The Circle review, Channel 4: The Britain of 2018 revealed in a mashup of social media and Big Brother

Are the guinea pigs in Channel 4’s latest reality show #winning?

Sean O'Grady
Wednesday 19 September 2018 10:20 BST
The Circle - Channel 4 trailer

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


How on Earth to explain Channel 4’s The Circle? The participants all converse in that abbreviated text, emoji language as if raised from birth to do so (quite possibly were, too. WBY? ["What about you?"]). You get the impression that constructing a Twitter message would be like asking the participants to knock out Vanity Fair. They make Trump look like George Orwell.

Roughly, The Circle is a collision/car crash between Big Brother and social media. It’s about how people – strangers – relate to each other, but without ever meeting one another in the flesh. Except, that is, when one of them comes to be evicted from The Circle, which is the closed-circuit social media platform Channel 4 have created for their show. Eviction happens when you are blocked by someone. The guinea pigs are invited to award each other’s stars out of five, “like Trip Advisor” (and TV reviews, to be fair). The survivor/winner after three weeks gets £50,000.

The contestants occupy a block of flats but never meet each other (ie typical real life in London), and will do so for the next three weeks. They remain isolated in their individual apartments, and only get to communicate with each other online, via The Circle, which is, as you’d expect voice-activated. There are eight contestants, for now, from 19 to 40 years old, with average age of 26 and only two from outside London or the South. They’re mostly irritating.

Three of them just play themselves (Aiden, Dan, Mitchell). Aiden has “pot noodle belly”. Dan is “always up for a laugh” (and we know what that means – he is always up for a chat to his pet turtle, which is not a euphemism. He really has brought his pet with him). Mitchell, self-styled King of Tinder, lives with his “mumsie”.

Three others play themselves, but with a twist. For example Freddie, who is gay, is pretending to be straight (and thus fearing exposure if he starts obviously to fancy one of the men in The Circle – expect of course that the man in question may not be a man at all, let alone a gay one). To win sympathy he claims to have recently lost a German Shepherd named Buddy. To lose sympathy he admits he sells insurance. Upsum: “You don’t get no camper than me”. Go compare!

Sian is herself “but plainer”, which is good because it would be hard for her to be much vainer. Genelle, who identifies as pansexual, has not yet revealed her sexuality, or the fact she has a baby.

Only two contestants are posing as someone else entirely, which most people would call catfishing. Alex is pretending to be a female who looks like his girlfriend, Kate, but has a dog called Bruno. WTF?? He’s been catfished before, poor sod, which may explain things.

Jennifer, the oldest at 40, runs a Google Analytics business, whatever that means, is playing a younger doctor. Because everyone likes doctors, right? And all the better to be an oncologist – “universally trusted profession”. She hates “snapchat w***ers” and I imagine the feeling will, in due course, be reciprocated. She doesn’t use social media. Irony.

Those with partially or entirely bogus personalities will later be selected as prospective parliamentary candidates. (Joke, that – though could be a way to revive the Lib Dems?? *Laughing face*).

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The presenters in this daring social experiment are Maya Jama and Alice Levine, and “the voice” belongs to Sophie Willan, lucky things. They don’t do much.

Does it “work” and is it worth watching?

Well, yes. You get to know the contestants surprisingly quickly, and I liked the fact they were annoying. It was interesting, predictable and dispiriting that the most popular character was “Kate”, ie the best looking of the lot, and not real at all - a catfish. The least popular was Jennifer, the social media refusenik. She should get out less.

A spell in the Hangout is The Circle’s prize for winning an episode – a “private area” where top-rated “Kate”, ie Alex, can take a date of their choice for a “plate and a chat” – but virtually. “Kate” picks Mitchell, Norfolk’s randiest man. So a straight male catfish “woman" is off on a date with a heterosexual idiot. It was as hilarious as it sounds, out for dinner but literally a wall between them: Childish but amusing. That’s The Circle generally – superior to Big Brother because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Luckily.

BTW, according to the Channel 4 Programme Notes, Mitchell “loves a cheeky sext, but only the lucky ones will receive one of his infamous 360’ d**k pics.” I can’t wait. “Kate”/Alex, who was offered one during the “date” certainly can. But what to send back???

Dan was the second most popular person in the Circle, but easily the most gormless – eg Circle message “Bit random, but did anyone else bring any pets?”

So, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, I give you The Circle, emblematic of the Britain of 2018. As Orwell himself once wrote; “Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.” #bellend.

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