With the long Christmas and New Year break I was able to catch up on pretty much all my peak TV shows and more than a few fun ones. But by the start of January I was hungry for a new bingey show as I waited for ep. 6 of Mrs Fletcher to drop and as I’d already binged all of You Season 2! Hooked on streaming, I was desperate to get into something fun and easy to distract me a little from the horror show of the Royal Family and the tragedy of our bushfires.
The Circle surprisingly fit the bill. It’s something I’d normally steer well clear of. While I love a competitive reality show – like Project Runway or Masterchef – I’m no fan of the romance or gossip shows like Love Island or Married at First Sight.
However once I got into this weird Netflix reality show, the sweetness of the contestants and the bizarro premise sucked me to a point I had to stop loading the dishwasher and instead watch the contestant reactions well into the night.
The premise is that eight instagenic 20-something contestants, each living in their own super-cute apartment fitted with swish bathrooms and gyms, are vying for a US$100,000 prize by interacting with each other and regularly ranking and voting someone out of the game. This money is a gamechanger for each of these hustling millennials.
The show’s catch is that they can only interact via a bespoke digital environment called The Circle. They can only ‘talk’ via text message and emojis, either individually or in group chats. What makes this both fun and extra twisty is that contestants can be ‘authentic’ or go in as ‘catfish’.
So a gorgeous blonde model from New York may really be a middle-aged lesbian of colour from Chicago; and a chubby, married unemployed cheese-monger (yep, that’s a thing) from Portland can be a hot, fit, dog-loving surfer from Venice Beach who particarly loves all the laaaydies.
Contestants voice-type text messages at the giant screens in every room while being filmed for our voyeuristic pleasure. So we get to see their scheming ways and reactions to messages and images from other contestants who may or may not be ‘real’.
Like with all ‘goldfish-bowl’ shows, as contestants get more Stoholmy with each day alone in their gelato-coloured apartment sets, they get more and more emotionally invested in each other and their only form of interaction – The Circle platform. Alliances form and are tested, friendships are questioned and the desire for millennial authenticity is constantly front-of-hive-mind.
The penultimate show brings the final five together for a final ‘group chat’ via an IRL dinner party. The effort each contestant makes in prepping for this meet and their genuine reactions to the real people behind the profiles is one of the highlights of the Circle and what got me to stop cleaning and start rooting for these people, hard.
This show has been praised for its very diverse cast that includes many people of colour, LBGTQI+, diverse body shapes and who had real jobs IRL. Over the episodes you see the guard come down and watch as the catfish muse their discomfort at lying to the only people in their little weird world. Who cares? Oh, trust me, you will.
Score: 3.5/5 unless you love reality, then it’s a 5
Where to watch? Netflix
Watch if you like: Big Brother, Black Mirror
Family friendly? PG – light flirting, some language, one kiss, revealing clothing, LBGTQI+ issues
Irena is the TV critic for 2NM radio Breakfast Show in NSW and hosts The Green News show every Wednesday at 7pm on 4RPH – reading radio. She’s also a small business PR trainer and marketing consultant while in her 2nd year of a PhD at QUT on recruitment, artificial intelligence and ethics and a mum of two great kids who love TV almost as much as her. Tweet her know the shows you love @PRproAus