Netflix’s new series, The Circle — a US adaptation of a UK favorite — claims to be “a social experiment and competition show.” It has also been called “Big Brother meets Catfish” and “that Black Mirror episode ‘nose dive'” where “posting cute cat videos” leads to being liked by more people and thus “to a better lifestyle.” However, Brittani Nichols affectionately referring to it “bisexual chaos” was the siren song that pulled so many members of our TV Team into its eerie embrace.
Essentially, The Circle is a show about a group of contestants who move into the same apartment building and never meet each other and are only allowed to communicate on a custom-made social media-style app where they can pretend to be anyone they want to be. Sometimes the players rate each other, and whoever has the highest ratings becomes an “influencer” and then the “influencer” can “block” people and then the “blocked” people get kicked off the show, and later reveal, via video, if they were being honest about who they are IRL.
This week, Netflix is dropping the final four episodes of season one, and so Drew and Natalie and Riese are here to talk about it.
The Circle! What, exactly, sold you on watching it? Did the phrase “bisexual chaos” factor into your decision?
Riese: I definitely first heard about it on Twitter and looked into it — honestly the premise sounded somewhat terrible, but Brittani did promise “bisexual chaos” so yes, it did factor into my decision. I think in general, “Twitter enthusiasm” is a big driver for me. The premise sounded frankly terrible, and I was annoyed at first to just watch a bunch of people talk to a screen. Then I realized they were living my life, because that’s all I do… I talk to a screen. I spend all day interacting with people I think I know — but really don’t know that well — who exist in a cloud of data in the air.
Natalie: The Circle came into my life at the perfect time: first, it dropped on Netflix during the lull between the holidays and the returns of all my favorite shows…so there wasn’t much new stuff on television. Second, I was sick so there was literally nothing else for me to do besides being sick and watch TV. I saw a lot of folks tweeting about The Circle and decided to give it a try.
Maybe it was the high from too much cough syrup but I loved the show so much that after I consumed the first four episodes, I went back and watched the entire first season of UK version.
Drew: I was intrigued when Brittani said it had “bisexual chaos” but it takes a lot for me to watch a reality show. Are You the One? season eight was the first full season of a reality show I’d watched since A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila. But then Riese told me to watch it and I trust her and also asked for the exact percentage of queerness and it was high enough to get me to watch. And I’m so glad I did, because I’m obsessed.
How does The Circle compare to your favorite queer reality TV obsession from 2019, Are You The One?
Riese: Nothing will ever compare to Are You The One? It is in a league of its own. It’s a very different style of show. However, these two shows represent the sum total of my entire experience watching reality television.
Drew: It’s not a fair comparison because AYTO was entirely queer and went on all summer and sooo many people I know were watching. However, I will say no one on AYTO was as crushable as Sammie.
What storylines or characters, in particular, do you love/love to hate?
Riese: I did really love Karyn, especially ‘cause you literally NEVER see black butch lesbians on television, and she was funny as hell! But she was not very good at playing The Circle and thus, she was removed from the program. I was like, KARYN why’d you pick a pic that looked fake? KARYN your strategy to deflect from Antonio visiting you is bad!!!
Natalie: Oh, Karyn. I really wanted her to do better in this game but I think she was doomed from the moment she chose that profile pic. It was so incompatible with her real personality that she showcased during the game that it was obvious to everyone but Antonio that she was a catfish.
That said, I loved her and want very much to be friends.
Drew: I agree. I really liked Karyn but was frustrated how she played the game. I did find it really funny that she’s so gay she couldn’t help but flirt with Sammie as Mercedeze and all of sudden Mercedeze became bicurious.
Riese: I do have a soft spot for Shuby, he’s like a baby deer.
Natalie: It’s hard not to like Shubham. He’s so adorable and I appreciate his effort to be his authentic self at all times in the game. I’m really dreading the moment when he finds out about Rebecca because even though he says they have just a brother/sister relationship, it feels like he has a little bit of a crush.
Drew: I… don’t like Shubham. I feel like he confuses “authenticity” with people being nice to him, and that’s why he’s so susceptible to Seaburn. I also think he’s sort of homophobic towards Chris? I’m just generally sensitive about nerdy guys who are really eager to get in with bro-y dudes and only like women who are intensely nice to them. I also really dislike Alex for similar reasons. One interesting thing about this show is the way it reveals how different types of men act when hiding behind a screen. I think it’s showing how – especially online – the guys we think of as jerks aren’t necessarily the most toxic!
Which leads me to Joey! Who on paper should be my actual nightmare human, but I sort of adore him? He’s so genuine and completely himself. He’s still very much that type of guy, but I don’t know I appreciate him.
Natalie: That’s a great point about Shubham, Drew. You’re 100% right.
As for Joey, I definitely thought he was going to be among my least favorite players initially — he looks like he should be a cast member on the Jersey Shore reboot — but he’s won me over.
Riese: I think Seaburn is actually hilarious, I also have no clue how he’s still hanging in there. The cramps??? What???
He's pretending to be a woman inside The Circle so now he's gotta talk about how bad his menstrual cramps are pic.twitter.com/aVOIgrm72a
— Netflix US (@netflix) January 8, 2020
Natalie: Oh God…the cramps thing?! LOL.
Interestingly enough, the person who won the first season of The Circle UK was a guy who was using his girlfriend’s pictures so it’s not improbable for Seaburn to win this thing. That said, I feel like he’s made so many huge mistakes — the cramps, him asking the other girls if Chris was cute — that I’m shocked no one else has clocked him as a catfish.
