy twists early on, but the drama flatlines after the second episode.
The first episode has the heavy job of introducing us to the first eight contestants, all talking big games of strategy. Amongst those playing as themselves is Calvin, the chef ready to “stir the pot.” However, his flirtations with Kai seem to stir love, not drama. Then there’s Michelle, a 52-year-old who wants to be the mom of The Circle to keep everyone in line, but most of the contestants aren’t looking for a rule enforcer.
20-year-old student Daniel comes in with a strategy to “be that bitch,” but he falters when he receives some strongly worded criticism during a game of anonymous reviews. Ruksana hasn’t made many connections with other contestants, which could be a smart way to stay under the radar, but in a game where the object is to be liked, it hardly seems like the best way to win.
Throwing some chaos into the mix are the “catfish” contestants, those playing using fake profiles. Matthew is a gay guy catfishing as lesbian woman “Ashley.” His strategy is to “play the players, not the game.” This means “Ashley” comes out as bisexual in order to woo Nick, the tech expert who half-lies and sheds his “nerdy” MIT past and claims to be a drummer in a band. Nick doubles down on his bro energy and coins the eye-rolling #BigNickEnergy hashtag. His tame profile hasn’t fooled Chanel and her sister Ava, who catfish as just “Ava.”
These sisters from the Bronx are my favorite contestants so far, as their strategy includes coordinating outfits like bedazzled jumpsuits, colorful wigs, and money-print ensembles to help them manifest their power to win the game. Chanel and Ava may be entertaining, but I’m not sure they can win off their fashion antics alone.
As with many elements of social media, The Circle is a fast-changing landscape. With two seasons under its belt, it can now play with the audience’s expectations from the start. The first episode ends with Kai as the sole influencer, placing the choice of the first block squarely on her shoulders. She ends up blocking Ava, which devastates our sister team. Just when we think they’re on their way to another player’s room, they end up in the secret control room (the same room Courtney ended up in Season Two when he became “the Joker”).
As with many elements of social media, The Circle is a fast-changing landscape.
This time, Chanel and Ava get a chance to rejoin, but only as a clone of a contestant currently in the game. This twist is frighteningly exciting; Ava and Chanel wrestling with who to choose, walking the line of guilt and ambition. They choose Michelle, and the next day after a “Critical Update,” The Circle features two Michelle profiles (a Blue One for Ava and Chanel’s catfish profile, and an Orange one for the real Michelle). By the end of day two, only one Michelle profile can remain. How does one prove their identity to an isolated group of strangers if it’s reduced to social media profiles?
All of this drama happens in the first two episodes. It’s a hard act to follow, even with the addition of two more catfish contestants Sophia (catfishing as her sister “Isabella”) and Rachel (catfishing as her best friend’s boyfriend “Jackson”). Netflix has only released four episodes so far, and the energy drops drastically after the cloned profile incident. There are some cringe moments like watching Nick flirts with “Isabella,” but when hasn’t a bro-type flirted with the attractive blonde on The Circle? The “two Michelles” felt like a climax that peaked too soon, and all the action that follows is dull and predictable.
Netflix drops the next four episodes on September 15th. Perhaps there will be more juicy reality show deception in the subsequent episodes. Just as some contestants weigh their choices in The Circle, the audience too has a choice to make – do we keep watching after the drama has settled? I’m not even sure the snark of host Michelle Buteau can save season three of The Circle.
The Circle‘s third season is now streaming on Netflix. The next four episodes arrive on September 15th.