This review discusses events in the first four episodes of Netflix’s The Circle season two.
I’ve been trying to write about The Circle all day, but I’ve been struggling to find something to grab on to. It’s—fine? Sometimes great? Sometimes boring? There are four hours of season two that started streaming on Netflix early this morning, and I’ve watched most of it, but I’m struggling to grab onto anything that’s worth discussing.
It’s somehow perfectly fine and yet instantly forgettable. There are parts that just drag on and on, and it seems like the four hours could have been compressed into one, maybe two episodes.
The most-interesting thing to happen in each episode isn’t always the cliffhanger, yet the cliffhangers are effective in propelling me into the next episode. The Circle’s EDM theme music kicks in and I’m ready to start again. (That said, I didn’t find the episode four cliffhanger to be interesting at all.)
What The Circle does best is keeping us inside it.
That’s not to say it doesn’t do some things well. The apartments are bright and decorated to match their occupants, who’ve been cast because of their big personalities, since they spend most of their days reading off a screen. The music is lively, and host Michelle Buteau’s interjections are often funny. And the game’s structure leads to some dramatic moments.
Some of the season-two cast members were so immediately grating (cough-cough Jack/”Emily”) that I had to remind myself that season-one’s winner, someone who I came to really adore watching, appeared to be the most-annoying contestant on that first episode. But Jack actually doesn’t get more interesting or layered.
There were moments when I was moved and surprised, like when the first blocked player, Bryant, visits with 20-year-old “River,” who’s actually 58-year-old writer Lee Swift. What became immediately clear was how much they’d bonded despite the fake profile picture and name that Lee uses—in part because Lee is just being himself behind the River persona—and their conversation together was one of the few things that could have been extended.
The season’s most absurd catfish is not Jack as “Emily,” but Lisa playing as “Lance Bass.” I rolled my eyes before and after learning she’s his real-life assistant. For a celebrity catfish, Lance Bass is a good choice: It’s plausible that he’d be on the show because he’s done other reality shows and, you know, what else is he doing? Yet Lisa immediately generates suspicion for her responses, so I doubt she’s long for the game. And between “Lance” and Chloe from Too Hot to Handle, it’s a bit too much D-list celebrity.
The best part about this catfish decision is laughing at the people who had no knowledge at all of Lance Bass or *NSYNC (Chloe is one, and she doubles-down by freaking out about how “old” Lance is, at 41).
As in season one, it’s fascinating to see players convinced of something—how they’ll be received, who someone else is—and then quickly learn, thanks to a cut in the editing, whether they’re right or wrong. Of course, we know that, but they don’t.
The game play gets aggressive in the third episode, with the first two influencers turning against each other and blaming each other for the first blocking.
“I don’t if it’s the time to stir up the drama just yet,” Terilisha says. “But fuck it.” It’s a perfect reality TV moment, and leads to a full-on Circle chat fight, with Savannah and Terilisha being more directly honest and/or accusatory than players were in season one. But this isn’t really strategy; it’s just two people pointing fingers at each other over text.
The game itself is very thin but moves swiftly: daily ranking, leading to the selection of two influencers, who then choose to block someone. A new player joins. Rinse, repeat.
The Circle is sometimes a lot of things, but not much as a whole. It’s a show that I’m glad to have on in the background but also don’t miss the second I turn it off. I can honestly not remember much of anything about season one, though that may be more about my shitty memory or the way the past year has turned my brain into pudding.
Netflix is releasing four episodes of The Circle every Wednesday for the next month, with the finale arriving by itself on May 5. I think that release schedule is a mistake: even though not much happens in some episodes, it’s too much to expect people to watch and discuss all at once in the middle of the week. That means those of us who are watching are watching at different times.
Strategic reality shows work best for me when I have time to watch and think and discuss. The UK version of The Circle has nightly episodes, like Love Island, and I think that’d work better here, though since that would make the show show last just two weeks, maybe an episode every other day.
But that is not Netflix’s business model, which wants us to watch more and more and never stop watching, so the episodes tip into the next, and then fall away. It’s well-made but completely disposable reality TV.
The Circle season two: B
Recommended for you: Behind-the-scenes details about how The Circle is produced