The only person that’s a more obvious catfish than Seaburn is Alex… who is so ridiculously out of his depth as Adam that I cannot believe that everyone doesn’t see it.
Drew: I know I can’t actually say this with confidence, but I reeeeeally think I would know that Rebecca and Adam are catfishes. It’s just so obvious!
Riese: And of course Sammie. We all love Sammie. I would hang out with Sammie.
Natalie: I love Sammie.
But the thing about Sammie, though? She forgets that this is a game. She’s cognizant of it being a game when someone like Alex is flirting with her but when it’s Seaburn saying something that should raise her antenna, she’s oblivious. Also, I don’t know that she has a plan to actually win? I feel like Schuby, Joey and even Seaburn/Rebecca are in a tight alliance and she’s the odd person out. I need her to be more strategic going into these last few episodes.
Drew: That’s fair. But I think that might be why she’s so easy to like? She and Joey really strike me as the most authentic. Also she’s both the kindest and cutest person of the bunch so that helps. The daddy picture she posted? *swoon*
And do you know who else is really cute? Sean! I was so bummed she decided not to play as herself. Especially since her job is literally running social media for a plus size fashion company. I’m glad she’s revealing her secret to half the players, even if I think it’s probably the wrong move strategy-wise. She should’ve just played as herself from the beginning.
As the Very Online people that we are, do you feel like The Circle raises any interesting questions about our online vs. IRL lives?
Riese: The Circle is about working in a remote office. It’s wild the relationships you form with people you’ve never met. Honestly it’s a really interesting look at lives like ours where you’re pulling together a full narrative about a person from what seem to be solid clues but really aren’t. Witnessing that moment where you feel one way but say something completely different, played out by all these people who keep reading each other wrong I was like, wow, that’s my life! We are all insane, trying to do this.
Natalie: So, I hadn’t really considered this until Riese mentioned it but I guess working in our virtual office is a bit like being on The Circle… especially for me since I haven’t been to A-Camp. I just hope I’m not a Miranda.
Riese: NATALIE YOU’RE NOT A MIRANDA
Drew: I’ve found the show intensely relatable for the reasons Riese just said. I think it’s really fascinating getting to watch people think through their thought processes around their online personas. It’s like helping a friend come up with an Instagram caption times twenty.
How come bisexual reality TV went from being terrible in the early aughts to nothing for a decade to this current paradise?
Riese: I’m not sure that I would call three shows (if we’re counting Bachelor in Paradise) paradise, BUT I think it’s part of general trends around increased representation for groups that haven’t had any before. Also there’s a lot of reality TV focused media already, but when LGBTQ folks are involved, they get the bonus of being covered in media like this! I think for reality TV shows though they are 500x more interesting and complicated and dynamic with bisexual candidates? The romantic possibilities multiply instantly! Like why isn’t everybody doing it? I’m truly not sure.
Drew: I think it’s only just beginning. There really are so many untapped possibilities and as queerness becomes more and more normalized television producers are going to realize they’re missing out on so much incredible content. I’m just waiting for the day when we get an all women/non-binary dating show.
Natalie: I agree — and I think this is applicable to non-reality TV as well — at some point, there will be a pivot to telling more LGBT stories and more stories about people of color… not because these producers are interested in equality but because those are the only stories that we haven’t seen told on this stage before.
One of the things that’s shifted so much in the last two or three years in LGBTQ TV criticism is the idea that characters have to be “good” to be “good representation” — do you think that has anything to do with this current trend?
Riese: I’m not sure that producers are thinking that hard about it or ever cared in the past about whether or not their reality TV characters were good representation or not. I think maybe it’s generational — more young people are out now, and reality TV attracts younger contestants.
Drew: Yeah I don’t think it’s that conscious, but I do think this has impacted the response to these shows. I also think there’s a big difference between The Circle and Are You the One? versus Tila Tequila. Even if the queer people on these new shows are messy they’re treated with a certain amount of respect. At least as much respect as anyone on reality TV is allowed.
Natalie: I come at this idea a little differently: the thing we’ve seen, both in scripted television — like Jane the Virgin and Why Women Kill — and now with on unscripted shows, like The Circle or Are You the One, is the value of having more than one of us in the room… and how that really frees you up from having one person qualify as “good representation.” So you can have a villainous Rose because Petra exists…. or, in the case of The Circle, you have Karyn, Sammie and Miranda representing different facets of female sexuality, so the burden isn’t on any one player to be “good representation.”
Or is everyone just gay now?
Riese: Correct, everyone is gay now.
Who do you want to win? Who do you think will win?
Drew: I’m obviously rooting for Sammie and I think she has a real shot. Joey and Shubham are also likely winners in my opinion, but I really hope it’s Sammie.
I also have no idea how this game works though. When it’s down to three people how is the winner chosen? I feel like that could impact the final result.
Natalie: So I suppose the American version could have a different format but in the UK version, there was a final four and those four used the same ratings system they’d been using all season to find the most popular player.
I want Sammie to win but I feel like Joey’s going to win.
At 2:50 a.m. last night, a message from Drew:
Heather! I forgot that I did EXTENSIVE research and found out the signs of everyone on The Circle! You should put this at the end of the roundtable!
Sammie – Libra
Miranda – Pisces
Joey – Sag
Chris – Virgo
Karyn – Aquarius
Alana – Cancer
Antonio – Capricorn
Seaburn – Libra
Shubham – Leo
Alex – Aquarius
Bill – Sag
Sean – Aquarius
Ed – Leo
Tammy – Scorpio