The US version of The Circle is brasher, more annoying – and twice as addictive

Season two review: Netflix has dropped four episodes at once, with more arriving weekly

Contestant Chloe Veitch on Netflix’s The Circle

Contestant Chloe Veitch on Netflix’s The Circle

 

Decades from now historians will surely agree the early 21st century’s two most ruinous contributions to human civilisation were social media and reality TV. One is a festering pit of intolerance, anger and pointless shouting. The other is Twitter and Facebook.

And at the confluence of this demonic double whammy is Netflix’s The Circle (Wednesday), returning for a long-awaited second season. The United States, of course, gave us Mark Zuckerberg and the hashtag. But in a rare case of the US for once being on the receiving end, The Circle is a British creation that in its original form first aired on Channel 4.

It’s an endless Pringles tube in TV form. You know you should put it away and get off the couch, but you just can’t stop sitting there, guzzling it down

Netflix’s US version is obviously brasher, brighter, more annoying – and twice as addictive. It’s an endless Pringles tube in TV form. You know you should put it away and get off the couch, but you just can’t stop sitting there, guzzling it down.

Eight volunteers are participating in a virtual popularity contest, seeking to become the best-loved individual on the show’s equivalent of Facebook. They are in adjoining apartments yet never meet. And with an ultimate prize of $100,000 there should in theory be a real edge to the competition. It quickly becomes clear, though, that at least some of the hopefuls are here not for the cash but their 15 seconds of streaming-TV quasi-fame.

They are the standard reality-television odds’n’sods. Bryant is introduced as a hippy whose day job is teaching people “how to breathe”. Lee Swift, a writer, is 58 and so decides to pass himself off as a big-haired twentysomething hipster named River. His logic is that on the internet you can be whoever you want.

A game of “catfish” is likewise being played by Deleesa Unique, from the Bronx, who posts a snap of her husband, Trevor. Alas, she gives the game away by trying too hard to conjure the bro within. “I’m on the 411” she types in the group chat. This arcane lingo immediately arouses suspicions. “What is this: 1990?” asks one of her rivals.

Watching eight strangers jostling for “likes” on the internet really shouldn’t work as television. What is this but real life, only more annoying?

Eliminations are to come later in the series. The decision about who is for the drop will be taken by the two “influencers” who finished top of a likability poll conducted at the end of the first instalment. (Netflix has dropped four episodes at once, with further helpings arriving weekly.)

They are Terilisha, from Texas, and Savannah Palacio, from Los Angeles, and they are understandably thrilled to bits. As a perk they may also nominate two fellow contestants who will be safe from expulsion.

Watching eight strangers jostling for likes on the internet really shouldn’t work as television. What is this but real life, only more annoying? Yet The Circle speaks powerfully to the degree to which social media is embedded in our lives and our sense of self. It’s a reality series that holds up a mirror to the audience and invites them to think about the person they see staring back.

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